A decision made on the spur of the moment changed Margaret Loughrey’s life for ever. But how her life unfolded after that is a cautionary tale that proves that money — even an eye-watering lottery win to the tune of £27m — cannot buy happiness.
A bank account with that balance would be most people’s idea of heaven, but in later years the businesswoman candidly admitted it plunged her into hell, saying: “Money has brought me nothing but grief. It has destroyed my life.”
Back in 2013, the Strabane woman, who was aged in her late 50s and was found dead at her home on Thursday, found a spare couple of pounds in her purse that she used to buy a couple of EuroMillions Lottery lucky dips.
It was not a frivolous decision. At the time Ms Loughrey was jobless, and had just visited the local job centre to print off job applications when she stopped off at a Supervalu.
The shop assistant handed her the slip with the numbers 19, 23, 27, 42 and 44 with Lucky Stars 3 and 5.
In a seven-billion-to-one stroke of luck, her life was transformed, and from struggling by on the £58-per-week Jobseeker’s Allowance, Ms Loughrey officially became one of Ireland’s richest women with a total of £26,863,588.
The multi-millionaire held the title of Northern Ireland’s biggest ever lottery winner until 2019 when couple Frances and Patrick Connolly, from Moira, Co Down, scooped nearly £115m — one of the highest UK payouts on record.
Amid the press attention at the time of her £27m win, and joy from the public, she had said she was determined the large sum would not change her. She insisted she would continue to live in her native town and pledged to help her family and a few close friends.
And despite being thrust into the spotlight, Ms Loughrey managed to keep her personal life largely private.
It is understood she was briefly married for a period, but that union had ended amicably. Margaret had no children.
“If whatever is out there has given me this amount of money, then it couldn’t be for anything but good,” she said. “All it will do is change lives for the better and make a lot of people happy — not just me.”
Wise words, but in retrospect, her well-intended but perhaps naive proclamations now appear to have been tempting fate, and sadly as the old adage goes, fate can be a cruel mistress.
A complicated individual, the woman who was dubbed ‘Maggie Millions’ focused on using her win to help the community around her.
In 2014 she purchased Herdman’s Mill in Sion Mills — a listed complex that dates back to 1835 and was spinning linen until the Herdman family ceased production in 2004 — for a reported £1m.
When she bought it, the site had been the scene of several fires — a problem that continued to persist after the purchase.
And despite hopes of a much-needed cash investment by Ms Loughrey, relations with the sporting groups who used the facilities in the grounds of the mill quickly soured.
She became embroiled in a row with Sion Mills Cricket Club, founded by the Herdman family in 1864, after locking them out of their pitch on the 60-acre grounds.
The dispute was subsequently resolved and an agreement was struck between both parties that enabled the cricket club to use the pitch again.
In 2015, she was ordered by a judge to complete 150 hours of community service after she was convicted of assaulting a taxi driver in Strabane in what a court heard was an alcohol-fuelled incident outside her home.
Then just a year later there were further legal matters when a court ordered her to hand over part of the complex to the Sion Mills Buildings Preservation Trust because of deterioration.
With her grand plans for the complex never coming to fruition, in May it was reported that Donegal drinks firm Mulrines was hoping to complete a deal to buy the listed building.
Her troubles — and arguably she was the architect of many of them — were not over yet.
In 2018 she was ordered to pay £30,000 to a former employee for bullying and firing him on a “vindictive whim”, after losing an employment tribunal.
Last September she lost her appeal after a judge upheld the tribunal’s verdict that she subjected the devout Catholic to a “corrosive” campaign of control and humiliation.
The tribunal had heard that she employed Patrick Breslin initially on an informal basis to attend meetings, carry out administrative duties and general labouring.
Mr Breslin had moved into one of Ms Loughrey’s properties, and giving his evidence to the tribunal recalled that she had let herself into the property while he was at work and moved one of his religious statues.
He testified of his shock at then receiving a text message asking: “Did you like where I left your silly person?”
She told the Sunday Life in 2019 that her lotto win had “sent her to hell and back”, caused her significant weight loss — even though it pulled her out of a life being lived on benefits.
“I have had six years of this. I don’t believe in religion, but if there is a hell, I have been in it,” she insisted.
Ms Loughrey had also claimed that unnamed individuals had “stolen millions” from her over the years.
The sad end to the ‘Maggie Millions’ story means that the proud Strabane woman, whose death is not being treated as suspicious by the PSNI, now joins the pantheon of jackpot millionaires whose lives have been blighted by their fortunes.
In 2012 Adrian and Gillian Bayford scooped £148m and within a year the couple were flooded by begging letters and fell victims to an email scam. They ended their marriage in 2013.
In 2005 Limerick woman Dolores McNamara’s Irish landmark €113m Euromillions win left her with a string of family problems — including her eldest son being forced into hiding because of a kidnap plot.
In stark contrast to Margaret’s early post-win optimism, she spoke of bitter resentment of her own seven-billion-to-one stroke of fortune two years’ ago.
“I regret winning the lottery, of course I do. I was a happy person before. I am a human being and all it has done is destroy my life,” she said.