Wicklow walking trail closed to public after alleged assault of landowner

Sheep farmer Pat Dunne withdraws consent for public access to his lands via Zig Zags trail at Glenmalure

The group of land owners near Lugnaquilla in Co Wicklow stipulated no dogs should be brought onto the mountain due to the disturbance they caused to livestock, including sheep being mauled.

A popular hiking trail in Co Wicklow is now effectively closed to the public after a landowner was allegedly assaulted there and has now withdrawn his permission for the public to hike through his lands.

Sheep farmer Pat Dunne, a well-known figure in the Wicklow farming scene, was allegedly assaulted last Sunday by a man hiking on the trail with dogs. Gardaí said they were aware of the incident.

The marked trail near Glenmalure where the alleged assault occurred on Sunday is known locally as the Zig Zags. It provides walkers with access from the base of Carrawaystick Waterfall towards Lugnaquilla.

While the trail route is through private lands, Mr Dunne and other landowners in the area gave permission 16 years ago for an agreed access route to run through their lands. This ensured the public could hike the Zig Zags trial, which has been marked by Wicklow County Council.

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Mr Dunne was one of the first landowners to grant permission to the public to have access through his lands, but the group of landowners stipulated no dogs should be brought on to the mountain due to the disturbance they caused to livestock, including sheep being mauled.

On Sunday when Mr Dunne asked a man not to bring three dogs on to the trail, he was allegedly assaulted. As a result, Mr Dunne has now withdrawn permission for his lands to form part of the Zig Zags trail, effectively resulting in its closure.

In reply to queries, Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, said it was aware of an alleged assault and inquiries were under way.

In statement published by Mountaineering Ireland, Mr Dunne said he wanted it “known that for the last 16 years we have permitted open access to Lugnaquilla via the Zig Zags”.

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“The track and open mountain lands immediately above are private property. The only request in return for open access to our land was that no dogs were brought on to the mountain due to the disturbance they can cause to livestock,” he said. “It is not an unreasonable request as we have had many instances of sheep being mauled by dogs on the mountain.

“However, over the years we have had many instances of verbal abuse with people as they ignored signage asking that dogs were not brought on to our lands. In one case this even resulted in a threat that our house ‘would be burnt down’.”

He said the “final straw” came on Sunday morning after he repeatedly asked a man and a youth accompanying him not to bring their dogs on to the track. “He physically assaulted me, knocking me to the ground, before continuing up the mountain with the dogs. It is because of this that we have decided to revoke the permissive access agreement and close the trail to the public with immediate effect.”

Mountaineering Ireland said the case of Mr Dunne “illustrates how the poor behaviour of one individual can result in a loss of access that affects the wider recreation community”. It hoped “hillwalkers and climbers will show their support for Pat Dunne and his family by respecting this closure”.

“This is a particularly sensitive time of year on the hills as ewes are heavily pregnant or may have young lambs,” it added. “Birds and other wildlife are also breeding and vulnerable to disturbance at this time. Mountaineering Ireland requests that people not take dogs into the uplands without the landowner’s permission to do so.”

Irish Farmers’ Association president Tim Cullinan has condemned the assault on Mr Dunne was “a disgraceful attack on a landowner who was one of the first in the country to allow an agreed access route” across his lands over 15 years ago.

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“Nobody can blame the farmer in question for closing off access when he’s subject to this kind of behaviour.”

Aaron Byrne, rural recreation officer with County Wicklow Partnership, said his organisation “completely supports” the Dunne family in their decision.

“The success of ‘the walks scheme’ and access routes are evident all over the country and that’s based on co-operation between landowners and recreational users,” he said.

“The actions of this particular individual are completely unacceptable. The closure of the trail will come as a huge blow to all the recreational users who benefited from the goodwill of the Dunne family and enjoyed access to the mountains through their lands.”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times