Fenit Island Still Fenced Off

Fenit Island Update April 2024

I was keen to reverse my 2023 e-bike trip from Limerick to Tralee, which featured in a previous blog, by going in the opposite direction. Since then, the new greenway from Tralee to Fenit and extension of the Limerick one to Listowel has been opened. I would end up at a climate change conference in Limerick. I was also planning to see the restrictions to walking on Fenit Island in Kerry as part of my trip.
Shortly after arriving in Tralee station, I met local KIO man Matty Hopper, who hails from England but made his home in Kerry more than 20 years ago. Over coffee, Matty quickly briefed me with regard to the current situation. He explained that following a Circuit Court Order handed down in February 2022, requiring the defendants in the case to remove the access-denying fencing on the island, the landowners had petitioned An Bord Pleanala for leave to apply for ‘substitute consent’ to retain the fencing. It is likely to be later in the year before ABP consider this application so the matter is currently in legal limbo.
This case serves to demonstrate how landowners with deep pockets can use the absence of effective access laws here in Ireland to frustrate people’s wish to enjoy our countryside and coastline. It is so very different in Great Britain where such access is a statutory right which benefits communities in terms of offering recreation opportunities, but also contributes significantly to local rural economies.

The obstructions preventing walkers from enjoying the age old footpath around the unproductive margins of Fenit Island were first erected in 2006. Over the years this unauthorised development has been extended and enhanced and now extends to more than 2km of industrial scale fencing. This impenetrable fencing, much of which is built on a Special Area of Conservation, is also electrified in places preventing any pedestrian access to the scenically stunning and historically important amenity which includes Fenit Castle, an abandoned village together with a derelict church and graveyard.
This shows the vital need for access legislation in Ireland. I tried ringing the lead plaintiff in this case, to seek out his motivation for their denial of the right of people to enjoy their country. I got no reply to various phone messages and email. It really is a sad state of affairs in Ireland – so unlike the situation in Europe. Matty has been a stalwart in opposing the fencing all these years. Hopefully he and others will achieve success before long. We wish him and his many fellow objectors to the fencing the very best of luck with their on-going campaign. It is my hope that later this year we will be able to report that the fencing has indeed been removed and the lands and the footpath restored to their previous condition.

History of Dispute in Fenit Island

Saint Brendan the navigator, one of the twelve apostles of Ireland, was probably born north west of the village on Fenit Island in close proximity to what is now Fenit harbour around 484 AD.The greenway to Fenit from Tralee goes along an old railway line and is scenic and full of hedgerows. I saw a hovering kestrel, a bird that has unfortunately moved from the Amber to the Red-list of Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland. On Fenit Island, I met a couple of people who are unhappy at the fencing on the island. On my way to Listowel, I cycled a good bit on the Wild Atlantic Way, which is geared to car traffic. You can appreciate the landscape better from a bike and stopping to admire the views is easier. It was great to get on the new greenway extension at Listowel. It follows the old Limerick to Tralee railway line. This now makes a fine 53km. route to Rathkeale. I met lots of walkers, and not so many cyclists, maybe due to February being off-season for cycling tourists. Like on previous greenway cycles, I saw lots of big one-off houses along the way. With my KIO hat on, I noticed very few walking trail signs, unlike Norfolk where I came across several rights of way around farms and woodlands.
The 175km. journey from Tralee took place over 3 days. I stayed with friends in Ardfert & near Rathkeale. The final leg to Limerick city was along the Eurovelo Route 1, which can be a busy secondary road. I found cars were travelling too fast for the road conditions and the amount of SUV’s was worryingly high. I arrived just in time to Istabraq Hall (named after a horse who won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham 3 times!) in the Limerick CC offices, for the climate change conference organised by the Hunt Museum. I was there to hear 3 speakers who I admire – Cara Augustenborg, Assistant Professor Environmental Policy UCD, Eoghan Daltun, author of An Irish Atlantic Rainforest and comedian Colm O’Regan who wrote Climate Worrier. Well done to him in getting some laughs from climate change!
Eric Conroy 22 April 2024.