Rathkeale travellers arrive in style for Christmas in Ireland.

Porsche drawn caravans

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Mercs and BMW on a temporary site in Rathkeale

Driving home for Christmas

IRELAND'S millionaire traveller clans arrived home for Christmas in a stunning $10 million motorcade of luxury cars.

The trader families turned the tiny town of Rathkeale, Co. Limerick, into a real-life Top Gear show when they rolled in for the holidays.

The Rathkeale clans - famous for wheeling and dealing all over the world - love to flash their cash in an annual display of wealth at Christmas.

There wasn't a Hiace in sight this week as Sunday World reporters observed around 250 new cars in the town, where the population of 1,500 swells to more than 4,000 for the festive season homecoming.

In a recession-blighted year when new car sales collapsed in Ireland, the blinging traveller fleet includes three €184,000 Mercedes AMGs, five brand new €90,000 BMW X6s, as well as dozens of SUVs, Land Rovers and Porsches.

Despite the vast display of wealth, the Health Service Executive laid on a free clinic at taxpayer's expense for the returning high rollers.

Ireland’s multi-millionaire traveller traders appear recession-proof with an unprecedented €10 million parade of top-end luxury cars.

This Christmas the streets of the small Co Limerick town of Rathkeale resembled the players' car-park at Old Trafford where Mercs, Porsches and Hummers filled every available spot.

There were no less than three UK-registered Mercedes AMGs on the streets of Rathkeale which each cost at least €184,000.

The high-end sports car with its 6.3 litre V8 engine can reach 100 kph in 4.6 seconds, but is electronically limited to a top speed of 245kph (155mph). Outside one row of terraced ex-Council houses there were an incredible five brand-new BMW X6 four-by-fours valued at €90,000, each jammed in between Range Rovers and a mobile home.

A visual survey by the Sunday World produced a conservative estimate of at least 250 vehicles worth at least €40,000 each. It puts a value of €10 million on the traveller-traders' "fleet" in this small town alone at Christmas.

On Roches Road, which is exclusively owned by traveller-trader clans, there wasn't an inch to spare to park another expensive SUV.

Among them were Mercedes-Benz 4x4s, SsangYong, Porsche Cayennes, Nissan Pathfinders, Range Rovers among others. One tiny yard had seven vehicles in it, including three UK-reg BMW X6s which currently retail in Ireland at around €100,000.

Another favourite mode of transport among the traveller traders is the Range Rover sport which has a price tag ranging from €80,000 to €100,000. The town is also littered with more conventional yet hugely expensive SUVs such as BMW, Nissan, Land Rover, Datsun and Hyundai.

Many are driven around by youngsters killing time and the SUVs far outnumbered the humble Ford Transit - the usual workhorse of the traveller traders. Vehicles sported registration plates from Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and one from Romania, highlighting the international nature of their business interests.

Every year many of the so-called Rathkeale Rovers return to their spiritual home of Rathkeale for November and December.

Weddings and christenings are scheduled for the season, with parties on a nightly basis for all and sundry. The rich traveller traders compete to show off their wealth and buy trays of drinks to which any guest can help themselves.

But it hasn't been all seasonal goodwill this year with a simmering feud between the O'Donoghue and O'Driscoll clans breaking out again. Two weeks ago there was a stand-off between a number of men armed with iron bars and slash hooks in the town square.

"The whole place came out to watch.They wouldn't be like the travellers in the midlands, our lads would take half an hour to get their coats off," one eye-witness told the Sunday World.

Armed gardai were drafted in to help quell tensions and no arrests were made at the scene. They were also scenes of violence at one traveller party in December and a number of men are facing assault charges after the attack was caught on CCTV.

The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) is also believed to have raided a number of properties belonging to a member of one branch of the Sheridan clan. The traveller traders make their cash from a variety of businesses including paving, the sales of electrical goods and antique dealing. However, they also have a notorious reputation for sharp business practice and outright fraud.

One of those back for Christmas this year was Danny 'Bishop' O'Brien who cashed in selling dodgy generators all over Australia in 2008.

O'Brien and his brothers, Jonathon and Patrick, along with another wealthy Rathkeale trader Jeremiah 'Spud' O'Brien sparked a nationwide alert Down Under which saw several other members kicked out of the country for violating their tourist visas.

They have since been told by New South Wales authorities they face arrest if they return to the Aussie state. Another back this year is 'Ouzel' Sheridan who bought and converted the former Garda station on Roches Road.


Cars were also parked outside and there were signs of life at the Ballywilliam house of convicted cigarette smuggler Danny 'Turkey' O'Brien. He famously ordered that his deceased father's body be preserved until he finished his time in a Belgian prison to allow him attend the funeral.

Absent this year, however, was Michael 'Levan' Slattery who is still dodging a massive lawsuit in the United States where he ripped off an antiques dealer. Last Christmas an American law firm served him with a summons in Rathkeale.

Despite the Porsche-driving travellers' obvious wealth the HSE this year set up a free health clinic to cope with the town's temporary population surge from 1,500 to 4,000. The clinic is run from a brand-new state of the art council building constructed across the road from the cattle mart which has recently been bought by travellers.

The Rathkeale-based traveller traders make the annual pilgrimage back to Limerick every year and virtually swamp the small town.

Parts of the town are almost inaccessible and young travellers stop in their vehicles to chat oblivious to the chaos around them. Cars on Roches Road have to drive on the footpath to pass each other.

But the rows of luxury SUVs are not the only effect the traveller-traders annual invasion is having on the town.

All over the town, several properties have been bought where buildings have been knocked and walls erected to create a secure yard.

"They leave these eyesores locked up then for the year until they come back," complained one local.

"The County Council haven't done enough to protect the local people.There are contraventions of planning permission all over the place he added. The non-traveller resident spoke to the Sunday World on condition on anonymity, afraid he might otherwise be targeted for harassment.

The O'Donoghue clan, built almost double the number of houses than permitted on one site before work was halted. A section of wall surrounding a listed building was also knocked down by travellers who wanted to access to the property for their vehicles.

More than a dozen traveller-traders were served with notices in December by Limerick County Council in a bid to stop unauthorised work.

"It's too little too late," said another local resident.

The local supermarket was also forced this year to hire in security guards after a high-incidence of shop lifting by young children. The majority of the traveller traders will have left Rathkeale by the end of January and won't return until next year unless it's for a relatives' funeral.


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