The Battle for Kinsale

The Old Head of Kinsale in Co. Cork is an area of renowned beauty. As long as anyone can remember, it has been enjoyed as an amenity by locals and by people from outside Kinsale who have heard of the traditional walk out along the Old Head to the lighthouse at the tip of the headland. It's a walker's paradise, a bird watching area and as much as anything a place to visit 'to get away from it all'.

Until quite recently, the land surrounding the walk out to the Old Head was farmland. But in the late 90s, two rich businessmen from Kinsale decided to buy the entire headland and put a golf course there. Shortly after the purchase was complete, the traditional walking path to the Old Head Lighthouse was blocked off and 'declared' private property. Although locals objected and Cork County Council made noises about the Golf Course violating its planning conditions, the businessmen had got their way.

Little America

As time went on more became known about the plans of these businessmen. The new Golf Course was not going to be just any old golf course. It was billed and built to be an exclusive 'Golf Links' and was widely publicised to an exclusively rich set of golfers in the United States. To play at the Kinsale course costs close to £200 for just one day; yearly fees are £2,000. It is not uncommon to see golfers flying in by helicopter for a 'quick' round of golf. Locally the new course has become known as 'Little America'. Recent rumours indicate that are plans to build a huge exclusive hotel on the golf course itself.

Local Kinsale residents have fought back against the 'take-over' by challenging its legality in the courts. Earlier in the year, the High Court (are we surprised?) upheld the Golf Course's right to bar the public from the golf course area (and effectively the Old Head and Lighthouse walking route) declaring that 'golfing and public walking right' were not compatible. So much for the courts!

But matters did not end there. Early this summer, a loose coalition of walkers, environmentalists, anarchists and socialists declared that they would not accept the action of the Golf Course owners. Following some very brief discussions and organisation, a picnic protest was organised outside the entrance to the course (at the place where the traditional walk to the Lighthouse begins.) About 200 people attended, sang songs, talked and then decided they were going to walk along the route to the Lighthouse - whether the Golf Course owners liked it or not!

Direct Action

That first protest (on July 1st) was a huge success, not just for the issue of re-establishing our right to walk on the Old Head but also for the spirit of direct action. The determination and anger of the protesters swept away the overbearing presence of the Golf Course Security and the Gardai, and made for an important victory. A month later (on July 29th) and again recently on August 26th, protesters repeated the action. The numbers attending have risen and there has been a real determination by those to 'walk' along the route to the Lighthouse come what may. Right now both the Golf Course and the Gardai (who have steadfastly monitored proceedings in the interests of the Golf Course owners) are not clear what to do about the protests. We have been non-violent but determined in our approach. The attitude of protesters is summed up by the declaration 'we just want to walk to the Lighthouse - it is our right'.

This new Battle of Kinsale has highlighted in a dramatic way two things about the country we live in right now. Firstly, it has shown up the actions of the rich business community. Flush with money they are prepared to 'buy' anything they want. The rights and enjoyment of the wider public don't concern them. For these business people, money 'talks' - everyone else can stay at home. It's the new Celtic Tiger way of doing things. And the law courts have supported it.

We can win!

On the other hand, the protests and fight back have been inspirational. Instead of appealing to politicians and 'our leaders' to help us out on this one, we have gone ahead ourselves and taken action. We have proved that the law is an ass on this issue and just as importantly we have shown that if enough people show solidarity with each other and act together the law can be made unworkable. So far the campaign to Free the Old Head has been a very commendable example of a diverse groups of people and organisations working together successfully. We can continue on this road and achieve a lot more if we build on this sort of unity.

Right now the campaign to Free The Old Head is at a high point. The numbers protesting are on the up; there is confidence about what we can achieve. But this said we must be clear that the rights of golf course owners cannot be easily overturned. If we are to talk about winning this campaign as opposed to just highlighting the issue, then we need to sharpen up on our demands and be clear that nothing short of full public access to the Old Head walking route will satisfy our campaign: Free The Old Head!

Kevin Doyle

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This edition is No66 published in September 2001

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