Cathair na Mart, Cassels and the Carrowbeg: A short history of Westport
The earliest habitation of the Westport area was 5,000 years ago. Its Irish name is Cathair na Mart, or stone fort of the cattle. In the 16th century Cathair na Mart was an important O’Malley stronghold at the head of Clew Bay; it was burned by the governor of Connacht in 1583. During the 17th century Cathair na Mart passed from the O’Malleys to the Browne family.
John Browne settled at Cathair na Mart and built a house on the site of the old O’Malley fortress. In 1730 his grandson, also John Browne, employed the German architect Richard Cassels to design the present Westport House on the same site. The dungeons of the house contain the ruins of the old O’Malley castle.
The village of Cathair na Mart sat where the front lawn of Westport House now is. It consisted of a high street, with alleys leading down to the river. Its 700 inhabitants lived in thatched cabins.
In the mid 18th century John Browne decided to remove the village from in front of his house and build a new town, Westport, 1,500m inland. He employed the architect William Leeson to plan it. An advertisement announcing the proposed new town of Westport appeared in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal in March 1767.
The earliest developed parts of the town were on the steep High Street, Peter Street and John’s Row. Next came the Octagon.
In 1800 John Denis Browne, Lord Sligo, embarked on the ambitious development of the malls. These consist of 400m of tree-lined boulevards, along the embanked Carrowbeg River, with two cascades, crossed by three stone-arched bridges. This was flanked by public buildings, town houses and private dwellings, with a Georgian character. At that time the Carrowbeg flowed to the north of its present course and had to be canalised to flow in a straight line.
On the North Mall Lord Sligo built an inn for travellers to the town. It is now the Railway Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Connaught.
In 1813 the Catholic church was built across the river, on the South Mall. The present church, on the same site, dates from the 1960s. Also on the South Mall, a Methodist church was erected. Between 1868 and 1872 Holy Trinity Church was built on the Newport Road to replace the old Protestant church that stood in the grounds of Westport House.
Clew Bay Heritage Centre