Rosaleen Roohan v Eunan Gallagher as the Personal Representative of Andrew Roohan, Deceased

JudgeMs. Justice Nuala Butler
Judgment Date08 April 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] IEHC 225
Docket Number[2019 No. 534 SP.]
CourtHigh Court

In the Estate of Peter Roohan, Deceased

Rosaleen Roohan
Eunan Gallagher as the Personal Representative of Andrew Roohan, Deceased

[2022] IEHC 225

[2019 No. 534 SP.]


JUDGMENT of Ms. Justice Nuala Butler delivered on the 8th day of April, 2022


These proceedings, brought by way of special summons, raise what are ostensibly straightforward legal questions as to the efficacy of a transfer of registered land which was never registered and whether, as a consequence of non-registration, the lands remained in the ownership of the transferor so as to form part of his estate after his death. Although ostensibly straightforward, in reality the questions posed reflect only the tip of a far more complex iceberg. Lurking below the surface is an unfortunate family history of conflict, loss and estrangement which, unfortunately, the determination of these issues, no matter what the outcome, will do little to heal.


The plaintiff is the widow of Peter Roohan who was, at the time of his death, the registered owner of just over 50 hectares of land at Clyhore in County Donegal. On 1st January, 2002, Peter Roohan executed a voluntary transfer of those lands in consideration of “natural love and affection” to his son, Sean Roohan. Peter Roohan died over a decade later on 24th September, 2012. Although it seems that Sean Roohan was both in possession and occupation of the lands (the plaintiff disputes this to a certain extent), for reasons which are touched on in more detail below, the transfer to him had not been registered by the time of his father's death. Equally, the transfer had not been registered by the time of Sean Roohan's death four years later on 30th March, 2016. The transfer to Sean Roohan was registered in July, 2017. The plaintiff disputes the legality of this registration but this is not the subject of these proceedings. Under his will, Sean Roohan left the lands to his brother, Andrew Roohan. Tragically, Andrew Roohan also died a relatively young man on 19th October, 2019 leaving a widow and children who, if the transfer of 1st January, 2002 was effective, are entitled to ownership of the Clyhore lands as part of Andrew Roohan's estate.

Background Facts

The plaintiff and her late husband resided in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. During his lifetime, the late Peter Roohan owned a number of properties and tracts of land. It seems that his land-holdings were fluid in that he both bought and sold land and also made dispositions of land by way of gift in the years before his death. As a consequence of this, although Peter Roohan was an active and productive farmer during his working life, at the time of his death, his estate in Northern Ireland was relatively modest.


The plaintiff was married to Peter Roohan for 45 years and they had ten children together, five sons and five daughters. It is a sad feature of this case that in addition to the two sons with a potential interest in Clyhore lands, both of whom are now deceased, two of the plaintiff's other sons are also dead having predeceased their father in 1994 and 2006. The plaintiff regards her marriage as having been unhappy and describes her late husband as difficult and controlling and as having inflicted mental and physical abuse on her. She left her husband for a period between 1998 and 2002 but returned, having been persuaded to do so by her sons. I am very conscious that these are not family law proceedings and the late Peter Roohan is not in a position to defend himself against these allegations. Although they form an important part of the plaintiff's account of the factors which have led to this litigation, they do not actually have a bearing on the legal issues which I have to decide. However, linked to the plaintiff's view of her marriage and her husband is her perception that her husband favoured his sons over his daughters and that he deliberately took steps to divest himself of property during his lifetime to ensure that she would not inherit from him after his death. Again, I do not have to determine the correctness of these views but they explain the institution of proceedings by the plaintiff in Northern Ireland which have in turn led to the institution of these proceedings in this jurisdiction.


Peter Roohan made his last will and testament on 21st September, 1994 which was some eighteen years before his death. His will was complex and appears primarily designed to leave farmlands at three different locations to three of his sons. The lands at Clyhore were left to Sean Roohan and other lands in County Fermanagh were left to his sons, Kieran and Paul. His wife, the plaintiff, was left the contents of his dwelling house and his personal effects together with a right of residence in the dwelling house (which was the family home) which was otherwise left to her son, Paul. She was also the residuary legatee and devisee.


