Designed by the famous architects Richard Cassels and James Wyatt in the 18th century, Westport House is located west of the Shannon and is one of Irelands’ most beautiful historic homes open to the public.
Westport House enjoys a superb parkland setting with lake, terraces, wonderful gardens and magnificent views overlooking Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Achill, Clare Island and Ireland’s holy mountain Croagh Patrick. It was built and is still privately owned by the Browne family who are direct descendants of the 16th century Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.
During the 16th century Grace O’Malley or Granuaile was a famous Pirate and “Queen of Connaught”. After her death a report stated that for forty years she was the stay of all rebellions in the West. She was chief of the O’Malley Clan and ruled the seas around Mayo. Grace O’Malley had several castles in the West of Ireland and it was on the foundations of one of these that Westport House was actually built. There is still an area of her original Castle in the basement of the House (now known as the Dungeons) which is on view to the visitors.
A bronze statue of Grace O’Malley by artist Michael Cooper is situated on the Westport House grounds.
The original house was built by Colonel John Browne, a Jacobite, who was at the siege of Limerick, and his wife Maud Bourke. Maud Bourke was Grace O’Malley’s great-granddaughter. The House then had no lake or damn and the tide rose and fell against the walls.
The east front of the House as it is today was built in 1730 by Colonel John Browne’s grandson, 1st Earl of Altamont, who hired the famous German architect Richard Cassels. It is built with the finest limestone taken from the quarry south of the estate farmyard and was executed by local craftsmen. Richard Cassels also designed Carton, Hazelwood, Russborough and Leinster House. Westport House was completed by James Wyatt one of the great English architects who also laid out the town of Westport. On the south face of the House is the date 1778 and inside many of the ceilings, cornices and fireplaces are examples of his finest work. The Large Dining room is perhaps the finest remaining example of his work. The doors are mahogany, brought back from the family estates in Jamaica. There are still a number of original James Wyatt drawings on show, together with some of his son’s, Benjamin Wyatt, who also did some work in the House.
There are several architecturally stunning rooms on show complete with original contents most of which have a long association with Ireland and are of particular interest to our visitors. Among the pictures are portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds of the 1st Earl of Altamont; the Rt. Hon. Denis Browne, brother of the 1st Marquess of Sligo and a member of Grattan’s Parliament, by Beechy; Howe Peter, the second Marquess of Sligo who spent four months in an English jail for bribing British seamen in time of war, to bring his ship, full of antiquities from Greece to Westport. Howe Peter was a friend of George IV and of the poet Byron.
There is also a portrait of Earl Howe, Admiral of the Fleet, father of the 1st Marchioness of Sligo, by John Singleton Copley. Other Artworks include a magnificent collection of landscapes painted in the locality by James Arthur O’Connor. Other artists such as Chalon, Barret, Gibson, Opie, Brooks and Lavery are part of the collection.
There is also a collection of waxwork figures by Gems Display Figures, which are a tribute to the literary, arts and music achievements of the West of Ireland.
Other original items on show in Westport House, of particular interest, include a fine collection of old English and Irish silver, including 18th century Irish ‘potato’ or dish rings, Waterford glass, a library with many old Irish books and a Mayo Legion Flag which was brought to Ireland by General Humbert when he invaded the Country in 1798 and has ever since been in Westport House, which was occupied by his troops.
Westport House was opened to the public for the first time in 1960 and since then has welcomed over 4,000,000 visitors.