THE news of the difficult times being experienced at Westport House and by the Browne Family came as a shock to many across the community around Westport last October, and prompted a significantly meaningful and packed public meeting in Westport Town Hall. While the matters at the heart of that concern remain unresolved and as of yet without any major breakthrough or update to report, life and work continues apace on the estate, which a major economic report last year singled out as the biggest contributing factor to the tourism economy of Westport and the town’s most sought out tourist attraction.
Local people asked last year what they could do to help, and the answer to that is simply to support Westport House in any way possible, through what is the peak summer season, and the most important time of the year for all involved in tourism in Westport and surrounding areas, where the tradition of people working together and supporting each other has always proven to benefit all in the industry.
“Local people have wondered what they can do to help Westport House and the simple answer is that as a business we don’t just rely on tourists to visit us, we love to also see locals enjoying the house and estate,” said Sheelyn Browne, Managing Director at Westport House. “There are so many ways that local people can help us. We would love to see them taking a trip down memory lane, many won’t have visited the house for a long time, or by taking a stroll through the estate with family and their visitors to enjoy the attractions and maybe have a bite to eat or a cup of coffee. The hotels in Westport continue to be a fantastic support and we would love to welcome more visitors to the town who co
me to stay with family and friends, or with other accommodation providers, and of course the local people themselves, many of whom will have fond memories of Westport House from their youth.”
The poor weather of recent weeks and perhaps a perception, based on previous and ongoing events, that Westport House is not open for business, have not helped the season get off to the start that had been hoped for, and some local people have taken to social media and through other channels, to call on the Westport community to fall in love with Westport House once more, and rediscover the many charms of the breathtaking estate.
THE value of Westport House to the local economy, so dependent on tourism, is hard to overstate. Last year’s comprehensive economic report found the value of Westport House and estate to the town, county and wider region to be in excess of €50million. The report stated that in the 12 months to the end of September 2014, Westport House made a direct economic contribution of almost €1.68 million to the exchequer and the local and regional economy. The far reaching economic impact study was prepared on behalf of Mayo County Council by CHL Consulting Ltd. The €50 million figure above is separate to the spend these visitors will make at the house itself, and is based on respondents to this large survey who indicated that Westport House was the principal purpose of their visit to Mayo. On site, Westport House directly employs 47 people (full-time equivalents), and based on Fáilte Ireland figures and the survey results, supports a further 1,724 jobs elsewhere in the region.
FR CHARLIE MCDONNELL,
ADM ST MARY’S PARISH
“My first memory of Westport House is as a child of nine or ten going down with my father to try and fl og coins to Lord Altamont. I recall how welcoming he was and what a nice guy he was. You grew up conscious that it was there on your doorstep but until I came to Westport I suppose I never had the opportunity to utilise and realise the treasure that it is. Whenever I have visitors or family I always bring them to Westport House. It is absolutely brilliant to see the set up that is on our doorstep, people often visit other places, but even when it is raining at Westport House there are things to do. The house itself is magnificent. Westport House is Westport, it is a massive part of the area. It is a national treasure and there is a lot happening there. The experience of walking into the house is something else. It is fascinating to go upstairs and look into the rooms and literally it is a living model of what life was like in the past, almost untouched, like the lord and the lady are in the next room and you are poking your nose in. All the original items are there, it is like a real life Downtown Abbey. There is something very special about it, and it is a great place for a party!”
40 YEAR TOWN COUNCILLOR, REARED ON THE ESTATE
“I have many memories of great times and Westport House means a lot to me, I grew up on the estate in one of the four gatehouses, my father and his mother before him worked for Lord Altamont and I remember the estate before it was open to the public and was delighted when it was opened up. It is a great place to walk and gather your thoughts and great for families. Westport House is great value for money for a family and you can spend a whole day there and it is great for families. There is nothing like it anywhere around here. A day there is a great treat and there is loads for both adults and children to do. It is like you are away on holidays and it is a magical place to be enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.”
BUSINESSMAN WHO GREW UP AT WESTPORT QUAY
“We were blessed to have Westport House as our playground growing up at The Quay. We had the sea on one side and the woodlands and estate on the other. We had different names for various parts of the estate and there were swings everywhere and people fi shing and hanging around exploring, it was the garden of our childhood and was ingrained in us all growing up out the Quay. “I am in business at the Quay now and people are always coming into all the different venues there talking about Westport House. It is economically vital for the Quay and the feedback is always great. I have four children now and they are regular visitors to Westport House already, not in the same way we were when we’d be down there every evening after school exploring, but I want them to experience what I did in visiting the house and estate. The days of our youth down at Westport House gave so many of us from the Quay an appreciation of nature and a love for the outdoors. I remember fi shing with my late father down there on the lake, and for me, those little things – the memories – are more important than the man made stuff, but there is something there for everybody, just waiting to be enjoyed.”
CHAIRMAN OF WESTPORT UNITED DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
“Westport House has always been there and is where we spent our childhood running around and over years we got to know the Browne family. They have always been promoting the estate and the town, even when nobody else was doing so. From barn dances way back to the festivals recently it has always been a hive of activity down there and we locals probably take it for granted at this stage that visitors will be down there, but perish the thought that it wouldn’t always be there, it would be a different town, that is why we need to support it and get behind it. Westport House is the fabric of the town and it would be a shame for that to change. The family and all at Westport House were very supportive of our new pitch development [on land bought from the estate], and accommodated us with rushing deadlines for grants and they were always there for us and a pleasure to work with.”