Northern Ireland’s £27 million lottery winner Margaret Loughrey is keeping just £1m of her fortune for herself.
The selfless Strabane woman, who was unemployed when she scooped the EuroMillions jackpot last December, says she has already given away £13.5 million.
Speaking to Sunday Life, Margaret revealed she will be using the other £12.5m of her lucky dip winnings to transform her much loved home town.
While she could easily spend her millions on a fleet of fancy cars and wardrobes full of designer clothes, the generous 48-year-old plans to invest the money to provide jobs and amenities for local people.
“As soon as I won the money I said it would go for the good of the town,” she said.
“I’ve already given half of it away.
“I always said one for me, and the rest for the town.”
Margaret was speaking to Sunday Life after her plans to buy Strabane’s vacant 22 acre business park site were shot down by Invest NI.
She had hoped to create up to 80 jobs at the site which has been lying empty for months by creating a craft village — but the business development agency said her plans simply don’t meet their criteria.
Des Gartland, Invest NI North Western Regional Manager said the agency had met three times with Margaret to discuss the purchase, but added that they needed a business focused on export growth.
Margaret has already purchased the historic Herdman’s Mill in Sion Mills just outside Strabane for around £1 million with plans to
transform the 62-acre complex on the banks of the River Mourne into a leisure and tourism destination.
The plans include a museum highlighting the north west’s industrial heritage as well as football pitches and a bowling alley for local people to use.
Her plans for the Invest NI site on Melmount Road would have seen 30 or 40 units built there to allow crafters to do woodwork, metalwork, painting and knitting, with their wares being sold to visitors.
While she says she’s disappointed with Invest NI’s decision, Margaret won’t let their refusal stop her from rebranding Strabane into a mecca for tourism.
“I don’t really need Invest NI, I can buy somewhere else - but I wanted to give them a boost,” she said.
“I thought it would give them a lift, but they don’t want to know.
“They have turned down jobs, and that investment, they are letting it sit empty because they say the site is for industrial use only.
“I told them I’d buy it for industrial use and I would purchase another site for crafts to be sold, but still they said no.”
The millionairess is now the director of nine firms she set up
since May. She had six new firms registered last week including Tiny Wee Farm Ltd and Evish Water Ltd, and believes her ambitious business plans will make Strabane a top tourism destination.
“You’ve got the American Folk Park in Omagh, the walls of Derry, Donegal.
“There is so much in that area and Strabane could be the focal point for that,” she said.
“There is so much talent here in the Strabane area, people just need to be given a chance.
“Everyone has the right to work for a living, to support their families, to buy their own home, to run their own business — these are things everyone should have the chance to do.
“People just need to be given opportunities.”
Just a few months ago, Margaret was unemployed herself and living on benefits of just £58 a week, but her life changed forever when she bought a lottery ticket on the way home from the Job Centre.
Despite her new found wealth, Margaret has not forgotten how difficult life was on benefits, and that’s why she’s so determined to help others.
“I know what it’s like to have nothing,” she said.
“That’s why I’m giving it away — I can’t miss what I never had.
“I spent half of my adult life unemployed and the other half on minimum wage so I know only too well how hard things can be.”
While Margaret is thought to have purchased a townhouse in Portugal, she insists that Northern Ireland will always be home.
“This is where I want to be, this is where I belong,” she said.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Margaret since her big win — in March she was sectioned against her will under the terms of the Mental Health Act.
Speaking at the time, Margaret said she was left “hurt and distressed” by the decision to section her, and denied that she was a danger to herself.
Strabane estate agent Ronan McAnenny, who brokered Margaret’s Herdman’s Mill purchase, said work has already begun on the site.
“Margaret is the fairytale of Sion Mills. If everything she wants to do works out she will have completely transformed the area — and all for the benefit of local people,” he said.