TOURISM EXECUTIVES in the northwest yesterday welcomed the announcement that Lissadell House, the ancestral home of 1916 leader Countess Markievicz, is to reopen to the public on a temporary basis from tomorrow.
The historic Co Sligo house has been closed for six months because of a dispute over rights of way. A High Court hearing on the issue is due to open on October 20th and is expected to last up to two weeks.
Isobel Cassidy, manager of the estate, said yesterday that the long-term future of the house depended on the outcome of the hearing.
Pascal Mooney, chairman of North West Tourism, and the mayor of Sligo, Cllr Jim McGarry, were among those who yesterday welcomed the announcement that the house and gardens, which attracted 44,000 visitors last year, will be open to the public from July 17th to September 20th next.
The mayor recently said huge numbers of visitors were turning up to find closed signs on the locked gates at Lissadell.
The reopening comes just a week before the opening of the 50th Yeats International Summer School. Mr Mooney pointed out that Lissadell was an important landmark on the Yeats Trail, launched in Sligo earlier this year by Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney to mark the 70th anniversary of the poet’s death.
In a statement yesterday, owners Constance Cassidy and Edward Walsh said they had made the decision to reopen for “a limited period” after discussions with the mayor and local Fine Gael TD John Perry, who had expressed concern about the damage being done to tourism in Sligo and to local businesses as a result of the closure.
“Following discussions with Deputy Perry and Cllr McGarry, and having regard to our pre-existing contractual commitments for this year, we have agreed to open Lissadell to the public on a limited basis for a limited period,” they said.
It is understood that Lissadell is registered with the Revenue Commissioners as a heritage house. Under section 42 of the Finance Bill such properties can avail of tax relief for expenditure on repair and maintenance work but are required to open to the public for 60 days annually, including 40 days from May to September.
But Isabel Cassidy said yesterday that the decision to open had been prompted by the fact that a date had been set for the court hearing and also by the concerns of Mr Perry and the mayor about the impact of the closure to many businesses in Sligo.
She said the family was also anxious to “keep the place alive” in the event that it will be reopening on a permanent basis. “The future of Lissadell depends on the case,” she added.
Ms Cassidy said that since it closed to the public “the place is very sad” but she said that already following the announcement, there was a “great buzz around”.
Mr McGarry recently pointed out that the owners, who purchased the estate from the Gore Booth family, had invested €12 million in it and had employed 34 full-time and part-time staff.
The family said yesterday that a unanimous motion passed by Sligo County Council last December “in which they sought to declare all of the avenues within Lissadell to be subject to public rights of way” had rendered it incapable of being operated as a flagship tourism facility.
Sligo County Council said it would be making no comment on the decision to reopen given that the matter is sub judice.