A Northern Ireland filmmaker has won $69,000 in damages after a judge ruled that his Irish island home was transformed into a parking lot while he was overseas.
The case of 61-year-old Neville Presho captured national attention because of the apparent callousness of his treatment at the hands of the insular 170-strong community of remote Tory Island. Police investigating the vanished house found only a wall of silence.
Presho successfully sued developer and hotelier Patrick Doohan after he returned from New Zealand to find no trace of his six-bedroom property beside the island's harbor. In its place stood a septic tank and parking lot for Doohan's newly built 12-room hotel, which remains the only one today on Tory.
Presho said Tuesday that his mid-19th century stone-built home had become "a car park surrounded by boulders to prevent inebriated drivers from driving into the harbor."
High Court Justice Roderick Murphy ruled that he couldn't determine who set fire to Presho's property in 1993 or knocked down its stone walls in the following months while Presho, his wife and two children were living in New Zealand, 11,600 miles away.
Presho said he returned to Ireland in 1994 after being told by Donegal County Council — the nearest local authority for a northwest island that famously bills itself as a self-governing kingdom — that his home had suffered mysterious damage.
Presho recalled how, as the passenger ferry arrived from the Irish mainland, he searched in panic but couldn't see his home at all.
He soon learned that a neighbor with whom he had entrusted a key had permitted Doohan's construction workers to live in his home while the neighboring hotel was being built.
While gathering testimony from March to July, Murphy determined that the workers left behind flammable materials in the property and the blaze was deliberate, but he couldn't reach a conclusion as to who ignited it. Nor could he be certain who knocked down the shell that remained, although he noted that Doohan owned the only heavy construction equipment on the island.
The judge said police could not get island residents to cooperate with the investigation into the house's gradual disappearance over a nine-month period, an event that "should have been obvious to all."
The Associated Press left telephone messages for Doohan and his lawyer, John Cannon, but they were not returned. Cannon told the court Monday his client planned to appeal rather than pay.
Money for a chicken coop
Presho never achieved fame as a filmmaker — but produced, directed and co-wrote one that uncannily foreshadowed his own experience. His 1981 film "Desecration" told the story of an amateur archaeologist on an Irish island who toils to preserve its medieval castle, but his restoration work is destroyed by other islanders determined to develop a mine there instead.
Presho spoke wistfully Tuesday of his lost island retreat, where he could sit on his front doorstep watching the fishermen come and go in the harbor and the panorama beyond of the wild Atlantic and Donegal mainland.
But Presho said he doesn't expect to live there again. Even if he does receive his court-ordered judgment, that's less than a fifth of the average house price in Ireland.
"You could build a really nice chicken coop with that sort of money," he quipped, "but you'd have no money left over to buy the chickens."