Rights of way
What is a right of way
A right of way allows you to travel over land that belongs to someone else. There are two types of right of way, a public right of way and a private right of way.
There may be limits on how you can use a right of way. For example, you may only be allowed to walk or cycle over certain rights of way, while you may be allowed to drive over others. Some rights of way can also be subject to conditions, such as closing a gate after you pass through.
Changes to rules about rights of way
The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Act 2021 came into effect on 30 November 2021. It reversed certain requirements about rights of way that were due to begin on 1 December 2021.
The 2021 Act removes requirements set out in the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 to:
- Register certain rights of way
- Abide by a new timeline for establishing a private right of way
The 2021 Act means that the law about how a private right of way is established has reverted back to how things worked before the 2009 Act, and registration is optional.
What is the difference between a public and private right of way
A public right of way means anyone can use it. For instance, a public road is a public right of a way. There are very few registered public rights of way that are not maintained as public roads.
Some walking paths are also public rights of way. However, many walking routes are “permissive routes”, and not public rights of way. This means that the landowners simply allow you to use the route and could withdraw that permission at any time. See our document on Walking and rambling in Ireland for more information about this.
Only certain people can use a private right of way for limited purposes, such as to access their property. Private rights of way are typically arrangements between neighbours. A private right of way could be a laneway, a boreen or a gap in a fence that leads to a property owned by someone who does not own the laneway, boreen or gap. These private rights of way are also known as easements.
How is a private right of way established
A private right of way is generally established in one of the following 3 ways:
- By using it
- By necessity or implication
- When transferring land
Establishing a right of way by using it
Generally a private right of way is established if you openly use land, without the owner’s permission, in a particular way for a specific number of years. For example, a farmer may have travelled over a neighbour’s land with their livestock or machinery for many years. This is sometimes known as acquisition by prescription.
Traditionally, a right of way is established when you have travelled over the land continuously for more than 20 years.
Establishing a right of way by necessity
You can also establish a private right of way by necessity or implication. For example, if you buy a piece of land which is landlocked, you will normally be granted a right of way to pass over the seller’s land, so that you can access your own land.
Establishing a right of way when transferring land
A right of way can also be granted or kept by a landowner when transferring land. This should be clearly set out in a formal agreement to avoid any disputes.
A right of way that is established by long use or necessity, can be lost, if it is not used for 12 years and it is not registered.
Registering a private right of way
Since 1 December 2021 there is no requirement to register right of way after the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Act 2021 made the registration of rights of way optional.
Until 30 November 2021, the 2009 Act required rights of way acquired through use to be registered. When a right of way was registered, it was noted on a property’s folio. A folio is an official document that describes the property and who owns it.
When the PRA received this information they notified the person who owns the land that the right of way passes over. If the owner did not contest the right of way, it was registered by the PRA.
If there was a dispute over the right of way, you had to apply to the Circuit Court to register the right of way.
For more information about the recent changes to registering a private right of way, see the PRA’s website.