A “TENSE” stand-off took place on the Limerick-Kerry border last weekend as farmers blocked a group of walkers from accessing the disused old rail line in a row over its ownership.
A group of up to 30 Kerry farmers and supporters erected a wooden barricade outside Abbeyfeale to prevent 150 walkers on the Great Southern Trail from crossing the border as part of an organised walk last Saturday afternoon.
A three-hour stand-off involving the two groups and gardai ensued, as walkers were met with placards stating ‘no trespassing’ and ‘private property’.
The row centres on the disputed ownership of old Limerick-Kerry rail line, which some Kerry farmers are claiming title to despite CIE’s insistence that it is public property.
Liam O’Mahony, cathaoirleach of the Great Southern Trail, said that while the stand-off did not escalate into violence it was “a tense encounter”.
“There was a lot of comment and confusion. People were very unhappy. The mood was frustrated, people were silent. There was no attempt at violence, but you can question the bona fides of some of the people on the other side”.
Over the past two decades sections of the former Limerick-Tralee rail line have been developed into the Great Southern Trail, a public walking and cycling route which today stretches from Rathkeale to the Kerry border at Kilmorna, Abbeyfeale.
There are hopes to extend the trail along the rail line into Kerry as far as Fenit. However a body calling itself the North Kerry Abandoned Rail Line Action Group has now been formed and is claiming ownership of the line. The group have sent solicitor’s letters to CIE and the Department of Transport among others to outline their position.
Listowel town councillor and farmer Denis Stack was present at the barricade alongside protesters last Saturday. When contacted by the Limerick Leader he confirmed his involvement in the incident, but declined to make further comment.
A spokesperson for the rail line action group said that they are in ongoing talks with CIE regarding a number of issues, which they want resolved before any more plans are made for the trail extension.
It is estimated that the area of land on the old North Kerry line comprises 125 acres, which could have a value of up to €1 million based on current market prices.
Mr O’Mahony said that he “had inklings this was going to happen” ahead of last Saturday’s walk, which marked the 50th anniversary of the last scheduled passenger train on the Limerick-Tralee line on February 2, 1963.
Mr O’Mahony said that one week beforehand members of the Great Southern Trail committee and CIE engineers were assessing sections of the line on the Kerry side when they were met with a smaller barricade and a group of six people, who did not identify themselves save to say that they were local landowners. A discussion took place between all parties, and the matter passed off without incident.
The issue of the North Kerry rail line’s ownership was addressed by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar last month. In response to parliamentary questions by Fianna Fail TD Eamon O Cuív, Minister Varadkar said that CIE has replied to the solicitor’s letter “and in its response has stated that CIE is the owner of the property and will continue to access its property as necessary”.
Mr O’Mahony said that the rail line was dug up over a decade ago to lay fibre optic cables, which are “part of the national infrastructure”.
Mr O’Mahony said that in the past the concerns of Limerick farmers along the trail have been allayed, and that he hopes agreement can be reached with Kerry farmers too.
“We want to to see rural development, keep a bit of tourism spend locally and facilitate local farmers”.
Following the opening of the most recent section of the trail from Abbeyfeale station to the Kerry border at Kilmorna, the walking and cycling route now stretches from Rathkeale to the border via Ardagh, Newcastle West, Barnagh and Devon Road.
The Great Souther Trail committee hope that the route can be extended all the way to Fenit along the route of the abandoned Limerick-Tralee rail line, which closed to all traffic in 1975.