Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Lissadell owners win legal battle

The owners of Lissadell House in Sligo have won a long-running battle over rights of way

The owners of one of the country's most historic homes have won a long-running battle over rights of way.

Barristers Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh secured victory over Sligo County Council which sought to allow public access along four routes on the estate.

Lissadell was formerly the ancestral home of the Gore Booth family, as well as the former home of Countess Constance Markievicz and had strong links with WB Yeats.

After years of legal wrangling and a 58-day court battle, the five-judge Supreme Court has ruled that three routes into the estate are not public ways.

However, a small part of the land on Lissadell with access to the coast can be used by the public, but no cars can park there.

The lawyers bought the estate and house for about 4.5 million euro (£3.7m) in 2003.

Outside the Four Courts in Dublin, the couple's daughter, Elanor, thanked their neighbours, more than 30 people involved in the restoration of the house, and their legal team for their hard work, support and encouragement.

"The last five years have been a very difficult time for Lissadell and us as a family," she said, flanked by her six brothers and sisters.

"We are now going to take time to decide what the future will hold both for ourselves and Lissadell."

The lawyers were working today and could not attend the case.

The case centred on a 2008 decision by Sligo County Council to grant four access routes through the estate - including one passing just yards from the front door of the property - after complaints were made by members of the public.

It argued it had a statutory obligation to protect such public rights of way under the 1993 Roads Act and the roadways had been used extensively by the public for well in excess of 100 years.

The estate has attracted thousands of visitors a year.

Ms Walsh said her parents and family were happy with the court ruling that found the rights of way claimed by the local authority do not exist, in particular the right to parking and right of way in front of the house.

"They have held the only right of way is for people to walk along the seafront at the Alpine garden, which we have always permitted," she said.

A hearing on the legal bill - estimated to run to some seven million euros - will be heard at a later date.

Solicitor Dermot Hewson, for Sligo County Council, said the council was intensely disappointed by the outcome but believed it had no option but to take action.

He confirmed the local authority would also "hotly" contest the costs if awarded against it in full.

Mr Hewson said everybody was disappointed that Lissadell closed to the public.

"Everybody recognises t he importance of the house and the grounds and also recognises the very hard and wonderful work that Mr and Mrs Walsh undertook there," he said.

Designed by London architect Francis Goodwin for Sir Robert Gore-Booth MP, the building of Lissadell began in 1830 and was completed five years later, replacing a smaller house.

It was the childhood home of Constance Gore-Booth, who in later years, as Countess Markievicz, was closely connected with the leaders of the struggle for independence and became the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons.

She refused to take her seat as the first woman MP at Westminster, but later sat as a member of the first Dail.

Her brother Josslyn was the grandfather of the last Lissadell owner, who had the same name and put it on the market 10 years ago.

The new owners have spent an estimated nine million euros restoring the estate.

Sligo County Council claimed it did everything it reasonably could to achieve a resolution, including proposing to the owners the appointment of a mediator and the referral of the matter for consideration by the respective senior counsel.

"All its proposals were rejected by the owners who made it clear that they wanted the issue dealt with by the courts," it said in a statement.

The Supreme Court hand ed out a complex 116-page ruling on what was one of the longest and most expensive property disputes in the history of the State.

Mr Justic e Nial Fennelly ruled that while two access routes - Main Avenue and Forge Avenue - had been dedicated public rights of way by Sir Robert Gore-Booth and his son, Newcomen, from 1857 to 1861, they could not be upheld.

"Firstly, the public use upon which the finding is based commenced in the 1950s, which is within living memory, and cannot, in logic, provide any basis for a finding of dedication by reference to that user almost a century earlier," the judge ruled.

"Secondly, dedication by Sir Robert Gore-Booth would have been entirely inconsistent with the undisputed evidence that Sir Robert had developed the estate, the principal house and surrounding demesne in accordance with a strict policy of privacy and security."

The family also could not have contemplated the parking of motor cars - which were yet to be invented - on their land, they said.

Elsewhere the judges found no evidence that another route, known as the Farm Avenue, existed before its appearance on the Ordnance Survey map of 1885, so it could never have been dedicated by the Gore-Booths.

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