Lissadell House in Sligo set to reopen to public

Move ends five years of legal dispute over access

 Lissadell House in Sligo, owned by Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Lissadell House in Sligo, owned by Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to re-open Sligo’s Lissadell House and Gardens to the public on Friday, five years after it closed due to a legal dispute over rights of way.

Senior barristers Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy, owners of the ancestral home of 1916 leader Constance Markievicz, said they believed it was time to “put aside negativity” , while stating that they believed “the actions of Sligo County Council were unnecessary”.

Speaking at a press conference in Lissadell House today, Mr Walsh said the litigation - which he and his wife Constance initiated back in 2009 - had a “massive impact” on their family, and was “traumatic, difficult and challenging”.

He credited the influence of their seven children and the goodwill messages they had received after last year’s Supreme Court ruling with their decision to re-open the 19th century house, closely associated with poet WB Yeats.

Mr Walsh also paid tribute to Minister of State for Small Business John Perry for his support and for highlighting the tourism and employment benefits of the house and gardens, and said he was aware that these views were shared by Mr Kenny.

The couple have spent over €9 million on the estate since they purchased it for €3.75 million from Josslyn Gore-Booth in 2003, he said. Since then, the couple have not drawn down “one penny” of State grants, Mr Walsh said.

Section 482 of the Finance Act, which allows for expenditure on restoration to be eligible for capital allowances, has been of no great advantage since it was capped some years ago, he noted.

Mr Walsh recalled how the Leonard Cohen performances on the estate in July 2010 had led to offers by other artists, but “all this came to nothing when the High Court case was lost”.

“All this is in the past,”he said. “We look forward to moving forward on a positive note.”

Estate manager Isobel Cassidy confirmed the Yeats and Markievicz galleries, the alpine and kitchen gardens and woodland walks were all ready to re-open. “To paraphrase The Terminator, we are back”, she said.

Mr Perry welcomed the decision on behalf of the Government as a “huge economic benefit to the region, to the Atlantic corridor and the west of Ireland”.

He recalled Lissadell’s associations with Countess that Markievicz, first female minister in a western democracy, and noted the 150th anniversary of Yeats’s birth is next year.

Recently appointed Sligo County Manager Ciaran Hayes also welcomed the decision and confirmed that he hoped to meet the Lissadell owners shortly. “I’m drawing a line under the court case,” Mr Hayes said.

Former Fine Gael councillor Joe Leonard, who proposed the original motion that led to the couple’s legal action, said he did not wish to comment further.

Last November, the Supreme Court found in favour of the Lissadell owners when it overturned a High Court ruling that four rights of way existed on four avenues through the estate.

The Supreme Court found only one one right of way existed along part of a coastal route. Sligo County Council faces paying some 75 per cent of costs of the legal challenge, but the final figure will be decided by the taxing master and may take several years, Mr Hayes said.

The Supreme Court ruling has wider implications for public rights of way, with Mountaineering Ireland noting that it had set an “unreasonably high” burden of proof on anyone asserting a right of way anywhere in the State.