Sligo council casts a cold eye over Ben Bulben access dispute

Authority set to rule on whether public right of way exists on route to mountain

Ben Bulben, the mountain immortalised by WB Yeats, is at the centre of yet another row about access.

Sligo County Council has been asked to declare that a public right of way exists on a 50m stretch of road described by some campaigners as the safest and most popular route to the mountain.

More than 50 people have completed a questionnaire circulated by the council to determine whether and for how long the public has used this route “without hindrance”, and the file is due to be passed to the local authority’s legal department early next month.

The issue has been simmering since an existing gate on the road, known locally as “the famine road” at Barnaribbon near Drumcliffe was locked over two years ago. Barbed wire was put on top of the gate while “private property” and “no admittance” signs were also erected.


A council spokesman stressed that until its solicitor comes to a decision, it remains “neutral” on the issue.

Sligo County Council has also been involved in a lengthy legal battle with the owners of Lissadell House over the issue of rights of way through the estate, which is near Drumcliffe.

Reserved judgment
Last February, the Supreme Court reserved judgment on an appeal by the owners, Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy, against a High Court finding that there are public rights of way through the estate.

A "Save Ben Bulben Right of Way" Facebook group has been established and has 450 followers. According to the group, this route "used by generations and most famously by WB Yeats" is becoming increasingly difficult to access by locals and tourists.

The area above the disputed roadway is commonage and it is understood three local families own it .

Local resident Ian McMorrow, whose family run a B&B in the area, said the road at Barnaribbon was the safest and most popular route to the mountain.

"I think the mountain should be there for all the people of Ireland, " he added.

But Mountaineering Ireland, the national representative body for hill walkers, has warned that without meaningful consultation with the landowners, the declaration of a public right of way could worsen access.

Helen Lawless, access and conservation officer, said Ben Bulben, "like the vast majority of Ireland's mountains", was privately owned land.

Improved access
She said initiatives to achieve improved access to the mountain must respect ownership of land and the inherent fragility of the upland environment.

“Good consultation with landowners in the area is absolutely essential, otherwise the declaration of a public right of way at Barnaribbon could result in further access closures, rather than an improvement in the access situation,” she added.

Sources say the local authority will also be hoping for an amicable resolution between those demanding access and local farmers, given the rifts this issue has caused in the past.

In 2004, local farmer Andy “The Bull” McSharry was jailed for two weeks when he refused to pay a fine imposed after being convicted of threatening hill walkers.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland