Some might call it a ewe-turn - an 85-year-old sheep farmer who was found guilty of allowing her sheep to wander from commonage in west Cork has had the case dismissed under the Probation Act.
Mary O'Sullivan of Hilltop House in Dreenapappara near Ardgroom in County Cork was asked in February to consider putting up four large warning signs - to be maintained for three years - after her sheep were found wandering on a public road in contravention of a law dating back to 1851.
However, Judge James McNulty said that a month-long adjournment gave him some 'mature reflection' and time to weigh up proper concern for public safety with "due respect for ancient rights and the way of life of a woman of great age and admirable energy".
The judge said that sometimes modernity must bend to tradition. A beaming Mary O'Sullivan, accompanied by her son, Gearóid, offered her "sincerest thanks" to the judge.
She has been farming sheep since she was six years old and her solicitor, Flor Murphy, said she has done everything possible to keep her animals from straying onto the road adjacent to the 1,140-acre Kilcatherine commonage, of which she is one of the 74 shareholders. Her neighbour, Lotte Vox, had complained about the sheep on the public road and Judge McNulty had suggested the erection of three or four "tasteful" and large signs that could warn motorists.
Yesterday at Bantry District Court Flor Murphy said his client had looked into the possibility but had been told by the area engineer in Castletownbere that any such signs would require planning permission.
The letter from the engineer, read in court, suggested that the 8ft x 5ft size proposed would mean the signs would not be exempt from planning. Mr Murphy also said that any signage would need to be agreed by all shareholders of the commonage, which he said was "practically impossible".
Judge McNulty quoted Patrick Kavanagh's poem Epic: "Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind./ He said I made the Iliad from such/ A local row. Gods make their own importance."
He also quoted journalist, Vincent Browne: "The lower the status of the judge the greater the sense of self-importance."
The judge said the one-month adjournment allowed time to consider the matter and that Ms O'Sullivan is conducting modest farming activity in her native place. He said St Patrick, and his own grandfather, had done the same - referencing a time when his ancestor was a servant boy in south Antrim tending to sheep in the early 1900s.
"The question is if traditional farming practices must yield to modernity or whether modernity should yield to tradition."
The Judge said the area is sparsely populated and one of natural beauty - "it's a special place in a special place" - and that the court has now concluded that it is a matter for tourists and road users to look out for themselves.
"As for Mary O'Sullivan, if ever there was a case where Section 1 (1) of the Probation of Offenders Act 1997 may apply, this is it," Judge McNulty said.
This allows for a case to be proven but dismissed on grounds including the trivial nature of the offence or grounds of age and health, among other factors. Other courts do not have the same option.