Future of the 'old grey mansion' now uncertain
WHEN high-powered barristers Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh emerged as the secret purchasers of Lissadell House in 2003, it was met with a mixture of relief and apprehension.
The state had come under pressure to purchase the former home of the first female government minister, Countess Constance Markievicz, but baulked when former minister Martin Cullen calculated that the restoration work would cost around €30m.
The new owners embarked on an ambitious restoration programme in the absence of public funding, undertaking much of the work themselves.
On top of the €4m price tag for the property, they invested a further €9.5m restoring the property to its former glory and creating a significant tourist attraction in the area.
They further enhanced its value as a tourism product with the creation of a gallery and exhibition space dedicated to WB Yeats, a regular visitor, and one to Countess Markievicz.
In 2008, the house and gardens drew a record 50,000 visitors, making it a top tourist attraction in the county known as Yeats' County.
But disquiet had arisen among some locals when gates were closed and the occasional acts of vandalism and graffiti suggested all was not well.
An out-of-the-blue decision by Sligo County Council in December 2008 to pass a resolution to preserve four public rights of way through the estate prompted the owners to close the house to the public last year and initiate legal action.
The 58-day legal battle in the High Court involved 52 witnesses and ran up a legal bill of up to €6m.
Up to 8,000 pages of manuscripts, some dating back to 1760, others damaged by rat droppings and a dead cat, were produced in evidence.
Yesterday's decision that such rights of way do in fact exist during daytime hours is being hailed as a victory by the local authority in preserving the rights of the people.
But there will be no winners if it means that the property will revert to private ownership.
Last night, its owners were even hinting that they were no longer the right people to take Lissadell into the future.
What the future now holds for the building described by Yeats as "that old grey mansion" is as uncertain now as ever.