Zig-Zag route in Glenmalure closed indefinitely as assaulted landowner ‘overwhelmed’ by support

A sign advising that the Glenmalure Zig-Zag trail is closed to the public.

Pat Dunne on his farm in Glenmalure.

thumbnail: A sign advising that the Glenmalure Zig-Zag trail is closed to the public.
thumbnail: Pat Dunne on his farm in Glenmalure.
Myles BuchananWicklow People

The Glenmalure farmer who was assaulted on his own land after approaching two dog walkers is “overwhelmed” by the level of support he has received.

Pat Dunne, President of the Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners Association was knocked over and pinned to the ground after asking a youth and a male with three dogs not to bring the dogs onto the popular Zig-Zag walking route on Pat’s land.

Speaking after the assault, Pat said: “I’m OK physically but I am very annoyed and frustrated. The older man knocked me to the ground and then pinned me down for a period. I actually felt sorry for the younger fellow, as he was only around 13 or 14 years of age and I am assuming they were father and son. I had never seen the pair of them before.

“Dogs worrying sheep is an ongoing issue here and the vast majority of people, I’d say 98 per cent, are good and genuine people, but there is a small cohort who seem to think they can do as they please.

“Myself and my family are very appreciative of the amount of goodwill that we have received over the past few days from far and wide. We have really been overwhelmed by it all.”

Following the assault, Pat took the difficult decision to close the Zig-Zag route indefinitely.

The Zig-Zags was an ‘Agreed Access Route’, facilitated through a formal Permissive Access Agreement between Pat and County Wicklow Partnership. First developed in 2007, Pat was one of the first landowners in the country to permit an agreed access route across his lands and is widely respected among the recreational community for his efforts.

Pat said: “I want it known that for the last 16 years we have permitted open access to Lugnaquilla via the Zig-Zags. The track and open mountain lands immediately above are private property. The only request in return for open access to our land was that no dogs were brought onto the mountain due to the disturbance they can cause to livestock. It is not an unreasonable request as we have had many instances of sheep being mauled by dogs on the mountain.

“We went to great efforts to maintain the Zig-Zag route and we have great friends in the walking community. Myself and Margaret are keen walkers and are both members of the Arklow Wicklow Walking Club, and have travelled abroad with them.

Pat Dunne on his farm in Glenmalure.

“At the moment the Zig-Zag is closed indefinitely but I am not the type to never say never. I don’t know what will happen in the future.

“However, over the years we have had many instances of verbal abuse with people as they ignored signage asking that dogs were not brought onto our lands. In one case this even resulted in a threat that our house would be burnt down. The final straw came on Sunday at 11.10 a.m. when after repeatedly asking a man and a youth accompanying him to not bring their three dogs onto the track, he physically assaulted me, knocking me to the ground, before continuing up the mountain with the dogs. It is because of this that we have decided to revoke the permissive access agreement and close the trail to the public with immediate effect.”

Peter Behan, Vice-Chair of the Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners Association said there has been a noticeable increase in dog owners refusing to obey signage and warnings that no dogs are allowed in certain areas, especially during lambing season.

“It seems to be a growing trend for some dog owners to just go where they please and ignore landowners and signage and showing a complete lack of respect for both livestock and the landowner. There is a blatant lack of regard for property owners and their livestock. Pat is a complete gentleman and approached the two dog walkers in a nice way, only to be assaulted on his own land.

“There are always dog attacks on sheep happening in County Wicklow and elsewhere during lambing season, and a small minority of dog owners feel they can do as they please, without any regard or respect for the livestock on the land or the owner of the land.”

Commenting on the closure Aaron Byrne, Rural Recreation Officer with County Wicklow Partnership stated: “County Wicklow Partnership completely support the Dunne family in their decision. The success of The Walks Scheme and access routes are evident all over the country and that’s based on cooperation between landowners and recreational users. The actions of this particular individual are completely unacceptable.

“The closure of the trail will come as a huge blow to all the recreational users who benefitted from the goodwill of the Dunne family and enjoyed access to the mountains through their lands.”

Wicklow Mountains National Park has also lent its support to Pat and the Dunne family.

A spokesperson stated: “Access to the National Park in some areas may be through private land, commonage and Coillte Forest. Permissive access is granted at the good will of those landowners. We ask all visitors to the National Park to respect private landowners and their legal rights to manage their own lands

“In the National Park we request that all dogs are kept on leads. Our staff frequently have negative interactions with visitors when trying to enforce this so we appreciate the shock the Dunne family are feeling at the moment. We extend our support to the Dunne family at this time and thank them for their service to the Wicklow outdoor community over the last 16 years.”

Keep Ireland Open Chairman Robert Dowds said Mr Dunne’s request not to bring dogs up the mountainside was a reasonable one and has also condemned the assault.

He said: “As an organisation which seeks to protect and extend access to the countryside for responsible recreational users, Keep Ireland Open condemns in the strongest possible terms the alleged unjustified attack on the Glenmalure farmer, Pat Dunne. To ask a person not to bring dogs up a mountainside was absolutely correct, especially at a time when sheep are lambing. Anyone with an ounce of sense or knowledge of the countryside should know that. It is why Keep Ireland Open, along with other organisations which attend meetings of Comhairle na Tuaithe (the Government advisory body on the countryside), have asked that there should be a compulsory module for transition year students about responsible behaviour in the countryside.

“Keep Ireland Open has been aware for several years about Mr. Dunne's generosity in terms of giving access to the Zig Zag path in Glenmalure, one of the most important paths in Co. Wicklow. This makes the alleged attack on him very serious for the general public as well in that it restricts access in Glenmalure and may make other landowners wary of granting access. We hope the Gardaí get to the bottom of what happened and that, if someone is found guilty of an offence, he gets the severest punishment possible.

“Looking to the future we hope for a situation where legislation will protect the rights of walkers and those of landowners as well.”