An 85-year-old from the Beara Peninsula appeared at Bantry District Court in defence of her right to graze sheep on the ‘Kilcatherine Commonage’.
Mary O’Sullivan of Hilltop House, Dreenacappara, Ardgroom – who has been farming since she was six – was prosecuted by Gda Martin Hegarty under an 1851 law.
Her solicitor Flor Murphy told Judge James McNulty that he would hate to see his client criminalised because ‘she is a sheep farmer doing what has been done in this area for centuries.’
Gda Hegarty said the gardaí received a complaint from the accused’s neighbour, Lotte Vox.
The accused was charged with allowing her sheep to wander on the roadway at Darrigroe, Eyeries, on March 30th 2018.
Mrs Vox, in court, claimed the sheep were a danger to motorists travelling on the narrow, winding road, especially during the height of the tourist season. And she spoke of holidaymakers in campervans trying to negotiate the animal obstacles, but couldn’t recall having seen an accident.
In defence of his client, Mr Murphy said Mary O’Sullivan is but one of 74 people who have legal access to land, known as the Kilcatherine Commonage.
Mary O’Sullivan said: ‘I cannot keep my sheep on the farm full-time as they are mountain sheep but I do the best I can to keep them on the hill.’
When asked by Judge McNulty if her sheep would know the difference between her farm and the mountain, she replied: ‘Like I would know the difference between bread and sweet cake.’
Gda Hegarty admitted that the level of traffic on the Beara Peninsula had increased three or fourfold since the introduction of the Wild Atlantic Way.
But Mr Murphy and his client argued that the road at Darrigroe is not part of the Wild Atlantic Way because it has been deemed to be too narrow and winding. But it is part of the award-winning walking route, The Beara Way.
Gda Hegarty said this roadway in question would be ‘moderately busy in the summer’ but in the winter it would be used mostly by locals.
Judge McNulty said the people are entitled to drive on the road in safety and adjourned the case to March 28th to allow the accused time to erect warning signs.
He said three or four ‘tasteful’ 8ft by 5ft warning signs in corrugated plastic, warning motorists of the possible presence of sheep on the roadway, would be a solution to the problem.
If the work is done, and the accused agrees to maintain the signs for the next three years, the judge said the court will deal with her leniently.