A bitter rift at the Bog Hotel
Patsy Brogan left home as a barefoot teenager to make his fortune, returning to run a Donegal shebeen. After two relationships and a liaison with a woman 43 years his junior, his death won’t heal the family feud
Even in death it seems former ‘bog hotel’ proprietor Patsy Brogan is still making his presence felt. Despite having been laid to rest almost three weeks ago, many of his relatives and friends are convinced, the father of eight will at least attempt to create havoc one last time.
This time around it will be from beyond the grave. And at the centre of any dispute orchestrated by the controversial shebeen owner will be whether he ever took the time to make a last will and testament.
Throughout the more recent years of his long and colourful life Patsy – whose determination to run an illicit drinking spot called the ‘The Bog Hotel’ on a remote Donegal hillside with a woman almost half a century younger than him made international headlines – often spoke about leaving all his worldly possessions to his much younger paramour.
But no-one knows for certain whether he ever followed through with this threat. Or whether he opted instead to die without making a will so his nearest and dearest would have to fight it out among themselves as to who would get what.
Then again there’s also the possibility that maybe, just for once, Patsy, who spent much of his life involved in legal battles against those in authority as well as those closer to home, decided to leave his affairs in order.
Either way, for the time being it’s a guessing game. And as his relatives and girlfriend – Polish waitress Daria Weiske – wait to see if Patsy left a last will and testament, they must surely be hoping that whatever the outcome, they will not have to relive and endure the ugly scenes surrounding his funeral.
For it was a funeral unlike any other. And one that almost never happened when Patsy’s aggrieved one-and-only brother intervened threatening to ‘pull his brother’ out of the family burial plot if the 82year-old was laid to rest alongside his parents and grandfather. In the end, a new plot was purchased.
An extraordinary turn of events. But one that was not entirely unexpected given the death notice which appeared shortly after the pensioner drew his last breath at Donegal Community Hospital last month.
It certainly hinted at possible family tensions. But, nevertheless, few reading the announcement would ever have guessed the antipathy the former shebeen owner provoked in others almost led to his own funeral being called off.
The first clue as to what was about to unfold was the brevity of the death notice for a man who had made headlines around the world. It failed to mention the pensioner would be mourned by any living relatives – all the odder considering he is survived by an adult son and daughter, aged in their forties and fifties from his marriage to a woman from Galway called Maureen; that he was predeceased by a daughter killed in a hit-and-run accident and a son who died by suicide; four younger children from a second long-term relationship with a local woman from Donegal; grandchildren; a brother who was his neighbour on the family homestead outside Frosses village for 30 years; as well as nieces and nephews.
And then of course the 43-yearsyounger Polish woman he once vowed to marry but never put a wedding ring on her finger.
Indeed, the only mention that Patsy was part of a family, or ever had a family or families of his own, is included in the last line of the death notice which simply reads: ‘Family flowers only, donations in lieu to Donegal Community Hospital c/o any family member or John McGowan Funeral Directors.’
A friend explained: ‘Patsy was one of a family of four. He had two sisters and one brother called Tom.
‘But he and Tom never got on. They were always rowing and, as far as Tom would be concerned, Patsy made his life hell. The pair of them lived in two separate houses on the family farm and over the years the guards were called to the property on many an occasion. They even ended up in court at one stage.
‘They were rowing long before the Bog Hotel was ever opened as a shebeen but after it opened, things just seemed to go from bad to worse between them.’
It seems that at the heart of the dispute between the brothers was the house where they were reared with their two sisters. Perched on a hill in the middle of the family farm, the former three-roomed thatched cottage has stunning views of the Blue Stack mountains and overlooks two lakes.
But it has been extensively renovated by Tom and his wife Pam since they moved back to Ireland from England many years ago.
Meanwhile, Patsy lived in a nearby bungalow and close by is the windowless barn which became the illicit late-night drinking spot known the world over as the ‘Bog Hotel’. The only remaining clue that it once was a drinking den is a red Coke sign attached to the side of the old shed.
