HE IS the archetypal loveable old eccentric. And with the newly acquired sobriquet of ‘Britain’s richest tramp’, Sligo-born Henry ‘Harry’ Hallowes has now achieved worldwide fame since he won the €3m rights to private woodland on Hampstead Heath that he has squatted on for 20 years of his life.
But it’s a life that has benefited from a certain amount of editing. The 71-year-old has, for example, spoken about a family ‘rift’ that stems from his parents’ decision to quit their native Sligo for a London bedsit in the 1950s.
Harry, who lives in a ramshackle hovel on the edge of London’s Hampstead Heath and whose ‘neighbours’ include Saudi royalty and rock star Sting, has said he has never forgiven them for leaving.
He has also said he hated the London flat they settled in and was ‘mystified’ as to why they ever left their idyllic Sligo home in Calry village.
And while he has vaguely mentioned a ‘half-brother’ in an interview, he has also said he is an ‘only child’.
All this, however, is news to his older brother Lionel, who lives in a €445,000 semi with 78-year-old wife Alice about an hour away in Middlesex.
‘He most certainly is not an only child and he does have a brother – me,’ he said last night.
‘I’m not a half brother either and if he wants to have a DNA test, then that’s fine by me.’ The retired 73-year-old butcher and father-of-four said he was also mystified at a suggestion by Harry – who returned to settle in London in the 1980s after more than 20 years working and living in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Monte Carlo – of a family rift.
Lionel said: ‘There was never any falling out and I can’t understand why he keeps saying there was or why he can’t even acknowledge he has a brother.
‘Both his mother and father adored him and throughout their lives, they could never understand why he turned his back on them.
‘In turn, they both died without him either saying goodbye or explaining to them what happened to him.
‘Right up until the point they died, they would ask after him and want to know why he hadn’t been in touch with them or if I had any news.’ He added: ‘Harry had been travelling in New Zealand and his father was still alive when he returned to London in the late 1980s but he still did not get in touch.
‘He just walked out on the family and except for a few letters, we never heard from Harry again.’ He said there is no mystery as to why his parents left Sligo. They did so because of a lack of jobs in their native Calry, where Lionel Sr had worked as a cabinet maker and It was this work that led to him being one of the pall bearers at Sligo poet WB Yeats’s September 1948 funeral.
He recalled: ‘My parents worked very hard to make ends meet. We were poor but we managed to get by, at first with any money my parents earned and then with the money I earned.
‘But then I decided to go to London to work and raise a family of my own, and the others followed after me.
‘Like so many people at the time, they also had little choice but to leave Ireland and try to find work in England.’ While his parents were in Sligo, it was Lionel, who describes his brother as an ‘oddball’, who helped them out financially.
Little help, however, appears to have come from Harry who seems to have just drifted from one job to another.
He was fired for stealing a chip basket for his mother on one occasion – an incident Lionel thinks contributed to his long-lasting animosity towards authority.
But for all that, Lionel says he never had any ambition – something Harry has astonishingly blamed on his parents in recent interviews.
Little more than a month after arriving in London in 1956, Lionel married in a service attended by Harry and then embarked on a successful career as a butcher at a string of shops around west London.
And as well as raising his own children, he continued to look after and support his parents until their deaths – Mamie in 1977 and Lionel Sr in 1989.
However Harry, who had worked as a wholesaler’s apprentice at Woods on Grattan Street, Sligo and Foley’s soft drink suppliers, typically didn’t stick around London for long after his arrival with his parents in around 1957.
Because – as he has told reporters – he was disgusted at the family’s ‘filthy bedsit’ dwellings in London, he went to live in a caravan with an aunt, Hilary Goodison, in Hampshire before eventually emigrating to New Zealand around 1958.
And other than a few letters home, that was effectively the last Lionel or his parents heard of Harry – until news that he was at the centre of a squatter’s rights battle broke in 2005.
Then property developers Dwyer International began proceedings to evict Harry from a half-acre strip of land they wanted to donate to the Corporation of London in their bid to get planning permission for a e33m block of flats.
Dwyer dropped the case against Harry – who counts former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam among his army of fans and friends – after his solicitors presented evidence that he had lived there for more than 12 years and could therefore not be removed.
Shortly after the story broke in the British papers, Lionel – who was raised as a Protestant but converted to Catholicism before he married his Catholic wife in 1956 – went to see his brother but received a frosty welcome.
He said last night: ‘The first thing he had a go at me about was the fact that I converted to Catholicism and married a Catholic woman, and – as he put it – “crossed over to the other side”.
‘I thought he was joking but he was very serious and quite annoyed.
‘The reunion didn’t take very long.
I think I left after about 15 minutes.
‘But before I did, I told him he could call me if there was ever anything I could do for him and although I have asked him to Christmas lunch with my family, I have not heard from him since.’ As to what prompted Harry’s decision to drop out of society and spend the rest of his life living rough, Lionel believes it might have been connected to crop work he carried out in Australia.
He said: ‘My family have tried to figure out what happened to him and we are convinced something did. When he was in Australia, I know he was involved in cropspraying. I think that could have affected him.’ As to his younger brother’s million-euro ‘fortune’, he added: ‘He’s more than welcome to it.
‘I wouldn’t live the way he has lived, but then he seems to enjoy it and has always been a bit happygo-lucky about things.
‘I don’t think he’ll do anything about the land, and even if he does – it’s got nothing to do with me or my family.’