When John Lenihan ruled the world of mountain running, the Kerry man honed his technique and built incredible stamina across the steep inclines of Glanageenty wood in his native Ballymacelligott, between Tralee and Castleisland.
So synonymous did he become with the forest walkways that one of the three routes enjoyed nowadays by thousands of families and nature enthusiasts is named after Lenihan, a local farmer.
He is one of the landowners whose agreement with the State agency Coillte created a haven for the public to walk through dense woodland once used as a refuge for republicans on the run during the Civil War.
But now a different sort of festering conflict is threatening public access to this slice of heaven in the Kingdom after a complaint to the local branch of the Irish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) regarding their wellbeing.
Lenihan’s ponies and other animals are regularly seen on the walkways and an anonymous complainant claimed two of the ponies were under-nourished and victims of ‘cruelty’.
He took to Facebook to vent his frustration at the allegation, saying he was “hurt and saddened”.
The former champion distance runner posted photos showing the run and depth of water available to the animals.
“The water is overflowing the edge and at a height of 18 inches and measuring 15 feet long. A specially dug water source was dug years ago for watering animals long before we had walkers here telling us how to do it.”
A frustrated Mr Lenihan confirmed he has now sold the animals rather than continue to be subjected to a “baseless allegation”.
“I’m hoping the person who reported me gets to read this and remember this is why we have so few walks around our countryside — because people continue to report, report, and report.
I did two 12-hour days working on the walkway last week completely voluntary so that people could have a nice place to walk over the bank holiday weekend and then someone goes off and does this. Why can’t people get their facts right or at least call to the landowner rather than going off making phone calls to the authorities?
He also confirmed the contract between local landowners and the state agency to facilitate continued public access to Glanageenty is up for renewal next year.
“Right now, I can safely say the future of Glanageenty walkways is very much in doubt. My neighbours are suffering a similar fate but I have kept them going over the years when it comes to signing the contracts by explaining that the vast majority of people using the walk are people we can call friends and are there to enjoy what we the landowners have given freely.
“Most people appreciate it but then you have the few who destroy it for everyone.”
On having to make a choice between getting rid of his animals or denying public access to the area, Mr Lenihan wrote: “We have had a long discussion on the future of the animals on the walkway and (know we’ll) have no peace while there are people who will continue to hound us that the animals are either too fat or too thin — or that they have no food or no water.
“We got them for the walkway and clearly at this stage they can no longer remain there and they are of no use to me around the farm as seven animals that size can cost quite a bit annually.
“My phone has been jammed all morning with people ringing about the ponies; they are now all re-homed and will be moving over the next few days.”
He wrote he was not seeking payment for the ponies, only that the black ones were taken as a pair.