State rejected offer to buy Lissadell House for £500,000

Relative of Constance Markievicz did not want estate turned into a ‘hurdy gurdy’ tourist attraction

The State rejected for cost reasons the idea of acquiring Lissadell House and estate in Sligo, childhood home of Constance Markievicz, one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. Correspondence from the local tourism body for Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo to minister for finance Ray MacSharry in April 1987 showed the regional tourism manager had met with agents for the the owner of the estate, Josslyn Gore Booth, a grand nephew of Constance Markievicz’s brother of the same name.

The Irish tourism body sought a meeting with MacSharry, a Sligo-Leitrim TD, to discuss the possible future development plans for the house and estate, with a view to getting the assistance of a statutory body to acquiring it as a visitor attraction.

“It is generally believed that County Sligo needs a major tourist attraction, particularly a day centre, and Lissadell Estate is the ideal property with the greatest potential,” wrote the regional tourism manager Dan O’Neill.

They enclosed a letter from Mr Gore Booth’s estate agents stating that they wanted a sum of £500,000 and that there was “no way that he would consider a figure of less than £400,000”. MrGore-Booth and his family also wanted “a permanent right of residence in a small part of the house”.


Hamilton and Hamilton Estates also asked the regional tourism body what plans it would have to change things in the estate.

“The reason for this is that although we would be very much in favour of improving tourist amenities, he would not be willing to see the property turned into a ‘hurdy gurdy’ resort.”

A note to the minister from the Office of Public Works on July 8th said that acquisition directly by the State, “while perhaps desirable from a tourist viewpoint would involve the State (OPW) in significant additional expenditure”.

The OPW believed the house, excluding the lands, could be acquired for around £80,000 but that refurbishment after years of “minimal maintenance” would cost at least £1 million “and possibly double this amount”.

Even though European Regional Development Fund monies would finance 50 per cent of the cost of developing Lissadell as a tourist amenity, the cost to the State was “still unacceptable and in the current economic climate acquisition cannot be recommended”.

Barristers Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy purchased Lissadell from the Gore Booth family in 2013 for €3.75 million and later became involved in a lengthy legal battle over public rights of way.

In November 2013, the Supreme Court found in favour of the owners when it overturned a High Court ruling that four rights of way existed on four avenues through the estate. The Supreme Court found only one one right of way existed along part of a coastal route.

Sligo County Council incurred €3.68 million in legal costs from the case.

The couple re-opened the 1830s-built house and gardens to the public in June 2014.