Tuesday 25 September 2007

Entrepreneur who left school at 13 toasts his €55m arena dream

As thousands of students prepare to go to third-level college, a young businessman who left shcool at 13 has been toasting his latest development, a €55m arena near the border which he hopes will lure acts like The Killers and Justine Timberlake.

Although a stone has yet to be laid on the new site, 32-year-old Philip Kirk -- who is known to friends as "Captain" because he is one of the elite Irish businessmen who travel by helicopter -- has already booked Michael Flatley for the late 2009 opening of his Newgrange-inspired arena, which will have seating capacity for over 9,000 people.

The scheme, outside Dundalk, Co Louth, will also feature a range of bars, restaurants and cafes, together with an international school of music. Additionally, almost 500 houses are to be built, and his existing hotel is to be extended and upgraded, from three star to four.

"I'm so bloody excited," says Philip. "The concert promoters are clamouring already."

Kirk, who left school at 13 because he "was never much good with the book", says people often ask how he achieved success so fast.

"Sometimes I wonder myself," he replies. "But when you're young, nothing's a problem."

"I was only 11 when my father died," Philip recalls, "and I left school two years afterwards. There was no money, not a cent, and a big family to be reared. The land was there, of course, and everyone was telling my mother to sell it. But she held on."

Looking for a way out of farming and to make money, he turned the family farm into what is now Carnbeg Golf Course, near Dundalk. With the economy coming out of the doldrums he decided to "go for broke" and added a hotel, nightclub, leisure complex, pool, conference rooms, lounge, bar, restaurant and six football pitches.

An ambitious plan indeed for a young fellow who, by his own admission, was doing it all, literally, on a wing and a prayer.

Because it was at this point that Philip also set about realising his long-held dream of learning how to fly.

"I was always mad on helicopters," he reveals. "They used to give me fierce slagging about it at home. Captain Kirk they'd call me."

Now with the stamp of approval on his most ambitious dream to date, is an upgrade in order? A private jet, perhaps?

He chuckles and polishes off his coffee. "Watch this space," he replies.

Sunday Independent

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