Friday 21 October 2016

Couple's dream turned into a nightmare in epic battle over right-of-way

Published 21/06/2014 | 02:30

Eddie Walsh (11) at the table of the servants’ kitchen in Lissadell House
Eddie Walsh (11) at the table of the servants’ kitchen in Lissadell House

THE long-running, bitter legal wrangle in Sligo may have attracted a great deal of notice both inside and beyond the county, but the appearance of the family outside the Four Courts following its Supreme Court success last November caused even more widespread public attention.

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For it wasn't the owners of Lissadell House, barristers Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh, who spoke to the waiting media after securing victory over Sligo County Council, which had sought to allow public access along four routes on the estate. Instead, the couple dispatched their seven young children, who range in age from 21 to 11 years old. The eldest, Elanor, gave a statement, surrounded by her six siblings, Harry, Kate, Constance, Jane, John and Eddie.

"The last five years have been a very difficult time for Lissadell and for us as a family," she said.

But perhaps their parents wished to step back from the spotlight. For since they bought the ancestral home of the Gore-Booth family for €3.75m in 2003, the pair of legal eagles have frequently featured in the news.

Constance Cassidy is the daughter of Judge John and former senator Eileen Cassidy and was raised in Ballymore Eustace in Co Kildare with her three sisters and three brothers – two of her sisters also became lawyers.

She met her husband, Laois-born Eddie Walsh (who comes from a farming background) while both were in the Law Library.

Apart from the legal profession, the Walsh-Cassidy duo had a mutual interest in property and also a penchant for historic houses, setting up home on the 17th Century Morristown Lattin estate between Naas and Newbridge in Kildare, which they purchased and renovated in the early 1990s.

During this same decade they amassed a portfolio of properties in a variety of locations, including Kildare, Laois and Dublin.

Lissadell House was intended to take pride of place in their collection. The 19th Century mansion was the holiday retreat of WB Yeats and the childhood home of Constance Gore-Booth who in later years, as Countess Markievicz, fought in the 1916 Easter Rising and became the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons.

When they bought Lissadell in 2003, Constance and Edward ploughed over €9m of their own money into extensively renovating the dilapidated neo-classic country estate, and soon it was attracting 44,000 visitors a year. One of the highlights was a weekend of concerts by Leonard Cohen.

However, the fairytale story soured in 2008 following a decision by Sligo County Council to grant four access routes through the estate – including one passing just yards from the front door of the property – after complaints had been made by members of the public.

This sparked a protracted legal battle through the courts, which ended last November when the Supreme Court ruled that three routes into the estate were not public ways and only a fourth trail by the coast should be accessible to the public.

The ruling spelled disaster for the council, which was landed with a multi-million legal bill, though the final figure may not be decided for some time.

However, after the dust settled, Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh announced that the gates of Lissadell House would be re-opened to the public today.

Irish Independent

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