a COUPLE embroiled in a legal battle with their neighbours over a hedge are now facing a massive legal bill after they lost their case.
James and Ann Madigan could be looking at legal costs as high as €500,000 after ten years of a bitter dispute and two court battles ended up in defeat yesterday.
The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said if the events of this case had featured in the plot of the The Field audiences might have regarded them as too implausible to be credible.
"In John B Keane's play, there was a field at stake between the protagonists. In this case it is not more than a few feet of hedge," he said.
Mr Justice Kearns had, at the outset of the High Court hearing, pleaded with both sides to take an " eleventh hour opportunity " to settle and avoid huge legal costs".
Yesterday, he said it was almost impossible to understand how such a dispute could have taken seven days in the Circuit Court and a similar amount of time in the High Court.
The judge also awarded all costs against the Madigans.
The case was before the High Court by way of an appeal from the Circuit Court which last year found in favour of the Madigans, of Askintinny near Clogga Beach, Arklow, Co Wicklow.
That court awarded them €5,000 damages for trespass and nuisance and said they were entitled to a right of way on to the laneway for the purpose of maintaining their hedgegrow.
Neighbours Kathleen Maureen Rueter and her children, Marian and Sean Rueter, who run a caravan park near the beach, appealed that decision to the High Court.
The court heard that an open offer had been made at the start of the appeal by the Rueters to settle the case which included €20,000 contribution towards legal costs previously incurred.
At the centre of the case was the alleged widening of the entrance to the lane way where it meets the public road and which the Madigans claimed encroached on their property.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Kearns ruled all of the Madigan claims must fail and he granted a declaration the Rueters are entitled to exclusive ownership , possession and/or occupation of the lane way including the hedge.
The judge said all efforts to encourage or broker a compromise in the bitter dispute had failed at every turn.
As a result he said the court had to hear not just the evidence of the neighbours but also from multiple experts including a chartered engineer, a surveyor, an arborist, a Land Commission solicitor and a historian.
Mr Justice Kearns said a detailed and exhaustive analysis of the title to the land establishes beyond any doubt the lane way is fully owned by the Rueters. He was further satisfied the Madigans had failed to produce any evidence to support any claim of any sort over the lane way.
Mr Justice Kearns also said there undoubtedly had been a degree of widening of the laneway confined to the eastern side of the mouth of the laneway, but not on the Madigan side.