As a former policeman, a good deal of my time was spent dealing with disputes between neighbours, so I know how easily disagreements can turn friends into enemies. There is no doubt a bad neighbour can make life miserable and as you have no say in choosing who lives beside you, it’s all a bit of a lottery.”
In the early eighties we bought a site in the countryside and built a house there. Our nearest neighbours had built their house on the adjoining site and we lived side by side for 25 years.
Our properties were separated by a low hedge and, as far back as I can remember, there was a gap in that hedge, where we could pass freely from one house to the other.
I don’t remember any conscious decision being made to create the gap, it just evolved. Later we widened it and made it big enough to get a ride-on lawn mower through and, that machine made frequent trips back and forth.
They weren’t just neighbours either, they were more like family. They were as welcome in our place as we were in theirs and we shared many happy events together over the years, including the births of our children. We were also there for each other during the bad times.
We have great memories of those days, including the free musical concerts we were treated to from time to time. The neighbours’ daughter, Jacinta, learned to play the violin when she was a tiny tot and she used to love to come over and dazzle us with her skill.
She would arrive into the house unannounced, bursting to play a new tune that she had just learned, and she would stand in the middle of the kitchen and give it holly. She demanded our full attention.
The tune would be completely unidentifiable but as far as she was concerned, this was a performance worthy of The National Concert Hall.
The fillings in my teeth would send shockwaves to my brain while she struggled to find the right note, but that didn’t matter. We all had to keep smiling and clapping and when she was finished, she would toddle off back home, delighted with herself.
We were delighted too, because we secretly loved her little concerts.
She still plays, but thankfully, she’s older now and has grown into a talented musician, but she still gets embarrassed when I remind her of her early efforts.
When we moved closer to the town 12 years ago, one of the most difficult aspects of the move was leaving those neighbours behind. We knew that wherever we ended up we could never hope to have the likes of them beside us again. Those relationships don’t come along every day, and we are still in regular contact with each other.
Our new location is a small estate on the edge of town and initially, it was a new experience for us to have people living in such close proximity. But again, we struck it lucky and we have a great bunch of neighbours around us once more.
I know from experience that this is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted because it’s not always the case and not everybody has this good fortune.
As a former policeman, a good deal of my time was spent dealing with disputes between neighbours, so I know how easily disagreements can turn friends into enemies.
There is no doubt that a bad neighbour can make life miserable and as you have no say in choosing who lives beside you, it’s all a bit of a lottery.
I heard a recording on local radio some time ago that was made by a person who had a difficult neighbour. She could be heard screaming abuse over the garden fence at the top of her voice, and she was calling him all sorts of names.
It didn’t sound very pleasant from a distance, so I imagine that it was much worse having to listen to it from over the garden wall.
The man was frustrated with the lack of response from the local gardaí, so he took his case up with the media. He claimed that the gardaí had told him that it was a civil matter and there was nothing they could do.
In a separate incident, a friend of mine told me of a problem he had with a difficult family living near him. He lives in a large estate and there were no issues with the neighbours until a property close by went up for rent and a family moved in. From what he told me, ‘The Family from Hell’ would be an accurate description.
They had to put up with constant noise, day and night. They had no refuse collected and instead they just dumped it in the front garden. They were rude and abusive towards their neighbours, many of whom were elderly, and they felt intimidated.
This family obviously had no regard for anyone else and the residents were blue in the face from complaining to the landlord, but they were getting no satisfaction from him. As far as he was concerned, he was getting his money, so he didn’t care. The locals were reaching the end of their tether and crying out for help.
There’s no simple solution to dealing with dodgy neighbours but a legal approach is better than taking the law into your own hands, like a certain Michael Lawton did in the UK. The last straw for him came when his windows were smashed, his car tyres were deflated, and eggs were thrown at his house by his neighbours.
He had had enough, so he set fire to the adjoining petrol station with the intention of blowing up the entire street.
It didn’t work, but he succeeded in turning the rest of the neighbours against him. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.