Updated: 21/12/10 : 06:25:06
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Lissadell High Court Defeat - 'The vision is over'

'The vision is over'. These were the words of Edward Walsh, owner of Lissadell House and Estate, immediately following the High Court judgement yesterday which endorsed Sligo County Council's assertion that public rights of way did exist at his historic north Sligo home. Constance Cassidy, wife and co-owner echoed her husband's sentiments, 'My husband's dream is over.' she said.

In a Solomon type judgement Mr Justice Bryan McMahon stated that the rights of way exist 'only in daylight hours' and asked the public to be sensitive in their usage of the rights.

And so, following the longest High Court action in the history of the state, the future of Sligo's most historic tourist attraction and open-air concert venue hangs in a delicate balance, weighed between the few hundred people who will exercise the rights of way and the 40,000 annual visitors complimented by an extra 30,000 concert goers.

The case which ran for 57 days, questioned 52 witnesses and produced over 8,000 pages of transcript reached its zenith yesterday afternoon when the judge delivered the salient points of his 177-page judgement which took almost three hours. He found that the use of avenues on the estate, by local people, since at least the 1950s showed the existence of rights of way.

The owners, both eminent barristers, bought Lissadell for over €4m in 2003 and to date have spent almost €10m in refurbishing the house and 410 acres of land. Up to 30 local people have been employed during the summer months with many more at the inaugural 3-day concert in August (left - Photo James Connolly) which saw Westlife perform a homecoming gig in their native Sligo and a two-day Leonard Cohen special. Each day witnessed a 10,000 sell out at the open-air constructed seated venue, with a floodlit Lissadell House as the perfect backdrop matched only by the nearby magnificence of Benbulben. The concerts were to be an annual event with negotiations underway with top international bands for 2011 and beyond.

Outside the court, an obviously disappointed Mr Walsh told waiting reporters, “We took on what the State was not prepared to do. We had a vision. The vision is over. My involvement ceases.”  Confirming that he had already instructed staff in Sligo to open the gates he said he would be consulting his legal team regarding the possibility of an appeal to the Supreme Court.

"We want to try to get clarification with the county council as to exactly what vehicles are allowed to go through during daytime hours. We tried to do something that we thought was good. Our dream is over," he said.

"We tried to do something useful. When we came there, it was sad, it was neglected, it was declining. We thought we had arrested that. We thought we had moved forward and obviously we haven't succeeded in what we believe Lissadell needed to be from the perspective of security, from the perspective of insurance, from the perspective of maintenance.

"I don't see how it could be done and I don't think we are the people to do it. The State should now step in," he said.

Left: Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy will consult their legal team before deciding their next course of action. Photo:Courtpix

Yesterday's judgement is likely to have a bearing on similar cases currently winding their way through the lower courts.

The Walsh-Cassidy family, including the couple's seven children were all in court for the judgement and heard Mr Justice McMahon say what the owners were attempting to do with the estate was commendable, aesthetically sensitive and of benefit to the whole of the Sligo area.

Estate manager Isobel Cassidy told SligoToday.ie, "I am afraid that our vision for Lissadell is now over. We will be speaking to the lawyers as to a Supreme Court appeal in due course."

Cllr Joe Leonard (FG) now chairman of Sligo County Council, local resident and the councillor who originally tabled the motion to have the rights of way included in the county development plan earlier told SligoToday.ie that he had no regrets over the action. He said he had raised the matter as a matter of public interest and as a public representative he was carrying out his elected duties. Following the ruling he said that local people had been vindicated.

Jim Meehan, centre, and fellow members of the Lissadell Action Group were
happy with the ruling yesterday. Photo: Courtpix

Sligo County Council last night issued a statement in which they said, 'The Council very much regrets that this matter ended up a High Court action brought by the owners of Lissadell and which lasted for 57 days. The Council believes that this issue could and should have been resolved locally, by negotiation. The Council did everything it reasonably could to achieve such a settlement, including an offer of mediation, but all its approaches were rejected out of hand.

'Sligo County Council is pleased with the decision of the High Court. It is in the interests of all concerned that the issue of public rights of way at Lissadell has been determined. The Council is also pleased that Mr Justice McMahon dismissed Mr Walsh and Ms Cassidy’s claim for damages against the Council.'

The matter of costs, believed to be approaching €6m, will be determined in February.

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