THE sale of feudal Irish baronies by London auctioneers is to be legally challenged by a Californian ranch owner who believes a title he bought is bogus. Joseph Donohoe, 55, from San Francisco, bought the title “Baron of Loughtee” for Pounds 33,000 last year at a London sale organised by Manorial Auctioneers. After consulting with historians and heralds, he believes the Loughtee title, supposedly based in Co Cavan, had no historical basis. Donohoe is planning legal action to recover a Pounds 6,000 deposit which the company is refusing to return. He will argue that the company and Lord Lanesborough, the previous Baron of Loughtee, had no right to sell the title. “I want my money back and I want to pursue the principle of the matter,” Donohoe said. “I will carry this as far as needed to make my point. “I bought the title because of a family connection, not because I wanted to use it. I have not found anyone able to verify it. The title is said to have been owned by the Butlers, but they were only one of many families who owned land in the area.” Several London auctioneers have begun a lucrative business selling Irish feudal baronies, mostly to wealthy American and British businessmen. Supporters of Donohoe’s claims include Thomas Woodcock, a senior herald in the College of Arms, London, and Kenneth Nicholls, a historian at University College Cork, who are critical of auctioneers selling baronies. “The Irish baronies now being marketed are purely fictitious, including Loughtee,” said Nicholls. “The title has been sold on behalf of a descendant of the Butler family who were granted land in Cavan in the Ulster plantation. Their claim to the title is non-existent and it has never been used before.” Nicholls said that the holders of genuine peerage titles are being asked to lend their names as vendors to the sale of Irish baronies. “In one case, an Irish peer received a letter informing him that a firm had discovered he was entitled to two feudal baronies. There was also a Pounds 500 cheque and a contract promising Pounds 7,000 more on the sale of each barony. After being assured by me that the titles were fictitious, he returned the cheque and contract,” Nicholls said. Manorial Auctioneers, a trading arm of the Manorial Society, has been asked for compensation by the Lord of Barton, whose title they tried to sell while he was still alive. Robert Smith, a former sub-editor, revived the society in 1980 and has since convinced dozens of peers that their manorial titles are an untapped source of wealth. He denies directly canvassing lords for sales. “We do not approach people to sell because we have no need to. Peers themselves approach us,” Smith said. Manorial Auctioneers asserts the title of Baron of Loughtee is authentic and has resold it to David Hodge, a businessman who has registered his title with the Registry of Deeds in Dublin. “Some Irish people do not like the idea of peers lording it over them as they did in the 19th century. That is why they are pouring cold water on these sales,” Smith said. “I think there is also an element in the Irish government that disapproves of latter-day landlordism, that is British-based peers selling off Ireland and raking in the proceeds. “In fact, most purchasers of Irish baronies are American or Canadian, who claim to have Irish antecedents.” Richard Needham, a former Northern Ireland minister, is the latest British establishment figure to cash in his title. Last week he sold the Barony of Orhera, covering 32,000 acres in Co Armagh, for Pounds 20,500 to an anonymous bidder at a London auction.