A few hundred yards away – beyond several abandoned cars and unsightly heaps of rubbish – is the house where Tom and Patsy’s parents lived out their last years. And like the place Patsy called home, this simple one-storey dwelling has become a ruin beaten down by the elements and years of neglect.
This pitiful scene was the backdrop for joy, sadness, tragedy, heartache and the unresolved row that marked Patsy Brogan’s life.
It was from this hillside enclave that he left for England to seek his fame and fortune. According to family legend, the then 13-year-old walked away bare-footed with only one of his father’s ‘borrowed’ cows in tow, and not a penny in his pocket.
It’s claimed the beast was later sold at a mart and with the proceeds the canny Donegal lad made his way by boat to England.
He first settled in Manchester and then later moved to Birmingham with his young wife and their two sons and two daughters. During these years he established himself as an entrepreneur, setting up a demolition and a haulage business. But along the way, it seems, he crossed paths with some unsavoury characters, and this resulted in him serving a nine-month sentence for a grevious-bodily-harm assault.
However, Patsy prospered. By the time he and his wife decided to return to live in Ireland during the eighties, he had already become accustomed to enjoying the trappings of wealth.
By then he had acquired a pilot’s licence, had bought some aeroplanes, had even flown his family
‘Patsy and Tom never got on. They were always rowing’
on their holidays to Jersey island and his car of choice was a maroon Rolls Royce, complete with gold trim and sheepskin upholstery.
He also cut quite a dash with his Engelbert Humperdinck-style frilly shirts, accessorised with layers of chunky gold jewellery. But it was his luxurious bouffant hair style and thick sideburns that were his pride and joy.
For they concealed his deepest then secret... that he had been bald as a snooker ball since his early twenties.
A source revealed: ‘Patsy spent a fortune buying wigs because he lost all his hair when he was still only in his early twenties. He would only wear shirts that were dry cleaned, and he wore so much gold jewellery that when he went to America for his daughter’s wedding a police officer told him to take it off otherwise he would be mugged.
‘He came back to Donegal in the eighties… I think it was his kind of early retirement.
‘But within a year he was a different man entirely. He went from only wearing shirts that were dry cleaned to wearing shirts that were lucky to get a wash. I never saw such a change in a man.
‘His wife Maureen came back with him but they went their separate ways and she remarried.’
Patsy also moved on too. He became romantically involved with a local woman many years his junior and the couple went onto have four children together.
But the relationship faltered and shortly after the mother of his younger children left the family home, the couple’s two daughters and two sons were taken into care. After a decade or so apart they were only finally reunited as they gathered around their father’s deathbed.
But the bitter rift between Patsy and his brother Tom continues. And not even death has helped resolve their differences.
After years of acrimony between them, Patsy’s only brother could not bring himself to go to his sibling’s funeral. And even sadder still is the fact that – even though his brother is dead and buried – Tom remains convinced Patsy devoted the last 30 years to tormenting him and his wife.
The only comment the 76-year-old would say to the Irish Mail on Sunday was against his brother.
‘For 30 years I was living under an umbrella of torment. I am looking forward to having a nice dinner on my table and having a bit of peace for Christmas.
‘We were living under thuggery. We went through the mill. It’s sad, of course it’s sad. All we needed was to have a bit of respect. It’s shameful.’
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Patsy made a will. Some of those who knew him well believe he has one last ‘trick’ to pull, whereas others who felt the wrath of the darker side of his personality have a less benign view.
‘He’d love to be at the centre of it all. He never left anything to anybody. There’s no way he left a will… sure he’d love to have them all fighting with each other.’
barman: The dilapidated family house and barn. Above, Patsy in the Bog Hotel NOW
high roller:Patsy’s maroon Rolls Royce. Above, sporting sideburns and luxurious locks in 1980