EXTENSIVE DOCUMENTARY evidence about the Lissadell estate in Co Sligo dating back 200 years does not contain a single document showing the Gore-Booth family dedicated public rights of way over the estate, the High Court was told yesterday.
Sligo County Council was claiming such a dedication occurred at the beginning of the 19th century but there was no record of that, Brian Murray SC, for the Lissadell owners, said.
Gabrielle Gore-Booth, whose family owned the estate for some 400 years, had at one stage in 1956 closed off all four gates to the estate, an action not suggestive of any belief by her of a right of public access, he argued.
A letter in 1969 from Aideen Gore-Booth stated her father Sir Jocelyn had opened the estate to the public after 1900. Since then the public had rights of way over three avenues in the estate. The letter had to be seen against a background where the Gore-Booths were very anxious to secure funding for maintenance of the roads in the estate, Mr Murray said.
The claim that public rights of way were dedicated from 1900 was “utterly implausible” on several grounds, including their location and extent, as it was alleged the rights of way went right up to the house and criss-crossed every principal avenue.
Lissadell House, he argued, was built so as to maximise the privacy of its inhabitants, illustrated by the fact there was a tunnel for deliveries so the vista from the house should not be broken.
Mr Murray was outlining some arguments of Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy at the resumption of their action before Mr Justice Bryan McMahon over whether there are public rights of way on certain roads through the estate, now extending over 410 acres but once incorporating 32,000 acres.
The couple bought the estate, once the home of Countess Constance Markievicz, for almost €4 million in 2003 and have spent €9.5 million restoring it. They claim they cannot operate it as a tourist amenity if public rights of way exist.
The hearing was adjourned last October to allow assessment of the significance of recently discovered documents, some dating from the early 19th century. The owners claim the documents disclose no dedication of public rights of way, but the council disputes that.
Mr Murray said yesterday that Sir Michael Gore-Booth was made a ward of court after his father, Sir Jocelyn Gore-Booth, died in 1944 and the estate came under the control of the High Court wards of court office for several years.
A letter of February 1954 to Sligo council from the president of the High Court, who managed the wards of court list, stated the court did not object to the council carrying out certain road works on the estate, provided it accepted this would give neither the council nor the public any right to claim a public right of way over the roads, Mr Murray said.
That letter also said there would be access to the sea shore at Lissadell, but a gate on that road would be closed once a year to maintain its private nature. The council accepted those conditions. While some public money was spent on road works, this was an acknowledgment that tourists were interested in visiting Lissadell and were permitted to do so by courtesy of the owners, he added.
Ms Cassidy and Mr Walsh, with addresses at Morristown, Lattin, Naas, Co Kildare, and Lissadell, are seeking orders and declarations that four routes in the estate are not subject to public rights of way. The council contends public rights of way do exist, including on the basis that public money was spent since 1954 on certain roadways.
Proceedings began after the council in December 2008 passed a resolution to amend the county development plan to include provision for “preservation of the public rights of way” at Lissadell. As a result, Lissadell House was closed to the public in January 2009.
The case continues.