Council could face legal €7m bill after Lissadell ruling
Supreme Court backs owners of historic Sligo estate in action against council
Lissadell House in Co Sligo, which is owned by barristers Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson
Sligo County Council could face a legal costs bill of several million euro after the owners of the Lissadell estate won a unanimous Supreme Court ruling that there are no public rights of way across four avenues through the historic estate.
The court did find a public right of way across part of a coastal route through the estate taking in the beach at Lissadell but quashed a High Court declaration granting a right to park cars on Lissadell lands adjoining that section.
The judgment of the five-judge court marks the final stage in the long and bitter legal battle between the council and barristers Constance Cassidy SC and Edward Walsh SC, who bought the estate and 410 acres for €4 million in 2003 and spent €9.5 million restoring it.
Lissadell was the former home of the Gore-Booth family, of whom Constance Gore-Booth, later Countess Markievicz, became the first woman in the world to hold a seat in cabinet after her appointment as minister for labour by the first Dáil Éireann.
County development plan
When the new owners learned in 2004 that public rights of way were being asserted over routes in the estate, they locked the gates on the main avenue, resulting in a campaign to ensure public rights of way at Lissadell in which, the Supreme Court noted, Cllr Joe Leonard was “particularly active”. After the council in December 2008 resolved to amend the county development plan to provide for preservation of public rights of way over four routes, the owners took High Court proceedings insisting there were no public rights of way.
After a 58-day hearing, Mr Justice Bryan McMahon dismissed the owners’ claims but they appealed to the Supreme Court in a hearing that ran for 10 days.
Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, Mr Justice Liam McKechnie and Mr Justice John MacMenamin prepared the Supreme Court’s 116-page judgment, delivered yesterday, with which Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham and Mr Justice John Murray agreed.
The matter was adjourned to allow the sides consider the judgment. Costs and other issues will be decided later. The costs of the High Court case were estimated at more than €6 million and overall costs at more than €7 million.
The case concerned four routes through the estate – A-B (from Crushmore through Coillte lands); B-C (the Main Avenue); B-D (Forge Avenue); and B-E (Farm Avenue).
The Supreme Court ruled that the common law of Ireland required, before a public right of way can be established, that it is necessary to prove the owners of the lands dedicated the way to the public and the public accepted that dedication.