Sunday 18 February 2018

Lissadell House to regain status as a tourist hotspot

Lissadell House
Lissadell House
Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

AFTER a marathon four-year court battle that cost the taxpayer more than €10m, Lissadell House is set to become a major tourist destination again, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Barrister couple Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy have begun to return the historic Co Sligo estate, house and gardens to their former glory after the legal fiasco over rights of way at the neo- classical mansion, which was built between 1830 and 1835.

A disheartened Mr Walsh did not set foot in Lissadell for three years during the protracted High Court and Supreme Court proceedings.

But he has now ended his self-imposed exile after the Supreme Court vindicated the owner's contention that there was no public right of way through much of the estate.

The couple and their seven children have renewed their commitment to Lissadell since the legal saga concluded. Extensive work has been carried out ahead of re-opening.

The Government wants the estate re-opened, but it is unclear if bridges have been rebuilt between the owners and the local authority.

During the recent election campaign, Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged the two sides to "work together", adding Lissadell "will be there long after we are all gone".

The Taoiseach pointed out that 2015 was the 150th anniversary of WB Yeats's birthday. "I have left aside half a million for this commemoration," Mr Kenny said. "2015 is a very important year for Drumcliffe, for Yeats and all those who follow him and for Lissadell. Let everybody get together and work for the future," he urged.

Yeats spent holidays in Lissadell. He commemorated one visit with a poem titled In Memory of Eva Gore Booth and Con Markiewicz which made the estate famous. But as plans grow to commemorate Yeats, the people of Sligo will have to foot the estimated €10m legal bill with the Government steadfastly refusing to bail out the local authority after the disastrous case.

Mr Kenny reflected Government anger about the case when he stated: "The Lissadell decision [to take the case over rights of way] was made by the council, followed through by the council."

He said the local authority "had to suffer the consequences of court decisions".

The result of the court action being initiated was that the couple shut down the house and gardens as a tourist attraction with the loss of both 25 full and part-time jobs and millions of euro in spin off cash for the local economy.

At the heart of the case was the heavily indebted local authority's contention that there was 24-hour-a-day public access to just over five kilometres of roads and paths within the estate boundary.

The Supreme Court rejected that claim almost in its entirety except for a small path to the beach.

Tax and rate payers will not only have to meet the council's legal bill, but also 75 per cent of the costs incurred by Lissadell's owners.

The closure of Lissadell as a result of the protracted legal battle was a blow to tourism in the region – at a time when the north west hospitality industry was suffering more than most.

The house was bought by the couple from Sir Josslyn Gore Booth in 2003 for €4m after the State was offered but refused an opportunity to buy it for the people of Ireland.

The lavish redevelopment by the couple featured a meticulously restored walled garden and was a repository for heritage breeds of potatoes and rare crops. They dug deep into their own pockets with the restoration costing €9m.

It also boasted a coffee shop, and exhibition space and the couple also spent millions restoring the house the ancestral home of Countess Constance Markiewicz – revolutionary, suffragette and Ireland's first woman to become a cabinet minister.

When they opened Lissadell to the public in 2006 it quickly become a "must see" destination for continental and US tourists.

Sunday Independent

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