The historic 18th century Westport House in Co Mayo has been put up for sale by the Browne family, who have owned the estate for nearly 400 years.
It was with huge regret the family admitted that the tourist attraction, built on the site of one of Mayo pirate queen Grace O’Malley’s castles, is to be sold off along with the 183 hectare estate, which is a going tourist concern with a debt of €1m.
The house and grounds have been open to the public since 1960 and in recent years, Sheelyn and Karen Browne, eldest daughters of the last owner, Jeremy Browne, the Marquess of Sligo lord Altamont, have expanded the amenities at Westport House to include an adventure activity centre as well as weddings, functions and seasonal events in a bid to run their ancestral home as a viable tourist business.
The estate provides direct employment to 47 people locally, and contributed €1.7m in direct expenditure to the local economy in 2014, according to a report conducted on behalf of Mayo County Council. Between 2009 and 2014, when 162,000 people visited the stately home, visitor numbers increased by 82%.
A poorly-timed loan by Jeremy Browne, who died in 2014, was part of a sequence of events that led to Nama managing the property, Sheelyn Browne said.
“My father took out a loan of €6.5m in 2006 in an attempt to secure and save the heritage property,” Ms Browne said. “When the land values collapsed, we hired people to turn the business into a year-round enterprise and create a master-plan to secure the future of the estate for the next 50 years.”
Ms Browne criticised Nama’s handling of the estate as her father struggled through the property bubble collapse.
“How there wasn’t an economic impact report done up I have no idea and nobody gave him the chance to refinance or spread the loan out over 30 years,” she said, speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
Last October, Nama included Westport House’s loan in its Project Arrow portfolio, but withdrew it 24 hours before the portfolio’s sale to American investment fund Cerberus amidst fresh hopes that the Government would step in and purchase the house and grounds.
“Now, the situation has escalated and we are being advised by the administrators of my father’s estate that we have no choice,” Ms Browne said.
“It’s a very sad day but I think we’ve reached that point as a family; in the last eight years we’ve had one death and a lot of broken hearts. As a family we’ve got to have closure on this.
“My father devoted his whole life to the estate and everything my family ever had has gone into the estate.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved