Newsletter No 39 Autumn 2009
Editorial: Time for Fáilte to confront the truth
YOU might think that Failte Ireland would have much in common with KIO and would whole-heartedly support our efforts to bring Ireland’s dreadful public access laws into line with most modern states. After all, they have unenviable the job of trying to persuade foreigners to leave their own jurisdictions, where the right of responsible public access is protected, and come here, where they can be abused, attacked and sent packing for simply taking a stroll. Not to mention all those nasty signs and barbed wire fences.
But instead of finding common cause with KIO, Failté has decided to simply deny that the problems of public access exists at all. To Failté Ireland, all those nasty incidents, threatening notices, fences and unreasonable landowners are imaginary.
FI’s self-deception may be amusing but its deliberate and calculated attempt to deceive those to whom it sells Ireland as a walking destination is not. Looped walks established with payoffs to landowners are all very well but do FI tell our British, French or German visitors that they had better not, under any circumstances, think they can make their way off these loops to visit interesting national monuments, nearby beaches or that beautiful hill that looks as though it is just waiting to be climbed?
They do not.
Worse, as our story on Page 4 reveals, Failté manager Eithne Murphy accuses KIO of being “anti-Ireland” and causing “untold damage” for raising these inconvenient truths.
We have bad news for you Eithne: Until you begin to tell it as it really is to both foreign visitors and your political masters we will continue to do it for you at every opportunity.
Meanwhile, we suggest you and your Failté get out a little more from those stuffy offices. In fact we have along list of places that you really should go but can’t. For whether you like it or even admit to it, this is the real Ireland—and that will remain the case until the law is changed. So join us, Eithne. But don’t expect us to help you keep this dirty little secret.
Bitter Benwiskin battle ‘resolved’
Benwiskin: New looped walk takes in disputed route, say officials
THE bitter and long-standing dispute over access to Benwiskin Mountain in Co Sligo has finally been solved, according to civil servants who have spent years trying to broker a deal.
One central figure in the dispute, Andrew McSharry, who likes to style himself ‘The Bull’, recently told journalists he now welcomes tourists and walkers.
Mr McSharry, who has been campaigning against hillwalkers for 17 years, recently sold land adjacent to the most bitterly contested route, an old access road into a disused mine below Benwiskin, to mine owner Tom McGuinn. In a strange twist Mr McGuinn is currently wanted for questioning by the FBI after its investigators publicly accused him of contravening US trade sanctions by selling American helicopter parts to the Iranianan government.
It is believed that the mine still contains substantial reserves of the valuable mineral barite.
One of the sweeteners to McSharry has been the construction by Coillte of a new access road into his home beneath Benwiskin. This new road, paid for by the Department of the Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs, can also be used by walkers to go up or down Benwiskin peak. It forms part of a new loop walk which takes in the old mine access road and the Benwiskin ridge and peak.
A number of threatening signs along the route have been removed, say officials, and looped walk sign posts will be in place “within weeks”.
The new spur from the existing Coillte road runs westwards off the Horseshoe Road (at around GR4850-7300. on Sheet 16 0:50,000). It extends a previously existing forestry road, providing access to a point just East of and under Benwiskin peak. Walkers can now climb the peak from the east, follow the ridge south, emerging on the old miner road—or the other way around—in a loop.
The dispute over access to Benwiskin became a major embarrassment for Ireland internationally after Mr McSharry was found guilty of threatening and abusive behaviour against two hillwalkers who walked down the old Miners’ Road in March 2003. He served a short prison sentence the following January after he refused to pay a €300 fine and €100 costs imposed at Grange District Court in Sligo.
Landowner sends writs to 15 locals over access to castle
Rathcoffey Castle: Locals face High Court over access row
FIFTEEN members of a local history group have received writs threatening High Court action and a bill for hefty costs unless they withdraw a claim that there is a right of public access to a historic castle in their area.
Wealthy businessman Joe Hayes, from Naas in Co Kildare, refuses to acknowledge that there is any right of public access to Rathcoffey Castle in Co Kildare. He has dropped one of the writs, issued against a Jesuit priest from nearby Clongowes school, after the clergy signed an agreement withdrawing right of access claims.
The remaining 14 locals from the Rathcoffey Historical Group, who include three OAPs, have been involved for several years in a dispute with Mr Hayes over access to the ruins of the village’s striking mediaeval castle. They have organised a number of walks, including one in 2006 which saw 150 people traverse the 1,400-metre laneway which leads to the castle.
Both the laneway and castle are on Mr Hayes’ land. Mr Hayes, who does not live in Rathcoffey but has a home some miles away in Naas, is a former managing director of both Gallahers, the cigarette company, and Independent Newspapers.
Local TDs – Emmet Stagg (Labour), Aine Brady (FF) and Bernard Durkin (FG) and Martin Mansergh, the FF TD for Tipperary South and Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, were involved in lengthy negotiations between locals and Mr Hayes in July.
A deal for limited access was agreed subject to the writs being withdrawn but Mr Hayes, who has adopted an aggressive stance towards a variety of people making their way towards the castle, has as yet not withdrawn the writs.
KIO has been campaigning for years over the lack of any legal protection for access to historic monuments. Rathcoffey is one of a number of historically important sites to which access is denied.
The law currently allows landowners to block access unless an established right-of-way can be shown to run over the land. Recent cases have made it extremely difficult under Irish law to prove the existence of a public right-of-way. One judgment a couple of years ago in the notorious Glencree case (Collen v Lenoach) holds that a public right-of-way cannot be held to exist in law unless a landowner has dedicated a route to be such—in writing.
Ireland is now one of the very few countries in Western Europe without clear rules enabling public responsible public access to uninhabited historical monuments.
‘Old road’ High Court date set
A DATE has been set for a High Court hearing of the long-running dispute over the Old Coach Road in the Glencree Valley near Enniskerry.
Members of the Irish Ramblers, the An Oige Walking Club, the Holiday Fellowship Walking group and the Enniskerry Walking Association are all due to give evidence in the case, which is slated for a four-day hearing in the Dublin Four Courts starting on October 28.
The fractious dispute, which as been going on for several years, arises out of attempts by a landowner named, ironically, Joe Walker, to block off an old green road to public access. Mr Walker has also threatened to block access to nearby Raven’s Rock, of which he is part-owner.
As part of his campaign, Mr Walker has issued writs against two members of the local Enniskerry Walking Association, chairman Niall Lenoach and secretary Noel Barry, who planned a walk along the disputed section of the Old Coach Road in September last year.
As the newsletter goes to press, more than two dozen witnesses are expected to give evidence in the hearing, including many locals who insist that the route is the old road to Dublin.
Britain to open up whole coastline
A COASTAL path around the whole of England and Wales is being put inplace.The Marine and Coastal Access Bill, that is due to be passed at Westminster within weeks, will establish a path around the whole of the coast at a cost of stg£50m.
The path will also make it possible for ramblers to walk through golf courses, country estates and farms currently closed to the public. Scotland already has virtually free access to all land, including costal areas. The path will be 2,748 miles long and will take 10 years to build.
Welcome to Connemara
The Government and Failte Ireland like to pretend that there is no problem over access in Ireland. Dalan de Bri visited Connemara recently. Here is a description of some of what he found there.
One notice near Slyne Head and another at Roundstone in Connemara
Gleninagh Valley, Connemara: A beautiful valley, giving access to the Twelve Pins. According to Tim Robinson there is a Bronze Age stone alignment in the valley, we couldn’t find it.
We parked on the main road and cycled up the valley because we had heard that the landowner’s problem was with walkers blocking the road and gateways with their cars. There is a gate across what looks like a public road. We cycled, then walked up the valley, met various people who waved and said “hello”.
When we got back down to the main road again a “Private property—no trespassing” sign that wasn’t there on our way in had been put up! I was again told by a local man that the landowners didn’t really mind people going up the valley but that the problem was with badly parked cars. So why not put up a sign to that effect?
Slyne Head: Caorán Mór, just west of Connemara Golf Club: “Private Property. Trespassers will be prosecuted” sign on a gate across what seems to be a public road and a “Danger : Beware of the Bull” sign on the gatepost. There was no bull that we could see, no cattle, just sheep, and a horse. This is the only road down to the end of the peninsula, about 2km away.
Just above the foreshore there is another sign: “No access for pedestrians” and beyond that lots of barbed wire fences that eventually succeeded in preventing us going any further. People are denied access to a large area and great views of Slyne Head and its two lighthouses. We could see a fine-looking beach beyond the barbed wire. There is also a holy well, Tobar Cháillín, and the saint’s “bed” which, according to Tim Robinson, “is visited by hundreds of Connemara people on the 13th November every year”, St Cáillín being the patron of fishermen in particular. I wonder how they get in!
Bunowen Castle, near Doon Hill, about 4km South West of Ballyconneely: A “Private No Admittance” sign on the gate prevents access. We were told the landowner doesn’t want people climbing all over the castle because it’s in a dangerous condition, which is understandable, but why not put up a sign to say this instead of “No Admittance”?
Renville Point, Oranmore: There is a good path, a “Slí na Sláinte”, down to the Point from the boat club, being used by hundreds of people the evening we were there, but after the point the path becomes overgrown. It is then blocked at a “Private: No trespassing” sign at the Galway Bay golf club wall.
Some local people told us we could get round by the rocks if the tide was out but remarked that it was a pity the authorities hadn’t done the Slí na Sláinte path properly as it could easily follow the coastline back to Renmore and Galway city. The Country Club Hotel has been closed for several years, we were told.
Dalan de Bri is a director of KIO and our Irish language expert
A friendly word from the Murrough
IF YOU have ever paid a visit to Wicklow town you will probably know the Murrough, a long strip of land to the north of our town, stretching for miles along the margin of the bay between lakes and sea.
The Murrough is home to a huge diversity of bird life; the East Coast Nature Reserve has its HQ close by. It is also an area much loved by bathers, walkers, joggers, anglers, bird watchers, cyclists, athletes, photographers and artists.
To the south of Wicklow Town we have the Cliff Walk which stretches from the ruins of the 12th Century Black Castle towards Wicklow Head. This provides a picturesque ramble along the cliff tops where one can see a great variety of migratory sea birds and the many seals that frequent the secluded little sea coves. This is a historic pathway, not alone for the Black Castle but it also passes Lime Kiln Bay, where one can see the remains of an old penal church. A knapper carried on his business there, fashioning flints to supply the needs of our remote ancestors.
Further on, near Wicklow Head, we can see an octagonal lighthouse dating from the late 1700s.
Our organisation, ‘Friends of the Murrough’, was originally founded more than 10 years ago but has now been reactivated following the closure of some of these walkways. Both of the walks outlined above form the only public amenity area adjacent to our town; they have been enjoyed by locals and visitors for many generations. A landowner tried to fence off the Murrough back in 1970s but in the ensuing court case the judge ruled that the public had a right to roam in the area. The fence was removed.
In 2002, local authorities tried to close down the full length of the Cliff Walk while Iarnrod Eireann have choked off the Murrough walk at Five Mile Point, making the going very uncomfortable for walkers. Anyone venturing on another traditional walk on the eastern side of Broadlough would experience even more
difficulty where a fence has been placed alongside the water’s edge.
It is the aim of our organisation to have this beautiful area protected under a ‘Special Amenity Area Order’ in the same way that Howth and Bray Head already enjoy this kind of protection. Such an Order would preserve the unique character of the area, help to regulate development and secure unhindered public access. Towards this objective, we commissioned a report on the region from the Irish Sports Council and we have made submissions to the County Development Plan and the Wicklow Heritage Plan. The promotion of a healthy lifestyle and increased tourism to the region should prove doubly beneficial. Our nearest neighbour, Britain, is currently opening up its entire coastline to public access.
We already enjoy the support of upwards of three thousand people in our campaign but we would invite anyone who is familiar with these areas and who wish to see them preserved for public enjoyment to indicate their support on our website at www.saveourshores.eu where they can read a more complete account of our campaign. We can also be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
KIO finds Common cause with farmers
A FARMER who fenced off about 60 acres of commonage for his own use has been ordered to remove the fencing by Wicklow County Council following representations from Keep Ireland Open.
A number of Keep Ireland Open members, including mountain bikers, paragliders and walkers, provided signed affidavits to the council after planning officials initially indicated that they would not take action against landowner Richard Redden. He erected the fencing on Ballyremon Common on the south side of the Old Long Hill road over the summer of 2008.
Mr Redden had not applied for planning permission, which he was required to do because the area has long been open to a variety of leisure users.
The fence was a threat and hindrance to mountain bikers, paragliders and walkers as well as depriving several other shareholders in the commonage of their grazing rights.
Following our representations, the council has reversed its position and on September 30 issued Mr Redden with an Enforcement Notice warning that he faces court action unless the fencing is removed within 21 days of that date. As the newsletter went to press, the fence had not been removed
Unusually, this campaign saw Keep Ireland Open co-ordinating its activities with two local farmers, both members of the Irish Farmers’ Association, who approached KIO for help after Wicklow County Council’s initial refusal to enforce the planning regulations.
Everything’s just fine out there, insists Failté
FAILTE Ireland has launched a bitter attack on KIO for pointing out to walkers from the UK who might consider holidaying here that they will not enjoy the kind of rights of access they are accustomed to at home.
The row broke out after KIO wrote to ‘Walk’ magazine in response to a Failté advert in the UK publication extolling the delights of Irish walking holidays. We pointed out that our law in Ireland, unlike that of Scotland, England and Wales, offers virtually no legal rights of access over private land, through which many walks pass. We also pointed out that facilities for walkers such as car parking, signage and guide books, are less developed because of the difficult legal situation surrounding access.
Our letter drew a wounded response from Eithne Murphy, the Failté Ireland manager promoting looped walks here. Insisting that there have been no recent complaints from visitors regarding access, she accused KIO of causing untold damage to our reputation as a walking destination, adding: “It is anti-Ireland and does not reflect well on your organisation.”
We can only conclude that Ms Murphy is torn between the three monkey approach – hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil – and the ostrich position: head in the sand. We could take her to dozens of places around the country where access on walking routes is being denied and those who take a stroll along routes to lakes, rivers, national monuments or mountains face abuse, nasty notices, barbed wire and worse. You can fool some of the people some of the time, Eithne, but truth, as they say, will out..
See Comment, Page One
Published by Keep Ireland Open. KIO is an environmental organisation dedicated to preserving public access to our mountains, lakes, seashore and countryside.
If you have any comments on the newsletter or any other aspect of our campaign or if you would like to describe your own problems with access to the countryside send correspondence to
The Secretary, KIO, 56 Pine Valley Avenue, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
or e-mail : email@example.com
Links to Affiliated organisations