We’re try­ing to be ev­ery­thing to all peo­ple at the mo­ment

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

with a shrug when I ask what drew him to this chal­lenge. “I thought the vi­sion in this place was a re­ally pow­er­ful one. It’s a re­ally good story — be­long­ing to the Browne fam­ily for so long, then be­ing bought by an­other lo­cal fam­ily. We see it as a legacy piece that has to be pro­tected for gen­er­a­tions to come, but we’re also look­ing at cre­at­ing some­thing spe­cial here.”

The new regime is just get­ting off the ground, by Hus­band’s own ad­mis­sion. Plans are still be­ing fi­nalised for a 10-year “mas­ter­plan” while dis­cus­sions with Mayo County Coun­cil are on-go­ing. In the medium-term, there are am­bi­tions to de­velop es­tate prop­er­ties in­clud­ing the sta­bles, farm­house and a ru­ined church that Hus­bands feels could all per­form as des­ti­na­tion food-and-drink venues, wed­ding fa­cil­i­ties and even health and well-be­ing re­treats. Wed­dings will be a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant part of the busi­ness model, Hus­bands says, and a 200-ca­pac­ity ex­ten­sion (sub­ject to plan­ning per­mis­sion) on the ground floor over­look­ing the lake and ter­races is be­ing looked at.

More im­me­di­ately, Hus­bands wants to bring some of that in­ter­pre­tive Ti­tanic magic to the house’s or­nate hall­ways. Af­ter all, there are re­mark­able sto­ries to be told about the place, from the colour­ful gen­er­a­tions of the Browne fam­ily to the es­tate’s for­tunes dur­ing the Great Famine and War of In­de­pen­dence. Likely to get pushed to the front of the queue is an um­bil­i­cal con­nec­tion to Pi­rate Queen Gráinne O’Mal­ley. The house was built in 1650 upon one of O’Mal­ley’s five cas­tles by Col John Browne, who him­self was mar­ried to O’Mal­ley’s great, great grand­daugh­ter, Maud Burke. Never one to miss a trick, Hus­bands knows there has never been a bet­ter time for this flame-haired Ir­ish hero­ine to seize the zeit­geist.

More press­ingly, huge works are be­ing fi­nalised to shore-up the house and grounds. Th­ese in­clude land­scap­ing to bring the Ital­ian lawns, ter­races and much-ne­glected Vic­to­rian walled gar­den back to their orig­i­nal splen­dour. The park also boasts a Pi­rate Ad­ven­ture Park that has had lit­tle or no at­ten­tion over the past 20 years.

Mean­while, there are talks with con­cert pro­mot­ers to make fur­ther use of that large front lawn. Within the house it­self is a unique room lined with del­i­cately hand-painted an­tique Chi­nese wall­pa­per that could be a draw to that grow­ing tourism mar­ket (if the damp doesn’t get to it first). Cen­tral to the en­tire op­er­a­tion will be an over­haul of the ad­join­ing Ho­tel West­port tar­geted for the next cou­ple of years.

“We have to look at the 400 acres and what we can do with it,” Hus­bands says to il­lus­trate the de­ci­sions that lie ahead. “Is it a place for fam­ily ad­ven­ture and en­ter­tain­ment, or is it a her­itage piece in an es­tate? Those are the kind of quan­daries that we have to bal­ance — we’re try­ing to be ev­ery­thing to all peo­ple at the mo­ment.”

A mil­lion vis­i­tors a year. Baby-and-bath­wa­ter co­nun­drums. His ev­ery move watched with in­ter­est. If he’s ner­vous, he’s not show­ing it. “We are tak­ing th­ese re­spon­si­bil­i­ties very se­ri­ously but it’s some­thing to be en­joyed.”

www.west­port­house.ie / www.wil­dat­lanticway.com

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