Northern Ireland

Millionaire businessman on the right track

Gerry Robinson
Image caption Sir Gerry plans to sell alcohol in a "refreshment room" at his private train station

When Sir Gerry Robinson applied for a drinks licence for a train station on his private country estate it was dubbed one of the most unusual requests in the history of the Irish state.

But the millionaire broadcaster has had his wish granted by a judge in County Donegal thanks to a 108-year-old law.

Sir Gerry lives with his wife Lady Heather Robinson on the sprawling grounds of Oakfield Park Estate in Raphoe.

Every year the couple open up their home for charity and Sir Gerry takes great pleasure in driving hundreds of lucky children around the gardens on a steam train called the Duchess of Difflin.

The train-enthusiast developed a 4.5km track some time ago that winds around the perfectly manicured grounds of the 100 acre park.

Now Sir Gerry, who has fronted several programmes for the BBC, wants to add a new dimension to his lakeside railway by opening a "refreshment room".

Under the 1902 Licensing (Ireland) Act a new drinks licence can only be granted to existing premises where a licence has expired, or as the Robinsons discovered, to a railway refreshment room.

At the court session Judge John O'Hagan described it as "an absolutely unique" application.

He added: "I don't think there is a judge in the country who has heard an application for a railway refreshment room since the foundation of the State.

"I can almost smell the steam."

Lady Heather told the court that the railway, complete with train locomotive, accepted paying passengers who were required to buy tickets.

She said there was a refreshment room and seating area in a specially fenced off section of the station.

Judge O'Hagan granted their application and wished the couple the best of luck with their tourism enterprise.