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Saturday 23 August 2014

'We were devastated when the Lissadell dispute began. Now we're just delighted to be back'

Greg Harkin

Published 16/06/2014 | 02:30

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Eddie Walsh and his sister Jane Walsh playing in the tea room at Lissadell House, Lissadell, Co. Sligo, yesterday, where it was announced that the Walsh Cassidy family would reopen Lissadell house and gardens to visitors.
Photo: James Connolly / PicSell8
15JUN14
Jane Walsh gives her brother Eddie Jnr a piggyback. Photo: James Connolly / PicSell8
Daughter Constance
Eddie Walsh talks to Minister John Perry at Lissadell House, Lissadell, Co. Sligo,

Family persuades owner to re-open historic home after €10m legal battle over rights of way comes to an end

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A COUPLE have bowed to the constant pleas of their children to re-open one of Ireland's most historic homes to the public after "the pain" of a €10m legal battle.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny officially re-opens Lissadell House in Co Sligo this Friday after the ancestral home of Constance Markievwicz was closed four years ago.

Barrister couple Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy poured €13m of their own money into buying and restoring the 1830s' estate and home.

But they were forced to close the estate after Sligo County Council took legal action, claiming there were rights of way over the property.

The couple won their Supreme Court case last November and most of their legal costs after a ruling that there was a right of way to just 375 metres of pathways out of 5km at the centre of the dispute.

Sligo council has been left with a €9m legal bill as a result.

"We had no intention of even taking a decision on what to do next until next year," Eddie Walsh said as he stood in Lissadell yesterday.

"But we had been inundated with requests to take a decision and the support of the Taoiseach and Minister John Perry and constant requests from our seven children made us sit down two weeks ago and here we are."

The 56-year-old said he had been too upset to return to the house for more than three years during the dispute.

"He came back in March after the costs ruling," said his wife Constance.

"I hid away so he couldn't see me because I knew he didn't want me to see him and he was crying and very emotional. As a family we all went through a lot but Eddie more than the rest of us because his vision for Lissadell had been taken away. Now it's back."

Sell-out concerts at the estate by Leonard Cohen and Westlife were massive successes; now there are plans for more.

"It's perhaps too late for this August and we are talking to some people but we will try to do it. It is possible," added Constance.

Husband Eddie held out an olive branch to Sligo County Council despite the bitter dispute.

"Fortified by the encouragement of Minister Perry and the Taoiseach, my family and I are going to try to recreate Lissadell as we had initially planned when we bought it in 2003," he said.

"We hope Sligo County Council and in particular the elected members and executive will work with us in the future to achieve that vision."

Initially 12 jobs of the 35 that used to exist are being rolled out. Among those mucking in yesterday were the couple's daughters Constance (17) and Jane (16).

"I'm going to be working in the kitchens and the tea rooms," said Jane.

"We were devastated when the dispute began and I'm just delighted to be back."

Sister Constance said she and her siblings had always held out hope of a return.

Constance (17) said: "We were badgering dad every day about coming home to Lissadell. He knew how much we missed being here.

"We all did, mum and dad included. Thankfully we're home again now and looking forward to the future."

Their parents had taken them away from Lissadell after joyriders used the paths at the centre of the dispute for dangerous driving games.

"There's a huge sense of relief," said Constance, who will be spending the summer as a tour guide at the house and grounds which contain artefacts from the lives of 1916 leader Markievwicz, her sister Eva Gore Booth. Poet WB Yeats would visit them there.

Small Business Minister John Perry said the return of Lissadell estate to public openings was "a massive boost not just for Sligo but for Ireland as a nation".

Its more immediate effects were being felt by staff returning full-time for the first time in more than four years. "The knock-on effect on the villages around here will be huge," said Angela Leonard, back working in the tea rooms yesterday.

Seven sets of footwear were back on the front doorstep of Lissadell House as the children – now aged from 11 to 21 returned.

"It's like it used to be," said their dad Eddie, "except the shoe sizes are bigger."

Irish Independent

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