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Friday 24 November 2017

Lissadell owners to take on new staff and reopen house to public

Councillor Jimmy McGarry at Lissadell.
Councillor Jimmy McGarry at Lissadell.
Dog walker, Emer Donlon

Greg Harkin

A BARRISTER couple who won a lengthy legal battle to protect their stately home from trespassers have already started to hire new staff and will reopen it to the public next year, friends say.

Constance Cassidy and her husband Eddie Walsh won a Supreme Court case to remove alleged rights of way to Lissadell House in Co Sligo.

Sligo County Council, struggling with massive debts, could face a legal bill topping €10m after losing the case.

But the couple are determined to show off the ancestral home of 1916 Rising figure Countess Markiewicz to the world, a friend has said.

The move will allay fears the estate could be closed off from the public forever.

Local activists had fought to keep four access routes to the house open to the public, including one to the front door of the property.

Sligo Council won a High Court case after a 58-day hearing which confirmed some local views that there were rights of way to the property. That decision was overturned by the Supreme Court on Monday.

Jimmy McGarry, the only county councillor who opposed a 2008 council motion which proposed that the authority challenge the Walsh-Cassidy family, said the court decision was "a victory for Lissadell House".

He told the Irish Independent he was "confident" the case would prove a massive boost for the north-west.

"I know them," said Mr McGarry. "I didn't know them before all this but I know this was a labour of love for them and I know new staff have already been taken on this week.

"The only interest the majority of people in Sligo have is that Lissadell be kept for future generations. Well Eddie and Constance have saved it with the €9m they spent restoring it."

The couple and their seven children said they had lived in fear because of joyriders using the avenues to the home.

They had a right to privacy when they wanted it, said Mr McGarry.

"In my opinion, the council should never have taken on this case. I said it when the motion was backed by all the other councillors in the chamber and every time I tried to get it stopped I was told it was sub judice.

"I met Eddie who wanted to meet with the council and come up with a compromise but that never happened and the downside now is that Sligo Council has even more debt to deal with.

"I fear council jobs could go as a result," he added.

Bank of Ireland has already refused to extend a €4.5m overdraft facility to the council, which has debts topping €93m.

Emer Donlon, a health science lecturer at IT Sligo who lives close to Lissadell, said she hoped the home would now reopen. "There are mixed feelings because most people recognise they had a right to privacy. I saw the joyriders myself and no one would want children exposed to that," she said.

"The opening of the house brought jobs to the area and it was a huge financial and tourism boost. Most people would want that to happen again.

"I walk my dog here along the shore every day. I don't need to walk past their house to get here. And I don't want to."

Mr Walsh and Ms Cassidy spent a fortune on restoring the 1830s home of the Gore-Booth family after they bought it in 2003 for €3m – despite interest from U2's Bono.

AUCTIONS

They even attended auctions of contents from the property in an effort to keep the authenticity of the furnishings.

However, since the High Court ruling two years ago, the Victorian walled gardens they had restored have decayed and a coffee shop and restaurant closed. Plans are already under way to reverse these moves, with a head gardener hired on Monday within hours of the Supreme Court decision.

Joe Murphy, a council senior executive officer responsible for enforcement, told the Irish Independent the council had "no choice" but to defend the court actions. "We did it in the public interest," he said.

Irish Independent

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