Ireland's new Land League and the mansion row on millionaires' row

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Media captionThe disputed house at Gorse Hill was once valued at 30m euros (£22m), as Shane Harrison reports.

A bitter court battle over one of Ireland's most expensive homes, in a star-studded area of Dublin, has put the spotlight on a new protest group.

Calling itself the Land League, the group has become embroiled in a campaign to stop an Irish bank from repossessing the home of a high-profile lawyer.

The mansion, overlooking Dublin bay, sits within a seaside suburb so packed with Ireland's rich and famous that the tabloid press have dubbed it Bel √Čire.

Swimming pool

The ostentatious address is an unusual setting for an anti-austerity campaign.

The disputed mansion, on Vico Road, Killiney, is the family home of the solicitor and property developer Brian O'Donnell. It boasts a swimming pool and tennis courts.

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Image caption The mansion is on Vico Road, Killiney, one of the most prestigious addresses in Ireland

Before the crash, its owner built up a significant international property portfolio, but failed investments have left him with massive debts.

But the family's decision to enlist the support of the Land League has added further intrigue to their fight to keep their mansion.

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Image caption A notice of trespass and order to vacate was nailed on the gates of Gorse Hill by representative of the receivers on Tuesday night, in front of the waiting media

The campaign group has tried to evoke a 19th Century movement that supported Irish tenant farmers facing rising rents and evictions by landlords who often lived outside Ireland.

The original Land League was set up by Michael Davitt in 1879. He was born into poor tenant farming family in County Mayo at the height of Ireland's Great Famine.

Unable to pay their rent, his family was evicted from their farm and emigrated to England. By the age of 11, Davitt was working in a Lancashire cotton mill, where he lost an arm in an industrial accident.

On his return to Ireland as an adult, he saw that conditions had improved little for tenant farmers, and he led a campaign against the rising rents demanded by wealthy absentee landlords.

Davitt became secretary of the Land League and the nationalist statesman, Charles Stewart Parnell, agreed to lead it as president.

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Image caption John Martin of the new Land League addressed the media outside Gorse Hill

On its website, the new Land League quotes Parnell: "When a man takes a farm from which another had been evicted you must shun him on the roadside."

The group first grabbed the media's attention in July 2013, when its members disrupted a distressed property auction in Dublin - a fire sale of Celtic Tiger folly.

The group's spokesman, Jerry Beades, said the Irish public still associated forced evictions with Davitt's Land League, and when a Parnell speech was quoted at the forcibly abandoned auction, they decided to adopt the name.

The league's main aim is to stop evictions in the Republic of Ireland and it has called on the banks to allow homeowners to make " realistic" repayments.

'Trophy home'

Most Irish anti-austerity protests have focused their anger on the banks, but property developers, to whom the banks lent recklessly, rarely escape their wrath.

So, the sight of anti-austerity protesters campaigning to keep a property developer in his multi-million euros mansion has prompted much comment in the media.

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Image caption Members of the 'new land league' were said to have blocked the entrance to the mansion on Monday

Writing in the Irish Independent, the economist David McWilliams said it was "less easy to feel sorry for the O'Donnell family's plight than it is for much poorer people" who are facing eviction from "much less salubrious" houses.

'Stuck together'

However, Mr Beades told the same newspaper that the O'Donnells are "no different" to any other family facing repossession action.

"When the Land League was first formed, there were big farmers thrown off land as well as small tenant farmers. They all stuck together."

He added: "Whether you owe 50,000 euros or 5m euros, the issues are the same."

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Beades said nearly half a million people in the state had debts they could not service.

He said the O'Donnells had already paid back millions to Irish banks but Bank of Ireland was "trying to pursue them to ends of the earth".

The Irish public would be "shocked" by the sight of a "masked receiver" nailing an eviction order to the gates of a family home, the league's spokesman said.

'Confronted bailiffs'

Many Irish farmers have suffered a similar fate in recent years, but the media has not been interested in their plight, he added.

When asked how many lower-profile cases the Land League had become involved in, Mr Beades said they have provided advice to "hundreds of families" facing eviction.

He said in the last year alone, they have successfully resisted 10 evictions, where families have stayed in their homes. He added the group had "confronted" bailiffs in 10 other repossession cases.

Mr Beades said he had been inside plenty of homes during eviction proceedings and the current atmosphere in the O'Donnell house was the just the same - difficult.

He said several further court hearings were pending and added that the Land League intends to see the Gorse Hill case out "to the end".

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