Memory Lane: Westport

For this edition of our Memory Lane series, we shall be taking a trip to the picturesque Mayo town of Westport. As the saying goes, “the west is best” and this bustling town full of colour and culture is certainly one to have on your post-lockdown staycation list.

 

The History of Westport Town

Like so many key towns and cities in Ireland, Westport owes its creation to a river, in this instance the Carrowbeg River, which flows through Kinlooey Lough. The town was originally a stronghold of the O’Malley clan, upon which the famous pirate queen, Grace O’ Malley, was a member. So fearless was the legendary feminist icon, it was once said that a mere hour after giving birth to her son on board one of her ships, a group of Algerian Pirates boarded looking to steal and kidnap him. When she heard this commotion, she wrapped her baby in her arms and went to the deck to see what was going on. Not only did the pirate queen thwart the Algerian invaders, she then oversaw a complete takeover of the invaders ship with her very own crew.

The creation of the town as we know it now was initially the brainchild of Colonel William Browne, who also built Westport House. In 1767, he began to put his plans into action with Tipperary Architect, William Leeson, spearheading his efforts on the ground. He then attracted some weaver’s from Ulster to settle in his new development with the offer of cheap rent for houses he had built.

We start our trip at MacBride Railway Station, where our train from Heuston has just arrived. Just like the other train stations previously featured in the Memory Lane series, Westport's station is officially known as “MacBride Station” in honour of Major John MacBride, one of the 16 leaders during the 1916 Rising. He was one of the leaders executed on May 5th, 1916 in Kilmainham Gaol. Born in 1865, he spent some time working in Dublin before going to London and then South Africa (where he helped the Boers in their fight against the British), before returning home to Ireland.

He married Maud Gonne, the Republican and Women’s Right’s activist, who was one of the key people involved in the setting up of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1903, she gave birth to their son Se├ín, who was to become leader of the political Party Clann na Poblachta, Minister for External Affairs in Government and later went and founded the renowned Human Rights Organisation Amnesty International. He was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.
 

Westport Awards and Accolades

matt molloys pubAfter a short walk down Altamount Street, we arrive at an intricate green centrepiece that is a rather striking metal sculpture. Known as the “Tidy Towns Sculpture”, it was erected in honour of the numerous timew that Westport has won the prestigious “Tidy Towns Award”. As we admire the beautiful hanging baskets that surround us in the area known as the Fairgreen, we then arrive at the offices of The Mayo News. This well known newspaper was first published in 1868 and is still going strong to this day. The paper was featured twice on the “Best Local Newspaper” at the European Newspaper of the Year Awards, nabbing the accolade in 2007 and 2014.
 

Things to see and do in Westport

croagh patrickWalking down Mill Street, we now pass by a number of cosy pubs and quaint restaurants before arriving at the Clock Tower, which was built in 1947 and is the only Art Deco municipal clock in Ireland. We then stroll through Shop Street, which as the name suggests, is full of a variety of shops, including one of favourite retail spots, a classic bookstore. This street leads then out onto another spot known as “The Octagon”, which has a very impressive statue of our patron saint, St. Patrick, as a young boy. In fact, just a mere 15 minute drive from Westport town is a place that is most synonymous with the St. Patrick - Croagh Patrick. If you want to follow in St. Patricks footsteps on your next trip to Westport, check out our blog here.

Nearby is another sculpture known as “the Sentinal”, which depicts a spirit horse and a rider, who protects the townspeople. It faces towards the famous pilgrimage site of Croagh Patrick, which is thronged on the last Sunday in July, as pilgrims walk to its summit in an act of penance.

If you’re feeling rather peckisk, one place to satisfy your cravings is Krem Ice-Cream Parlour on Bridge Street. After walking back out with an ice cream in hand, we spot Matt Molloy’s Bar, one of Ireland's most famous pubs renowned for its trad sessions. Matt Molloy is a world famous musician, principally on the flute, who in the past played with iconic groups, The Bothy Band and Planxty. Still to this day, Matt plays alongside Paddy Maloney and co. as a member of the Chieftain’s, which he joined in 1979.

Make sure to download our free location app here to find all the best things to see and dowhen planning your next trip to Westport.

 
Westport House

westport houseNow, we return back to a location briefly mentioned at the start – Westport House. This fine mansion of a house was originally built, by one Colonel John Browne, who replaced a castle that had previously existed on the site. He was involved with the Jacobite side in the Battle of Limerick, as they fought forces spearheaded by William of Orange, a battle which many say ended in a draw - with the signing of the Treaty of Limerick – but a war in which Browne’s side lost overall.

He controlled iron mines in this part of Mayo in which were later used in cannon balls and other weapons of war. The Second Marquess was to rise to the position of Governor of Jamaica in 1834. It was the 3rd Earl of Altamont who oversaw major extensions to the house, to bring it to the size we see today. The thoroughfare that runs past the Railway Station is named after the family.

During the famine, the family earned the eternal gratitude of the local population as, unlike in other estates across Ireland, tenants were not removed from their holdings due to the inability to pay rent. Another notable gesture was the fact that the 3rd Marquess spent over £50,000 (around €1.6M in today’s money) to buy in food from abroad so that his tenants would not starve. The family were also instrumental in efforts to improving farming methods so that tenants could make better use of their holdings. In 160, it was decided to open parts of the house and the gardens to the public.

Today, the grounds contain an adventure activity centre and holds concerts. A major music event named “the Saltwater Festival” was due to be held at Westport house last May but was later cancelled due to the pandemic. It is hoped that it may be held once everything gets back to normal.

So why not hop on a train at Heuston Station, or hit the N4 and N5 in your car and live and breathe the magic that emanates from Westport? If you decide to visit Westport for a much deserved post lockdown staycation, be sure to download our free location app here to find all the wonderful attractions mentioned in this blog.

If you liked this blog, you may be interested in our previous Memory Lane trip to Newbridge.