Westport, County Mayo, Ireland: A Description of its Development and Characteristics

Westport was one of the premier seaport and market towns of the 19th century. It is located on the southeastern tip of Clew Bay in the far northeastern part of Oughaval Civil Parish. Clew Bay was regarded as a prime smugglers haven for centuries. Westport was in close proximity to other major market towns such as Ballina (28 miles), Castlebar (10 miles) and Newport (7 miles). The Town of Westport is part of the following Townlands: Cahernamart, Carrowbeg, Knockranny and Killaghoor. The development of the Town of Westport and its port surged around 1760. Weavers flocked here in the early 1770's when the Textile industry began to evolve, and much of the linen produced was exported to Northern Ireland and Glasglow, Scotland. By the 1820's, Westport had several cotton factories and a linen factory.

Many families came to Westport from Northern Ireland (especially County Armagh) in the late 1700's, artisans and Presbyterian Weavers brought their skills with them. In the 1780's, large government subsidies encouraged relocation of the Textile Industry away from Dublin to other less populated areas in the country. The textile industry was firmly established by the early 1790's in the Town of Westport. The Brown family developed the port, but the town of Westport was in existence for years before they arrived in County Mayo. J.F. Quinn's book "History of Mayo" has a large section on the Browne family of Westport. He describes John Browne and grandson John Denis' rise to power in the following manner:

John Browne of Westport, M.P. for Castlebar, 1749-1760, was created Baron Monteagle in the Peerage of Ireland in 1760, Viscount Westport in 1768, and Earl of Altamont in 1771, and his grandson, John Denis, who was M.P. for Mayo was created Marquis of Sligo in 1800 for his services to Castlereagh at the time of the Union, and six years later he was made Baron Monteagle of Westport, in the County Mayo, and given a seat in the British House of Lords. (Quinn, 1996, Volume 2, chapter 21, p.217).

John Brown of Westport signed the Treaty of Limerick representing the Catholics of Ireland and settled in Cahernamart (Westport) after its signing. John Denis Browne, Marquis of Sligo, his grandson, died in 1809 and the town of Louisburgh was named after his wife Lady Louisa. (Quinn, 1996, vol 2, Chap 21, p. 217, 221).

The Town of Westport was quite centrally located to other market towns and a thriving market economy and busy port developed. The Earl of Altamont obtained a 1781 patent for four fairs and in 1825; the current Marquis of Sligo obtained a patent for a daily market. (Gillespie; Crawford, 1987, p. 90).

According to the "Statistical Survey of County Mayo" that was conducted in 1802, Westport had a market for grain and a market or fairs for cattle. This survey lists Fairs being held in Westport on January 1, May 24, August 6, and November 1. There were only 2 dairies in all of County Mayo at the time, the Hon. Denis Browne held one of them, near Westport. (McParlan, 1802;2007, p. 37, 46-51, 58).

Westport took a big economic hit around 1815, but despite the hardships caused by the decline in the textile industry (The power-spinning development in Northern Ireland was too much for Westport to compete with) and the famine, Westport surpassed Newport as County Mayo's main port by the year 1818.

If the "Slater's National Commercial Directory of Ireland, 1846" is any indication of economic viability, Westport still appears to be thriving at that time, with a linen factory, bleach works, distillary and several flour mills. According to the directory, Westport was exporting lots of grain (oats, oatmeal and flour). (Slater, 2005, p. 145).

Despite the fact that Westport remained a viable market town, poverty became prevalent due to the decline of its economy. A workhouse was constructed in Westport in 1841 to house the poor. Even after the worst of the famine years were passed, in June 1850 the Westport Workhouse still had 5000 residents. The Marquis of Sligo assured that the inmates earned their keep by creating clothes and shoes.

The Griffith's Valuation was conducted for the Civil Parish of Oughaval in 1855. The Town of Westport was incorporated into the Townlands of Cahernamart, Carrowbeg, Knockranny and Killagoor, and Westport Quay was part of the Townland of Cloonmonad. The Townland of Cahernamart probably composes the largest section of the Town of Westport. The following notations were made in Griffith's Valuation for Cahernamart: charitable institution, flourmill and the Guardians of Westport Union Workhouse. In the Town of Westport (part of Cahernamart) there was a brewery, a provision factory, numerous stores, a constabulary force barrack, infantry barracks, a limekiln and quarry, warehouse, plantation, six plus corn stores, a corn mill, distillery, a market house and weight house, tolls and customs of Town, and a ball court. The part of Westport that lies within Knockranny had a hotel, courthouse and bridewell. The portion of Westport within the Townland of Carrowbeg had corn stores, and the Guardians of the Westport Union Dispensary. Westport Quay, a Town within Cloonmonad had a Constabulary Force Barracks, a Customs house and yard, a corn store and a Widow's Asylum. Westport appears to be more well rounded from an economic standpoint than any other Towns or Townlands that I have evaluated in my County Mayo research. There was also a Parochial Schoolhouse on Newport Street in the Town of Westport, Carrowbeg Townland and St. Patrick's National Schoolhouse in Westport Quay in the Townland of Cloonmonad.

Numerous Landlords were represented in the Town of Westport, but the Marquis of Sligo was the most prevalent.

Pictures of Westport, County Mayo including Westport's Carrowbeg River and Mall area, Westport House and other images from our 2011 Ireland Trip are in the Research Aids section of this website.