Past Times: How we reported Westport's appeal in 1998
On July 4th that year, The Irish Times also published an article by Kathy Sheridan about Westport. It was titled “The Real Ireland”. Here is some of what she wrote
“It’s like walking through Temple Bar without Dublin around it,” says Judy Parker, the American rag trade veteran. And hark to a Californian, five years in town, eyes gleaming, as the rain – “health spa rain”, she calls it – belts off a pub window. “It’s just a magical, romantic place. That’s all.”
You want cosmopolitan? The arts committee boasts two Germans, one American and a Frenchwoman. Scan the shelves of Don McGreevy’s newsagents and the papers range from Le Figaro, L’Équipe, Libération and Le Monde to La Repubblica via Die Welt, USA Today, El País and the Herald Tribune. A bureau de change manager is said to be “staggered” by the weight of German marks and US dollars flooding the place. Flights between Zurich and Knock are booked out to the end of August.
In this far west corner of Ireland, blow-ins have found a thriving, sophisticated, ages-old community blessed with a solid core, a working brain and graceful manners.
“There is something in this town which makes me feel not a tourist,” says a Dutch man hesitantly, trying to define its appeal. “I have seen Kinsale and Killarney and I felt a tourist there. Here you feel there is a real life going on and that these people allow you to be a part of that, even for a short while. And this town is so beautiful but not too much pretty . . . I do not like this type of town too pretty.”
In fact, what is happening in Westport, under the guidance of passionate Westport-lover and county secretary Pádraig Hughes, is almost a miracle. A story that goes all the way from dereliction to rebirth in a few years, involving beautiful Lacken stone from north Mayo, decorative lamp fittings and flowers, carefully considered paint colours, controlled signage and traditional shop fronts in virtually every case. What is absent is as significant as what is present. No international supermarket multiple to suck the life out of the town centre – and no burger chains (clever bye-laws forbid such trading after midnight).