In the eighteen years between the execution of his will and his death, Peter Roohan disposed of a significant proportion of his assets including, subject to the discussion below, the lands at Clyhore. The precise history of these disposals is unclear. For example, the solicitor who acted as executor of his estate in Northern Ireland understood that the dwelling house at Belleek did not form part of Peter Roohan's estate as he had executed an inter vivos transfer of it to the plaintiff and their daughter, Mary. The plaintiff disagrees. She says that this house was owned jointly between herself, Peter Roohan and their son, Sean. Peter Roohan transferred his share to another son, Paul, and Sean transferred his share equally between the plaintiff and Paul, leaving them each with a half share. She then states that her daughter, Mary, bought the house in 2011 when Paul got into financial difficulties and gifted a half share to the plaintiff. Both accounts agree that the plaintiff and Mary ended up owning the house jointly. It is not clear from the plaintiff's account how she came to be the owner of a one-third share in the first place nor how she lost the half share she owned at a later stage due, apparently, to the indebtedness of her son.


Shortly after the execution of the will, Peter Roohan's son, Kieran, died in December, 1994. Kieran was to have inherited lands in County Fermanagh along with stock and farm machinery. As Peter Roohan did not make a fresh will to take account of Kieran's death, in principle, the gifts intended for Kieran fell into the residue and, thus, would have been inherited by the plaintiff on Peter Roohan's death. However, the particular lands referred to seem to have been disposed of by the plaintiff during his lifetime to his son Paul. He also acquired two other folios of land in County Fermanagh in 2003 and 2004 subsequent to the execution of the will which are not expressly mentioned in it. Consequently, these parcels of land fell into the residue of his estate.


Following the death of Peter Roohan solicitors on the plaintiff's behalf entered into correspondence with the solicitor who had been appointed executor in 2012. For some reason, this correspondence stalled and was then renewed four years later in 2016 when the plaintiff sought a schedule of her late husband's assets and her solicitor wrote contending that Peter Roohan had failed to make reasonable provision for his wife. A grant of probate was extracted to Peter Roohan's estate in Northern Ireland on 17th July, 2017. The estate in Northern Ireland, comprising monies in a bank account and the two folios of land in County Fermanagh, had a value of £57,219. As it happens, much of the original content of Peter Roohan's will failed either because he had disposed of the subjects of the gifts during his lifetime (mainly to his sons) or because of the death of his son, Kieran. Thus, virtually the entire estate fell into residue and was inherited by the plaintiff as residuary legatee.

Lands at Clyhore

The lands at Clyhore amount to approximately 50 hectares comprised in six folios in County Donegal. At the time of his death in 2012, they were registered in the name of Peter Roohan and are currently registered in the name of Sean Roohan. I note that the folios describe the lands as being located at Cloghore rather than Clyhore but nothing turns on this. Further, the transactions discussed below relate to only five of the six folios. It appears there was an additional piece of land of approximately two acres described as “railway land” which, as of 2002, was unregistered. The subsequent registration of these lands in Peter Roohan's name is not dealt with in the papers before me and I have assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that these lands are contained in the sixth folio. There are two valuations of the lands before the court, neither of which are particularly up to date. The plaintiff values the land at €1,335,000 whereas the executor received a valuation of approximately €628,500. Either way, it is clear that the lands in Donegal are significantly more valuable than the entire of the estate admitted to probate in Northern Ireland.


The Clyhore lands were acquired by Peter Roohan in 1965 and registered in his name in 1967. The family lived in County Donegal for some time in the 1960s or 1970s but there does not appear to be a dwelling house currently on these lands. The plaintiff contends that she contributed to the purchase of the lands through two separate inheritances received by her totalling IR£9,200 – which would have been a significant sum at the time. However, the plaintiff's claim in this application is not based on her having an equitable interest by virtue of having made contributions to the purchase of the lands but is a strictly legal one based on the registration of the title to the lands.


As will be recalled, in 1994 Peter Roohan made a will in which he left the lands at Clyhore to his son, Sean. At...

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