Hughes family to invest up to €75m in Westport redevelopment plan

Hotel Westport to be redeveloped alongside Westport House and Estate

The Hughes family behind the Portwest clothing group plan to invest up to €75 million in Westport House and Estate and the adjacent Hotel Westport.

The latter is located on a site that was once part of the 175-hectare (433-acre) estate and will now be reintegrated with it as one project.

It is hoped that the overall development will make the estate one of the largest tourist attractions in the west, with up to 300,000 visitors annually targeted within the next four years.

Westport House was acquired by the Hughes family in 2017 after it was put up for sale by Nama for €10 million. This week, it secured €20.2 million in State funding towards a €36.1 million public-private partnership (PPP) project to build a number of new attractions on the estate.

The PPP project will include a Wild Realms grand horticultural project on the estate in association with landscape designer Mary Reynolds, as well as a standalone Wild Heart exhibition focused on the historical figure Grace O'Malley.

The PPP also includes an overhaul of Westport House, which had been owned by the Browne family. The remaining €15.9 million will be invested by the Hughes family themselves.

Meanwhile, the Hughes family will find out next week if they have received planning permission for the first phase of a massive upgrade of Hotel Westport, which will cost close to €20 million. The project involves the demolition of much of the public areas of the 129-bed hotel, which was built by the family in the 1970s. It will then get a new ballroom, restaurants, and bars, and see a refurbishment of all rooms and its leisure centre.

Development plan

Other parts of the overall development plan for the estate include a further €5 million that is currently being spent on building improvements for Westport House, while there will also be investment in a new adventure facility on the estate, and, in time, a new self-catering tourism facility is also envisaged.

It is envisaged that the PPP, overseen on the State's behalf by Fáilte Ireland, will be ready by 2024 or 2025, while the hotel overhaul will also be ready by then.

The Hughes family have drafted in Barry O'Connor as chief executive to oversee the development masterplan. He previously revamped Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links for Kennedy Wilson, ahead of its sale in 2019, and was resort general manager at Killeen Castle. He also managed the hotel at Doonbeg golf resort.

"The country needs to build tourism attractions of scale. Ireland currently has an edge in tourism over countries such as Croatia and Denmark, but it needs to invest to keep that edge," said Mr O'Connor.

“But the Government can’t do it on its own. We need to attract private investment into large-scale tourism attractions and the PPP model helps to make that happen.”

Mr O’Connor said he hopes the Westport development will help to “pull more visitors up” to the area from Galway, traditionally one of the biggest draws on the Wild Atlantic Way that would be thronged with US and European visitors this month, were it not for the pandemic.