Right-of-way row 'pitched brother against brother'
A COUNCIL decision to give planning permission to farmers to allow a laneway through a field sparked a bitter family feud in which turf was tossed into a vegetable garden, drains were dug up and gardai had to be called, a judge has been told.
Donegal Circuit Civil Court, sitting in Buncrana, was told how the row over an alleged right of way pitched brother against brother and cousin against cousin in the west-Donegal gaeltacht townland of Brinaleck, Gweedore.
Joseph Ferry and his wife Nora are suing Mr Ferry's brothers Billy and Maurice Ferry Snr and Billy's sons Maurice Ferry Jnr and Niall Ferry for damage caused to the field when they had started to build an access road to a proposed site for a house in 2007.
Billy Ferry, who owned the landlocked quarter-acre site, and his son Maurice Ferry Jnr who wanted to build a house there, claimed the site of the proposed laneway was a right of way dating back more than a century.
But Nora Ferry (71) told Judge Mary Faherty that she and her family were furious when a site notice appeared on their laneway for the access road in June 2007.
"I went to the planning office of the council in Dungloe and told them it must be wrong because we owned the land. I was told that I had until July 27 to object, only to find out that planning permission had been granted on July 12," said Mrs Ferry.
On September 5 that year, she said she was shocked to see her brother-in-law Billy and her nephews Maurice Jnr and Niall "tearing up our land" with a digger.
She told the judge: "There was a stack of turf beside our gate. We had stacked turf there and this had all been thrown over the wall and over vegetables. I told them they were trespassing and they were digging on our land and they were not entitled to do that.
"We had an idea that some day they would try this carry on."
Gardai arrived, barrister for Mrs Ferry Charlotte Simpson told the court, and work stopped for the day.
But over the next two days, Billy Ferry returned along with members of his family and a digger driver - and gardai had to be called twice more, she said. The following month, in October 2007, a judge granted an injunction preventing Billy Ferry and his family from attempting to build a roadway.
Michael Gillespie, solicitor for Billy Ferry, put it to Nora Ferry that there had been a pathway there and it was marked on a 1906 ordnance survey map.
"It may well have been," said Mrs Ferry, "I wasn't around in 1906 to see it but it hasn't been a path or a road for the past 45 years."
Expert witnesses for both sides gave conflicting evidence about the alleged right of way.
Architect and surveyor Joe Morgan told the judge that it was his view the road never existed and that the existence of stone walls either side of the plot was "typical of the area".
But Maurice Friel, who acted for Maurice Ferry Snr in his planning application, insisted the 1906 map "proved" there had been a connecting road across the land.
"The council gave planning permission and accepted there was a road there. We also accept that there is grass there now," said Mr Friel.
"God help up us all but sure there's grass growing on many main council roads these days."
Under cross-examination, Mr Friel admitted that he hadn't checked the ownership of the land before submitting the planning application.
Maurice Ferry Snr (76) told the court he remembered his grandfather "going up and down that road with horses, donkeys and carts every day" in the 1940s.
Judge Faherty reserved her judgment on Joseph and Nora Ferry's claim for damages and their relatives' counter-claim to establish a right of way.