Lissadell ruling reflects a reliance on English law and sense of property
Opinion: Historical parallel suggests that ideology that underlies legal thinking has not changed much
Lissadell House: A local action group had no success in persuading the State to buy the house. Photograph: Alan Betson
Lissadell had been the home of the Gore-Booth family from the 16th century. It is on the coast overlooking the sea between Sligo town and Raghley Head, within the view of Ben Bulben and not far from Drumcliff. The original mansion house at Lissadell was built between 1750 and 1760.
During the occupancy of the estate by the fourth baronet of the Gore-Booth family, Sir Robert Gore-Booth, in the early part of the 19th century, the estate underwent a number of radical changes.
Sir Robert was chairman of the local grand jury, the predecessor of the local authority, and this facilitated him in making changes to the roads and avenues in and around the estate. He demolished the first Lissadell House and in the early 1830s built a new mansion 700 metres back from the sea, on higher ground, to give unimpeded views of the sea. He also constructed a new network of roads and avenues.
Sir Robert’s principal concern, as relayed to his architect, was to ensure that the house and surrounding gardens would remain completely undisturbed by traffic and by the visible presence of servants and tradesmen. A servants’ tunnel was built to avoid employees being in the view of the Gore-Booths and their guests from the expansive windows of the new mansion.
Sir Robert also engaged in the enlargement of the estate “to aggrandise the demesne when the new mansion was built” in the words of Bryan McMahon, the High Court judge who heard the case taken by the present owners against Sligo County Council. The addition of a further 555 acres brought the size of the estate to 32,000 acres.
This aggrandisment necessitated the eviction of 120 families from the newly acquired lands. Sir Robert is credited with paying the passage to Canada of the families he had evicted from their homes. It is not recorded what the families thought of this arrangement or of the legal framework which facilitated their eviction. Nor is it recorded what the servants and tradesmen, whose visible presence was so distasteful to Sir Robert, thought of the lengths that were gone to to keep them from view.
In 1904 the sixth baronet, Sir Josslyn Gore Booth, sold 28,000 of the 32,000 acres to the Land Commission and on the remaining property developed a vibrant commercial enterprise employing up to 200 people at one stage. Among its enterprises was a munitions factory, which operated during the 1914-1918 war. In subsequent decades the estate went into decline and in 2003 Lissadell was offered for sale. A local action group tried to persuade the State to purchase the property but without success. In December 2003, two practising barristers, Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy (husband and wife) bought Lissadell House and its adjoining 410 acres for €4 million and subsequently spent €9.5 million in its restoration.