History of the House / 1924 to 1927 - Robert Rooney / Dispute with Dane's Hollow

Robert Rooney’s account of the dispute of the fence erected by Dane’s Hollow in 1926

The following is a copy of the typed statement from Robert Rooney on the events that occurred on Sunday May 23rd 1926. [1] I have broken the text into further paragraphs to make it easier to read.

I will add in some annotation, graphics, and images soon to help illustrate his story.

I have been living in Howth since 1918 and, prior to that date, my weekends during the summer months where invariably spent in Howth each year since 1903.

My favourite walk was from the Strand Road by the Sutton Cliff path leading to the Baily and the Summit. During all these years, no one ever challenged, or attempted to restrict in any way, my right of access to the Cliffs or to the shore at any part of the path between Sutton and the Summit. I have seen persons bathing each summer at practically every bay and creek along the shore, and, prior to the advent of Mr Bailey Butler, I never saw a fence or gate erected on the cliff side of the path for the purpose of preventing access to the shore. Where fences where erected along the cliff side of the path, it was clearly for the purpose of keeping cattle from going too near the dangerous slopes. I never had any reason to believe that anyone had the right to prevent the public from going down the slopes to the rocks and to the shore, and, I always was of the opinion that the ground between the path and the foreshore was of the nature of a commonage, except of course at the few spots where the right- of-way deviates slightly from the cliff, which it hugs closely for practically its entire length

Parties going picnicking on the hill invariably choose the Sutton side, as the cliffs on the Howth side are dangerously precipitous. The Red Rock, Bellingham Harbour, The Boat Slip, The Needles Bay, Knox’s (or Mahaffy’s) Strand and Glenaveena Bay are the spots most frequented along the Sutton cliffs. Of these the Red Rock and Bellingham Harbour are more suitable for persons able to swim, whilst the others are more generally used by ladies, children and non-swimmers, and also by family and picnic parties. Glenaveena Bay has the great advantage over the others of being on uncontaminated by sewage, and therefore free from the evil smelling seaweed which is the great drawback of Mahaffy’s Strand and the Needles Bay. The twin caves beside it are also an additional attraction to this particular spot.

In the early years of my visits to Howth, I personally preferred Bellingham Harbour because of the greater facilities it offered for a plunge into deep water as against wading in off the Strand, and for that reason my visits down to the actual shore at Glenaveena Bay where confined to the occasions when I happened to form one of a picnic group, which would be on an average only a few times in the summer, but I passed by the Bay twice or three times each week and I nearly always saw people resting on the grassy slopes which look S.S.W. and therefore catch the sun in the afternoon, and each Saturday and Sunday brought its quota of picnic parties to the shore.

When Mr Montgomery Miller came to live at Danes Hollow in 1920, the fences around his grounds were not at any place co-terminus with the cliff path, but when Mr McRory took over the place about two years ago, he extended the boundaries of the holding until they came right down to, and ran along the land side of the path.

Some time in April last, digging operations were started preparatory to erecting a barbed wire fence all along the cliff side of the path from Mr Bailey Butler’s gate (on the path) right round to the open ground adjacent to the Lighthouse. The fence when completed was of a most formidable nature, - consisting of seven strands or rows of barbed wire and was erected under the supervision of Mr Baily Butler. That gentleman informed me earlier this year that “the lady who owns that bay intends to fence it off with wire for the purpose of keeping it private“. The fence is an unsightly blot on the landscape and is an outrage on the feelings of all lovers of the cliff path.

Balscadden Beach around 1905
Balscadden Beach around 1905. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland on The Commons

Bearing in mind what happened in the case of Balscadden bay, (beside the pier) which has in the last few years been impudently appropriated by another gentleman from the North of Ireland who now charges the public 3d or 4d for the privilege of bathing on the shore which, prior to his advent, had been as free and as open to the public as any bathing strand I have ever been on. I was resolved to do all in my power to prevent, if possible, a repetition of the Higgins coup d'état at Balscadden, and I accordingly determined to take such action as would bring the matter up once to an issue in the courts.

With that end in view, I left my residence on Sunday morning (23rd of May) about 11.30 and, accompanied by my son, proceeded to the Bay which is about 500 yards on the Baily side of my house. I set about cutting the wire where it blocked the main path leading down from the Cliff Walk to the shore.

When I had only one strand cut, an individual who (I subsequently ascertained) was the gardener, came down the slope from Danes Hollow and asked me in a rather excited manner “What are you doing there”?

I replied “Don’t you see that I am cutting this wire“.

“What are you cutting it’s for”? he asked, and I answered “To get down there of course” and I pointed to the shore.

“You can’t go down there as it is the private property of Mr MacRory” he said, whereupon I replied “Well, I am going down there and if Mr MacRory thinks he has any legal rights in the matter he can have them tested in court“ and I handed him my card. I then went on cutting the wire and after a moment, he said “I shall telephone for the police unless you stop“, but I assured him that I would not desist and that I would await the arrival of the police.

He then went up to the house and I continued cutting until I had the seven strands removed from the section of the fence immediately in front of the path down to the bay. I then proceeded to the other end of the fence where it approached the road leading down to the Lighthouse and I set to work cutting the wire where it blocked two separate parts down to the bay.

The gardener returned whilst I was cutting the second portion and said “The police will be here soon“ and “you will spend the Sunday where you don’t expect“.

I kept on cutting the wire until I had the two paths clear, and then I awaited the arrival of the police.

Soon afterwards, the gardener approached accompanied by the sergeant of the Garda in uniform and another guard in plain clothes.

“Are you Mr Rooney“? he asked. I said “Yes“. He then asked “did you cut that wire“? I replied in the affirmative, thereupon he placed his hand on my shoulder and said “I have to take you into custody“. “For what“? I asked, and he answered “for malicious damage to private property“. I said “that is not private property, that land is a commonage“ to which he replied “I have nothing to say to that, but you must come with me“.

“Are you satisfied to take responsibility for your action in arresting me“? I asked the sergeant, and he said “Yes“.

He then asked who my son was, and whether he had also cut the wire. I said “no” but the gardener asserted that he had seen him cutting the wire, and the Sergeant said “I must also take you into custody”.

On our way to Howth Barracks, the Sergeant informed me that he had got several complaints on the ‘phone from Mrs MacRory who threatened to report them to Dublin Castle for negligence of duty, and, as a result, a guard was, he stated, put on duty watching the fence each night from 6 p.m. till 10 a.m. He also informed me that Mrs MacGrory had lodged a claim for £30 malicious damage to her fences, but that the claim was withdrawn soon afterwards. He further mentioned that Mrs MacRory was in Italy at the moment.

I sent for Mr M. Lynch, Solicitor, and he arrived at the barracks soon afterwards. It was over an hour before the Superintendent came, and after some further delay, Mr Priel P.C. also arrived. The Superintendent filled up the charge sheet and the Sergeant, having been sworn, testified to the accuracy of the charge. After some further formalities, my son and I were released on bail to the amount of £5 in each case, to come up for trial at Howth Sessions on Wednesday 16th of June.

Disclaimer. Parts of the data found in these history pages are derived from sources currently available on the internet. In researching the previous owners of Earlscliffe, certain assumptions have been made as to the validity of this internet data. If you believe that some of this data is inaccurate, please contact .


  • [1] This information was kindly provided by Miriam Geraghty, Robert Rooney's Granddaughter, as communicated to David Foley.

This page was last updated on 27-Jul-2023 .