Boom-era developer Liam Carroll has died aged 70

Property developer Liam Carroll. Photo: Gerry Mooney

John Mulligan

One of the country’s biggest developers of the boom era, Liam Carroll, has died at the age of 70 in Dublin.

He was a key player in Ireland's property scene, responsible for the development of swathes of apartments in the capital from the nineties that transformed the face of the city. He built as many as 9,000 of them in Dublin.

But his ‘shoebox’ apartments – he was sometimes dubbed the ‘Shoebox King’ – with their functional design, also drew criticism.

Others argued that they had provided affordable housing to the likes of nurses and gardai. Probably his best-known construction company was Zoe Developments.

Always low-profile, Mr Carroll lived in Mount Merrion but eschewed the trappings of wealth often flaunted by his peers as they reaped the profits of the boom. He was renowned for driving old cars and living frugally.

At one stage during the Celtic Tiger, the developer was estimated to have a net worth of as much as €2bn.

Mr Carroll’s father ran a bookies and the developer started off his career as a mechanical engineer at Jacobs International, having studied at UCD.

Mr Carroll made his first foray into the property sector when he was still in his thirties. He bought a site and got subcontractors to build a house.

But despite his reclusiveness – his neighbours once apparently believed he was a carpenter because of his casual dress and no-frills lifestyle – he was sometimes a controversial figure.

In 1997 he was lambasted in the High Court by Justice Peter Kelly following a death on one of his sites. The stinging criticisms of him and his firm were frequently referred to in subsequent years.

Apart from his property projects, the Dundalk-born Mr Carroll also expanded his interests into the corporate world.

He acquired substantial stakes in Aer Lingus, ferry group Irish Continental and Greencore, as well as other businesses. The holdings were sold later at deep discounts.

The companies he invested in typically held sizeable chunks of land.

But as the financial crisis erupted, Mr Carroll’s empire crumbled.

Zoe Developments owed banks about €1.2bn. Another of his firms that was involved in a redevelopment project at The Square in Tallaght, was hit with a €78m judgment over unpaid loans in 2009.

In 2010, AIB secured the appointment of a receiver over a number of firms in Mr Carroll's insolvent Zoe group, including Danninger.

AIB had handed out €550m in loans to five companies that had been controlled by Mr Carroll.

In 2012, Nama appointed a 'super receiver' to Mr Carroll's firms after a raft of receivers had been appointed over the previous 18 months by a number of banks to various firms belonging to the developer.

In 2014, the Irish Independent revealed that, in an ironic twist, the former HQ of his Zoe Group was to be turned into a block of flats.

Unlike many of his contemporaries who fell to earth during the crash and eventually re-emerged to continue their construction activities, Mr Carroll never again returned to the industry.

Others, including Johnny Ronan, Sean Mulryan, Gerry Gannon and Bernard McNamara – all major builders during the boom who were left reeling from the financial crisis – later rebuilt their businesses to some extent or another.

A death notice said that Mr Carroll passed away on Tuesday this week. He is survived by his wife, Róisín, and his children, Nuala, Bróna and Conor.

A number of condolences have already been expressed following his death.

His nephew, Rory Carroll, said on that he was always an “extremely warm and kind uncle… not to mention very insightful and witty”.

Another sympathiser remembered him as an “honourable man, fair and tough in equal measure”.

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