History of Westport
The town of Westport first known as Cathair na Mart is located near the mouth of the Carrowbeg River which rises in Kinlooey Lough) at the head of Clew Bay. In the 16th century, the original settlement of Cathair na Mart (The Stone Fort of the Beeves(cattle)), was already in existence in the area. It was an important O’Malley (Grace O Malley) stronghold, which was burned and knocked down in 1583 during the campaign against the Mayo Burkes. In the 17th century, Cathair na Mart passed from the O’Malleys to the Browne family. Colonel Browne built a house on the site where the old O’Malley castle stood. Cathair na Mart was built where the front lawn is now. The village consisted of four roads, High Street leading down to the river, West Road leading to the West, Sandy Hill Road leading to the South and Old Paddock Road leading to the East.
There also was a small port at the mouth of the river previously established due to the nearby Clew Bay which was teeming with herring and oyster. The 700 inhabitants lived in thatched cabins. In the mid-18th century grandson, John Browne decided to remove the village from his front park and to landscape this area and decided to alter the house and is now the east front of Westport House. He, then, embarked on the ambitious project of building a new town, Westport which was finished by his son Peter, and his son John William Leeson designed the present-day town centre. High Street, Monument Street, Peter Street and John’s Row were the first streets to be developed. Over the years, the Octagon and other streets including Bridge Street, Mill Street, James Street and Shop Street were developed.
At that time the Carrowbeg River still flowed to the North. In 1800s John Denis Browne decided to build a 400 m long tree-lined promenade, now known as “The Mall”, along the river, with two small waterfalls and crossed by stone-arched bridges. Georgian style townhouses, private and public buildings were erected and the Carrowbeg River had to be diverted to flow in a straight line to carry out this project. Its original path was to the rear of the houses on North Mall. A Hotel was also built for people travelling now known as The Railway Hotel. Westport thrived and John Brown (who married Maud Bourke whose ancestor was the pirate Queen Grace O Malley (Graineuaile)) brought the Linen industry to Westport and along with Agriculture, the sowing of flax many weavers came to Westport to weave. Westport flourished with the strong linen trade with a lot owed to brown who provided these weavers with looms and housing and from the flax grown locally which was spun into yarn brown bought the linen produced for some years to get the market going which it did and many buyers came to Westport to trade linen, agricultural produce and candle making. Other businesses started up including milling, tanning and trade came and went from Clew Bay for many years including fishing, grain. It led to large warehouses been built at the Harbour. The old port thrived with timber trade coming from America and the Baltics, with grain, slate, ochre and manganese going the opposite direction. The Browne’s and their descendants continued to live in Westport House until recently and during the Famine times they have to be commended for the care and kindness he provided to the needy of Westport who were starving and he provided food for his tenants and helped out the local workhouse for the destitute. Jeremy Brown and his daughters built up Westport House as a tourist destination and ran it until his death and now the estate has passed to the Hughes Group from Westport.