A Call to Action

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Last November the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht launched a document called An Action Plan for the Sustainable Future of the Irish Historic House in Private Ownership. In her Introduction Minister Heather Humphreys observed that these properties ‘are an important part of our social, cultural and architectural heritage,’ as well as being ‘an essential thread of our national story and a great source of local community pride.’ Furthermore historic houses are ‘a vital attraction for both local and foreign visitors and they play an important role in stimulating economic development, particularly at community level.’
Last Thursday members of the Browne family announced that Westport House, County Mayo where they and their forebears have lived for almost 350 years, is to be placed on the open market. The financial difficulties faced by the Brownes, arising from a bank loan (and its attendant guarantees) taken out in 2006 by the late Jeremy Sligo, have been well known for some time. (Incidentally, they demonstrate yet again how in this country while a borrower can be penalised for making an ill-advised decision, the relevant lender suffers no such retribution). Westport’s predicament demonstrates how fragile is Ireland’s remaining stock of historic properties, how vulnerable to the vagaries of shifting circumstance, precisely because so few safeguards or supports exist to ensure they can weather past and future storms.
Westport House perfectly conforms to Minister Humphreys’ designation of the Irish historic property being a source of local pride, an attraction for domestic and overseas visitors and a key player in stimulating regional economic development. A report commissioned last year by Mayo County Council found the house and grounds attracted 162,000 visitors annually and contributed €1.7 million to the fiscal purse and local economy, with 60 per cent of respondents citing the Browne family home as their main reason for visiting Mayo. It is vital to the well being of the area, and the Brownes deserve applause for making this so.
Over the past year there have been plenty of reports, meetings, analyses and consultations over Westport’s plight. The time for talk has now come to a close. Decisive action needs to take place, the estate and house ought to be preserved, and the values espoused in its recent document by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht made manifest. Otherwise, yet again, we will witness the diminution of Ireland’s heritage, and the loss of another ‘essential thread of our national story.’

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9 comments on “A Call to Action

  1. Penny Perrick says:

    Would it be a good idea to start a Save Westport House petition and inundate the department with e-mails, or has that already been taken in hand? If change.org is active in Ireland, it’s a brilliant way of clamouring. Admittedly, this isn’t the best time to harry officialdom but perhaps the citizens of Mayo could question political candidates. If there’s any way I can help, I’d be glad to.

    • charles scott says:

      This highlights the terrible and profound damage inflicted on very very many people in this country by the incompetent and irresponsible and greedy banks who having caused the crisis were totally incapable of any positive or sensible response thereby making the whole thing exponentially worse and who then refused to take any responsibility and unbelievably these monkeys seem to have got away with it. I know not the background to the problems at Westport House and of course that is no longer the focus. The question now is how to deal positively with the mess created for Westport House by the banks. I totally agree with with these suggestions and I will sign if the oppportunity arises; Westport House is too important a national asset not to be saved and unless some very wealthy private backers can be found this will most likely require input by central and local government probably with support of organisations such as the Irish Georgian Society; is there a “Friends of Westport House” organisation who could also become involved in fund raising etc It would be nice if the banks would recognise their responsibility and put some cash in too. Huge problem but there must be a solution in the best interest of preserving the nation’s heritage; it would be very important for the Browne family to remain in place should they so wish . The family connection is very valuable and without which Westport House would in danger of becoming a stuffy museum and they deserve everyone’s wholehearted support.

  2. Moore.brian3@gmail.com says:

    It is so sad to hear another one of our countries fin houses will be sold. Please let me know if there is a petition.

  3. James Canning says:

    The sale of Westport House is truly a distressing prospect.

  4. Stephen Barker says:

    It is a over 10 years since I visited Westport House and it was clear that money was tight and that it’s visitor attractions needed investment to bring them up to modern standards. I remember as being one of the more attractive towns that I visited on a tour around the country.

  5. Maggie says:

    Have been enjoying your blog which I found after my first visit to Ireland last year. Our university’s Heritage Conservation program book club is this month enjoying, “The Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums” by Franklin Vagnone and Deborah Ryan. Their concepts are revolutionary and anger some professionals here but prescribe necessary growth for us. This book might inform Ireland’s discussions of its beautiful manor houses (if indeed that’s what you call them). No matter how grand, they are house museums and if the preservation community’s approach to managing them evolves, they have a better chance of surviving.

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