Fears over access to beloved Wicklow beach as clifftop site put up for sale

Beach users concerned sale could, in effect, seal off Magheramore beach near Brittas Bay

Magheramore beach, near Brittas, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Eric Luke

Magheramore beach, near Brittas, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Eric Luke

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Magheramore beach in Co Wicklow was its usual perfect self in the May sunshine: beautiful sand, pristine blue water, sheltered and uncrowded. If this is what “an outdoor Irish summer” looks like in the wake of Covid-19, bring it on.

But regular users are anxious about the impending sale of lands immediately overlooking this special place tucked away between Blainroe and Brittas Bay.

Access to the beach – a famed film location – is around a metal gate on to a small roadway where mature trees provide a canopy sweeping down to the sea – a simple “Auction” sign was put up in recent days by BidX1 auctioneers.

On visiting their website, it becomes obvious all may change with the sale of 21 acres running along the clifftop, given the way its attributes are being showcased on international markets: “Substantial parcel of beachfront lands ... Panoramic views of Magheramore beach and the Irish Sea.”

Some beach users refer to it as the place they immediately went to when lockdown eased, with one woman saying it was the place she envisaged going to during Covid’s darkest days.

Some long-term beach goers asked not to tell people about the location, though it’s one the finest beaches in Ireland and one of the best for surfing along the east coast. It has no shelf underwater, making it particularly safe for children. Others point to east coast beaches that have become inaccessible because of restrictions on access through private lands.

Maribel Lenahin from Knocklyon is a regular visitor with her husband, Robert, ever since discovering Magheramore last year. “It’s the Caribbean here. It’s quite secret,” she says looking out to sea from her regular spot. “Tell them not to sell it.”

Robert fears it might be a site for a boutique hotel with the risk that access might become restricted.

Clean water

Nearby, a woman from Killiney says she and her husband would be heartbroken if they could not come down as often as they do. They camped here under a full moon. “The only place I wanted to be during the pandemic was here; not France, not Italy. ”

The chief reason for coming so often is not just the location, she adds, but because the water is cleaner in comparison to “the filthy water in Dublin Bay”.

Josh Greene comes at least once a week during summer and is worried the sale could, in effect, buy the beach. “It’s fabulous; a hidden gem. It’s a great escape for me.” He adds that “it’s part of the garden” – a reference to his native county’s renown as “the Garden of Ireland”.

To some it’s “the nuns’ beach” as it was owned originally by the Columban order of sisters before its original sale in the 1980s, and several sales since. At one point in 2014, a notice that “Private property trespassers will be prosecuted” was erected. The current owners are a couple from Dublin looking to sell it in a virtual auction on June 25th.

Two couples who are year-round sea swimmers confirm they became concerned on reading of the sale in The Irish Times. Noting the asking price of €210,000 is “quite low”, they joke about the possibility of trying to raise the money themselves to ensure the public can continue to use the amenity.

Right of way

One suggests Wicklow County Council might consider buying the lands and construct a small car park. “It isn’t really sustainable at present and the numbers sea swimming have rocketed.”

Before the pandemic the beach had already become increasingly popular, and a local farmer opened an ad-hoc car park to meet the increased use.

Cars were being towed away under Garda supervision along the main road, which by mid morning had become congested, until that field was opened up for parking – complete with coffee served from the back of a converted van.

BidX1 auctioneer Richard Hoey said since the sale notice was posted online on Friday, it had already attracted 35 requests for “legal packs” outlining fuller details. While there is no planning attached to the property, inquiries ranged from people interested in using it for forestry, its development as caravan park and its continued use “as is”.

He acknowledged it was “priced attractively” and confirmed there was a right of way to the beach – though that is not listed on the property summary.