They impressed upon their advisers that the best way to secure the future of this jewel in the crown of Mayo tourism was to attract an investor who would purchase the historic property and fulfill the plans and ambitions of the late Lord Altamont Jeremy Browne, the 11th Marquess of Sligo, to develop the estate as an integrated tourist attraction.
Robert Ganly of Ganly Walters extensively marketed the estate at home and abroad and it attracted significant interest. A preferred bidder was chosen after an exhaustive process and an agreement was signed in recent days.
Ms Sheelyn Browne stated: “This is an emotional day for our family. On the one hand, we are handing over custody of our ancestral family home after hundreds of years but we are doing so in the knowledge that the new owners are committed to bringing to fruition the ambitions and dreams of our late and much loved father Jeremy Browne. We are indebted to the estate administrators Con Casey and Dermot Furey for their unrelenting efforts to secure the future of the estate.
“We also want to thank all those who supported our efforts from our local TDs to the community of Westport. In particular we would like to thank Minister Michael Ring, Peter Hynes, Chief Executive of Mayo County Council and his team and NAMA for working constructively and collaboratively with our advisers.
“There is one group that deserves special mention. That is our hard-working and dedicated small team at Westport House. We would not have been able to survive the last three difficult years without their unwavering support and loyalty. They know who they are and we as a family owe them a great debt of gratitude.
“We have been touched very deeply by the wonderful support of the people of Westport over the last few difficult years. We are confident that Westport House will continue to be the anchor of tourism in the region and we have agreed to collaborate with the new owners.
“Our fervent hope and wish was that someone would buy the house and estate, invest in it to secure its future and to keep it open to the public so that it can continue to be the cornerstone of the tourist offering in our beloved Westport. We are delighted that today these hopes have been realised. The entire family wishes the new owners, the Hughes family every success as the custodians of this wonderful and magical place. We are sure that everyone in Westport will wish them well with this new venture.”
Mr. Cathal Hughes, Chairman of the Hotel Westport said: “I want to acknowledge all the efforts of the Browne family over the years to maintain this beautiful house and estate and we look forward to continuing this great work which was very much the vision of the late Lord Altamont. We plan to invest up to €50m in new facilities which will lead to the creation of 200 new jobs over the next five years. On behalf of the Hughes family I want to wish the Browne family every success in the future and I look forward to liasing with them as we develop our plans over the next few years. I want to assure all the existing staff, suppliers and customers that we will continue to operate as normal under the new ownership.
“As a local business family, we are delighted to be able to make this investment in our home town. We realise the importance of Westport house as a tourist amenity to the whole of Mayo and we will work very closely with the planners in Mayo County Council to ensure that the integrity of Westport House and estate is maintained whilst at the same time creating a viable sustainable business model that is in everybody’s interest long-term.
“Finally, I want to acknowledge the role of both Minister Ring and the Mayo Chief Executive Mr. Peter Hynes and his team in making it possible to conclude this deal. Without their support this project could not go ahead. Our ambition is to make Westport House one of the finest tourist attractions in the whole of Ireland and one that the people of Westport can be justifiably proud of.”
Peter Hynes, Chief Executive, Mayo County Council, stated: “Mayo County Council has always been very keen to ensure the future of Westport House. A study commissioned by this council in 2015 found that in an on-site survey, 60.9% of respondents cited Westport House as their principal motivation for travelling to Mayo. In terms of economic value generated by Westport House, some €50 million was spent in Mayo and the wider region by visitors to the house throughout the year.
“We’re incredibly lucky to have this national treasure as part of our County. We wanted to secure future viability and expansion of Westport House as an integrated tourism resort and we are delighted to have been centrally involved in bringing this complex undertaking to a successful conclusion. Today marks the start of a new life for the estate and we look forward to working with the new owners to enhance Westport House as a tourist destination and to ensure its success.”
Minister of State for Regional Economic Development Michael Ring stated: “I am delighted with the announcement that the future of Westport House and Estate has been secured and that there is a purchaser who is going to invest further in what is the jewel of the tourism offering in the West of Ireland. I am particularly pleased that it is a local family that has the courage and the vision to invest €50m and thereby create 200 sustainable local jobs over the next five years. I would like to say “Well done and good luck” to the Hughes family.
“I want to thank all of those involved, particularly the estate administrators Con Casey and Dermot Furey, Peter Hynes Chief Executive and Mayo County Council and NAMA for the very constructive approach they took to resolving this matter.
“I am very pleased that, through the co-operation of all parties involved, we have arrived at this point. I want to wish the new owners every success and stress that I will assist them with their own ambitious plans for this treasure.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny commented, “ I am delighted that this issue has been resolved. Westport House has been a very important amenity for generations of Mayo people and an important asset for tourism in the West of Ireland. I hope that the new arrangement will allow this to continue for generations to come.”
The property was successfully marketed nationally and internationally by Ganly Walters estate agents and managed by Mr. Robert Ganly, Managing Director.
Background on Westport House:
The 18th century house and 183.8ha (455 acre) estate was put on the market as a tourist concern. The house is set in a magnificent landscape with views of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick. The Carrowbeg River flows through the extensive parklands of Westport House.
The estate is one of the oldest in Ireland and comprises a range of buildings and facilities. The façade of the present house dates to 1778 and has been in the ownership of the Browne family from before this time. The family traces its lineage back to the 16th Century Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley.
A report commissioned by Mayo Council by CHL Consulting in 2015 concluded that Westport House Estate directly creates 47 jobs and accounts for €50.7 million of indirect expenditure for the region. The Browne family has owned the house for almost 400 years. It has been open to the public since 1960. Westport House Estate has also shown significant growth in recent years with over 162,000 paying customers in 2014 – up 82% on the 89,000 visitors in 2009.