Landowners featured in Sophie murder film threatened and sent excrement 

Landowners featured in Sophie murder film threatened and sent excrement 

Lukas Ungerer at Three Castle Head, Dunlough near Goleen in West Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A Cork family has been threatened and sent excrement in the post by some of the people descending on their farm in large numbers since it featured in two recent films about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

The Ungerer family has seen a sharp increase in visitors to their home at Three Castle Head, West Cork, since it featured prominently in two recent documentaries about the murder of the French filmmaker.

Three Castle Head was the last place Ms Toscan Du Plantier was seen alive when she went walking there hours before her death.

Hundreds of people now descend on the farm most days, parking on the Ungerer’s land and walking through their fields to visit the 15th-century castle and lake on their property.

While the volume of visitors is a concern to the family, their most immediate problem is the abuse they are subjected to on a near-daily basis. 

The Ungerer family has seen a sharp increase in visitors to their home since it featured prominently in two recent documentaries about the murder of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
The Ungerer family has seen a sharp increase in visitors to their home since it featured prominently in two recent documentaries about the murder of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

This abuse has mostly come from people who insist on bringing dogs or drones onto their sheep farm and areas of special conservation despite signs requesting them not to.

Dogs have chased their sheep off the surrounding cliffs in the past and drones frighten the protected species of birds that live there, so both are banned.

But people often ignore these rules and continue to bring dogs and drones onto the land.

Uninvited visitors have also cut wire fencing and climbed on the castle, risking both their own lives and the structural integrity of the ancient building.

When they are challenged on their behaviour, people sometimes become aggressive, farm owner Lukas Ungerer said.

“You get a lot of verbal abuse if you ask someone to go back with their dog. And we got excrement in our post box.

“A lot of people bought dogs for the first time this year because of lockdown. And a lot of new dog owners are not really aware or have not made themselves aware or don’t respect the wishes of others when it comes to dogs. They feel that because they have a dog they’re entitled to bring it.

I’ve had to call the guards about dogs already this summer. I also had to call the guards about someone flying a drone.

“People have just refused to back down, refused to leave the property.

“It’s a real slap in the face because we do a lot for people here. We have free parking, we maintain the walk, we do all these things off our own back so you would expect a modicum of respect.” 

Mr Ungerer stressed that 99% of people visiting are very respectful of the land and pick up their litter.

“I’ll always keep that in my mind, that the vast majority of people are decent and we will not let them be tarnished by the minority who don’t care,” he said.

There has been a surge in visitors walking near Three Castle Head.
There has been a surge in visitors walking near Three Castle Head.

“But it’s a cumulative effect - the more people that come the bigger the risks, the more potential for trouble.

“And with the documentary coming out you have more unusual people coming up. Three men came up the other day, one had his face painted, druidic clothing, 8ft wooden staff, I think they came up to do some ritual.

“With all these people I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, checking the castle throughout the day to make sure everything’s okay or going up late at night.

“And it’s just a matter of time until there’s a serious criminal aspect or vandalism aspect or anti-social behaviour.” 

Legislation has kept public liability insurance costs manageable for landowners which makes it possible for people to permit others to walk on their land without fear of lawsuits, Mr Ungerer said.

Without that, walks all over the country would be closed because farmers could not afford the insurance or potential risks, he said.

Ireland does not have a right to roam over private lands which exist in some parts of Scandinavia and the UK.

So access to those lands largely relies on the goodwill of landowners.

The waymarked walking trails in Ireland are permissive routes that have been developed with the landowners’ agreement and are not rights of way.

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 makes it a criminal offence for anyone to enter, occupy or bring anything onto privately-owned land if it is likely to substantially damage the property or make it unsanitary or unsafe.

Mr Ungerer said that the land is starting to deteriorate due to the frequent visitors.

People climb the castles, the fences, the gates. And once you start climbing on things they get broken. The castles are definitely taking a hammering from children climbing them.

"And there's been a lot of erosion on the hills. With so many people walking it cuts a little gully in the summer, stripping it down to a dirt path and when the rain comes it washes straight down that and creates little rivulets which will erode into the hills. They’re only rock and peat hills. It’s quite a delicate ecosystem."

A steady procession of dogs could also create a potential biohazard in the environmentally sensitive area, he said, which has a wide range of rare flora and fauna including tiny, protected orchids.

“It’s quite an environmentally sensitive area and there are a lot of rare species growing here. It’s easy to unbalance that,” he said.

"Unfortunately, because we’re rapidly losing control due to the increase in numbers we may have to do something to control the flow of people from the front gate, which would probably mean introducing something like a parking fee," he said.

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