We all dream of winning the lottery, of never having to worry about money again, of having our wildest dreams actually within reach. But for Strabane multi-millionaire Margaret Loughrey, winning £27million turned her ordinary life into a nightmare.
n 2013, Margaret was divorced and unemployed, living in a modest two-bedroomed bungalow on a Strabane housing estate when she picked up a EuroMillions ticket on her way back from the job centre.
It was an ordinary Friday and she was trying to figure out how to make the £58 she received in benefits last the week. But after that evening’s EuroMillions draw, she had £27million in her bank account and never had to worry about money ever again.
After the news broke in the town, a journalist friend of mine was the first to interview Strabane’s newest millionaire. He arrived at her door and was welcomed in to a sparsely-furnished home where Margaret and her friends had gathered. The mood was jovial.
Margaret had a firm idea of what she was going to spend her new-found wealth on, she said — her family, her friends and making her home town a better place for everyone.
She welcomed him ‘into a room of millionaires’ as she had pledged each one of her friends a portion of her winnings. She said that she didn’t feel like she had won the lotto, but that everyone had. She said that her win would change everyone’s lives.
I first spoke with Margaret a few years later, when the shock of her win had been truly absorbed and her life had begun to unravel in the full glare of the public eye.
She had bought the historic Herdman’s Mill in Sion Mills for £1million and had told me she had firm plans to rejuvenate it for the benefit of the local community.
It was to be a tourist attraction and sports centre, she said. She was hailed a hero locally. But that sentiment didn’t last long. The project was plagued by ceaseless troubles.
It was constantly targeted by vandals and set on fire multiple times. She locked Sion Mills Cricket Club and Sion Swifts Football Club from their pitches on the grounds after a row over the land. Everything went sour.
Two years after her win, she assaulted a taxi driver while drunk, breaking his glasses and smashing his satnav. He drove her straight to the police station where she had to be restrained by officers.
A few years later, she was ordered to pay £30,000 to a former personal assistant after he sued her for unfair dismissal.
By that stage she had also been detained under the Mental Health Act at Derry’s Gransha Hospital after doctors said she ‘posed a danger to herself or to others’.
In our conversations, I found her to be far removed from the perceived arrogant and aggressive individual who was rumoured to have been seen throwing £20 notes into an open fire in a local pub in Strabane one evening without a care.
Over the years she came to trust me, to talk to me outside of the interviews. And I found her at times vulnerable, broken and unable to cope with what life had thrown at her.
In 2018, we spoke after she was accused of being disruptive and aggressive on a holiday flight to Malta. Police were called by the captain and were waiting for her when she landed.
She told me the incident was not due to aggression but down to low blood sugar levels, that she might have been a diabetic, but didn’t know because she ‘didn’t go to doctors’.
She said she was put into an ‘asylum’ for 10 days in a strange country and she hated it.
Margaret would often call me with a story. She wasn’t a shy, retiring wall flower. She liked to be in control of situations, and that also meant what appeared in the papers.
She was strong willed and at times resilient, wanting to get her side of the story out there. Other times she wanted to tell her story so people would stop hating her.
She often called me late at night, often heavily under the influence and I would tell her that I wasn’t running any story from her until she was sober, despite some of them being front page material.
I would tell her that if she wanted the story done, she should call me the next day clear of mind and we’d chat. I told her that I would never take quotes from a drunk woman, that I would never take advantage of her vulnerability. She told me she appreciated that, because many had taken advantage of her. Her life was a string of sad stories.
She spoke to me often about being bitterly disappointed in people who had taken her money and abandoned her. She was a woman who sadly trusted people too much, who thought money could buy friendship, could buy happiness.
She burnt through her money on ill-advised investments and gave a lot of it away to fair-weather friends. She built a huge house for herself in the Ballycolman area of Strabane. She lived in it very briefly and moved back to her modest bungalow where she felt most comfortable. She often said that she wished she had never bought the EuroMillions ticket that brought her a fortune, because with it came misery.
“Money has brought me nothing but grief,” she told me after we spoke about her £27million fortune dwindling to just £5million.
“It has destroyed my life. I have had six years of this and I don’t believe in religion, but if there is a Hell, I have been in it. It has been that bad. I went down to five-and-a-half stone. I have not had one bit of happiness from it.”
The last conversation I had with Margaret was at Christmas time. It was late in the evening and I excused myself from a family gathering to speak to her.
She was by herself, she was drunk, she was upset. She had no money worries, but seemingly had no one to share her money with, so it was useless to her. She told me she regretted winning the lottery, that she was a happy person before all of this. She said money had destroyed her life.
She heard my kids tumble into the room in typical noisy fashion and told me to go and look after them and to have a happy Christmas. I wished her the very same.
Despite having more money than many of us will ever have seen in lifetime, I always came away from our conversations feeling sorry for her. Feeling worried for her.
Margaret was a troubled soul. Money, far from opening up a world of opportunities to her, made the world a much smaller and more hostile place for her. Because of her wealth she was burned continuously by those she trusted, so she trusted no one. In the end money destroyed her.
During our last conversation she told me was planning a ‘youth bar’, where young people could go to ‘enjoy themselves and be safe’. She had big plans to breathe life into a run down building in the town centre. Like saving the run down mill, like plans to build luxury homes in Sion Mills, like the giving away of millions to friends, she just wanted people to like her, to speak well of her. Many times her plans backfired and she was left ruing the day she ever pumped her fortune into anything.
She told me she was down to her last ‘couple of million’ and I advised her to cling on to it for dear life. I told her to get professional financial advice. She told me she trusted no one. She offered me money. I told her to stop giving her money away to strangers, or she will have nothing at all left.
I told her to protect fiercely what she has now — still a fortune most can only dream of — focus on herself and concentrate on her future. It’s tragic that that future has now been taken away from her.
I hope Margaret has found the peace and ease that, despite her wealth, totally eluded her in life.