Barbed wire at Lissadell will do little to mend fences

 

While aggressive tactics might work in the courtroom they are not good for Eddie Walsh’s relationship with locals

WHEN I saw that photograph of Lissadell House barricaded by poles wrapped in barbed wire, I said to myself: “Eddie Walsh is a man who has lost the plot.” Someone needs to talk this guy down.

I’ve never been to Lissadell and cannot speak to its merits, architectural or agricultural. I confess, I’m not that excited about its historical significance. Constance Markievicz was a bloodthirsty hysteric and it’s most unfortunate she holds the prize as the first woman elected to the House of Commons. Pity it wasn’t someone much nicer. As for the connection with Yeats, while Sligo was undoubtedly important to his poetry, I think he might have managed to write a poem or three, even if he’d never stayed with the Gore-Booths.

So I was rather glad the State did not take on the expense of buying and running this big house, even if it’s a particularly nice big house. When Walsh and his fellow lawyer wife, Constance Cassidy, did, I thought it confirmed that barristers clearly earn far too much money but otherwise wished them well.

On the issue of public rights of way, I had plenty of sympathy for them. As anyone who has ever attempted to maintain a piece of ground to which the public has access will tell you, the public are disgusting. Every tidy towns committee and residents’ association will relate the heartbreak of watching everything from flower beds to street furniture to art vandalised with great determination.

Show me a square metre of ground open to the public and I’ll show you the poor unfortunate who has to protect it from constant littering. Boy racers and truck drivers will decorate it with their takeaway coffee cups, sandwich wrappers, empty alcohol tins and used condoms.

For good measure they might leave a bag or two of domestic refuse behind, perhaps with some nappies in it to ensure maximum filth.

The state of a public beach after a sunny Sunday afternoon provides evidence that ordinary families are just as willing to leave their debris behind them. The public are also skilled in contriving to fall through fences, off walls, or on to sharp objects so they can – with the willing aid of Mr and Mrs Walsh’s colleagues in the legal profession – enthusiastically sue owners, public or private, for not moron-proofing the site.

So honestly, who would want the public legally entitled to traipse through their gardens or have emaciated boy racers with blackened windows and that “no fear” sticker on the back careering down the estate roads?

On the other hand, Walsh has made a dog’s dinner of the whole thing. For starters, he was a bit naive to take Jocelyn Gore-Booth’s carefully qualified assurances that there were no rights of way through the estate.

The evidence at the trial showed there were long-held rights of way that the simplest local inquiries would have revealed. In fact, Sligo County Council was able to produce a witness who had considered buying Lissadell but decided not to, precisely because it was obviously an open estate.

Even if Walsh had hoped to have only paying members of the public about the place, his behaviour is a lesson in how not to conduct oneself as a landowner or, indeed, conduct conflict resolution of any sort. Escalation has been his strategy and while such aggressive tactics might normally work in the courtroom, it’s not advisable where a future relationship between parties has to be maintained.

Sligo County Council made several verifiable efforts to have the matter mediated. They could have worked something out. There had to be a way to allow pedestrians in, insist dogs were leashed, ban boy racers and restrict access to certain hours of the day or days of the week. I’d be keen to engage with gardaí to ensure any messers were quickly and severely cautioned.

But Walsh dismissed several efforts at mediation and insisted on his day in court – or 57 days as it turned out.

Mediator Ian Bewick told me he reminds his clients with strong cases to take heed of Voltaire’s comments: “I was ruined but twice in life. Once when I lost a lawsuit and once when I won.”

Even if Walsh had won the case, he’d have lost. It would have permanently destroyed his relationship with the locals and guaranteed a lifetime of resentment and low-level vandalism.

Indeed, while Sligo County Council won, the responsibility to safeguard the right of way might have consequences for the council either in Lissadell or on other sites.

Walsh must now expect that costs will be awarded against him. But financial reparation is only the beginning. Selling the house has to be next to impossible, so if the family is to find peace there, they will have to repair relations with the locals.

His petulant statement about his vision for Lissadell being over was a bad start. The barbed wire is an act of war – and one he’ll lose. There’s only one way out of this. Dump the barricades and keep a low profile for the winter months. In the spring, he has to start over. Otherwise, if the costs don’t ruin him financially, his anger will ruin him anyway.

It’s not Lissadell that needs saving now, it’s Eddie Walsh.

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