A farming couple have won a High Court challenge to a Bord Pleánala decision over the use of a laneway which sparked a 30-year row that involved an anonymous threat, property damage and their dog being shot.
The laneway beside the couple's home provides access to a scenic lake, as well as to a number of houses and a hotel.
Cornelius and Suzanne Dennehy, who live and farm near Fossa, Co Kerry, erected a fence to block the lane in 2010 as a dispute escalated with Fossa Rowing Club and other organisations and neighbours.
An Bord Pleánala ruled in 2018 that the gate required planning permission. The High Court has overturned that decision.
Mr Justice Charles Meenan said was satisfied An Bord Pleánala erred in law in failing to correctly consider a Circuit Court decision which found there was no right of way on the Dennehy land.
The court heard that members of the rowing club approached the Dennehys in 1989 after a previous route to the lake was made unavailable, and were granted permission to walk over the farmers' land.
"Unfortunately, this was the start of the trouble", Mr Justice Meenan said.
Mr Dennehy claimed that some members of the club exceeded their permission and insisted they had a right to use the lane. The Dennehys erected a gate to prevent trespass in 2010 and put up 'no trespassing' signs.
By 2012 there were increasing incursions which became confrontational, and gardai had to be called.
Public events were organised seeking to establish the existence of a public right of way over the laneway, not only by the Fossa Rowing Club but also by other organisations such as the Fossa Way Committee and the Men's Shed.
"These organised public events cannot have been anything other than frightening and intimidating for the applicants (Dennehys) and their family," the judge said.
Worse followed, with the Dennehys getting an anonymous written threat warning them to leave Fossa. Shots were fired over their home, property damaged and their dog was shot. The judge said some club members told the Dennehys they disagreed with what was happening.
Two Circuit Court cases were being brought by that stage, one by nominated members of the rowing club. Ultimately, they were both dismissed.
Dr Donal Coffey, owner of the Loch Lein Country House Hotel, then sought a declaration that the gate required planning permission.
The legal wrangling continued, with the Dennehys bringing two High Court challenges.
The second of these resulted in Mr Justice Meenan ruling that An Bord Pleánala could only have made its findings as to the public use of the laneway "by ignoring the facts", as found by the Circuit Court, that people travelling over it without the Dennehys' consent were trespassers.
"I cannot see that such a finding by the board would be legally permissible," he said.