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Saved from scrapheap - Jessbrook's new owner ready for new beginning

The Jessbrook equestrian centre that was seized from drug trafficker John Gilligan by the Criminal Assets Bureau is finally about to open its doors under a new owner.

Now called the Emerald International Equestrian Centre, the venue will host its first show jumping competition this weekend.

Newbridge native James Buckley (33) has turned the flooded shell of a building near Enfield in Co Kildare into an international-standard competition arena that has already caught the attention of the best known in the industry.

The Irish Masters Show will run from Friday to Sunday with €55,000 in prize money up for grabs.


New owner James said that he jumped at the chance to purchase the prize eventing centre.

"As soon as the centre came on the market I was interested in it," James told the Herald. "I've been involved in horses and jumping since I was a child and this is now the biggest purpose-built equestrian arena in Ireland, and possibly Europe.

"We are opening bars, a restaurant and corporate facilities, as well as the indoor arena, two outdoor arenas and stables for 106 horses, all in a wheelchair-accessible venue," he added.

"And the surface is the best in the world, a white silica sand so the horses can jump in comfort with less chance of injury."

The arena also has seating for 3,000 people and a state of the art lighting system, as the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle come together before the action kicks off this Friday. The sound system comes from one of the arenas used in the London Olympics.

"Our ambition is to host three international shows next year," said James. "We are around 40 minutes from the ferry which is important for UK competitors."

And the upcoming event has already proved a major boost for local trade.

"The three local hotels are booked out, and when there is an event here we are providing jobs locally," James explained.

The Criminal Assets Bureau put a €500,000 price tag on the centre when it was put up for sale, and although James won't reveal how much he paid, he says it was a "reasonable price".

"But it needed a lot of work. The roof was leaking badly and we thought that would take three weeks to fix but it took two months," he told the Herald.

"And we had to adapt it to more modern fire regulations but we are on track now and the support we've had from the community has been excellent.

"My ultimate aim is to have World Cup qualifier events here, and we will need the Government to get behind us for that," he added.