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Multimillion investment to have ‘massive impact’

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MAKING THE ANNOUNCEMENT Chief Executive of Fáilte Ireland Paul Kelly and Chief Executive of Westport House Estate and Gardens Barry O'Connor on the grounds of Westport House land Estate last Thursday. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Westport Estate biggest beneficiary of multimillion Fáilte Ireland grant

Áine Ryan

BY far the biggest beneficiary from a multimillion Fáilte Ireland grant to four projects around the country, the Westport House and Estate masterplan is about to take a significant step forward. Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday, Chief executive of Westport Estate, Barry O’Connor said: “The major scale of this new development will have a massive impact on tourism in the west of Ireland.”  
Announced last week, the €20.2 million Fáilte Ireland grant is part of a public-private partnership (PPP), which also includes a €15.9 million investment by the Hughes family (€36.1 million in total).
The €36.1 million PPP is part of an ambitious plan, which will encompass a Wild Realms horticultural project, as well as an immersive Wild Heart exhibition focusing on the legendary 16th-century pirate queen, Grace O’Malley. This funding also includes a package to further develop the legacy of the former longtime owners, the Browne family and their fascinating story, to be interpreted in the historic house.       
There are also plans to develop a new adventure facility and eventually self-catering facilities.

‘Huge potential’
The PPP funding is part of Fáilte Ireland’s Platforms for Growth grant for Heritage and Cultural Attractions. The three other beneficiaries were projects in Cavan and Donegal and Dublin City.
By all accounts, this funding injection – part of an overall €75 million investment by the owners – ensures Westport’s place as a major national and international destination. This is set to be further bolstered by the announcement of planning permission this week for a major redevelopment of Hotel Westport.
It is envisaged that the PPP projects, as well as the upgraded hotel investment of €20 million, will be ready by 2024 or 2025.
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday, the Chief Executive of Westport Estate, Barry O’Connor, said this investment by Fáilte Ireland was real confirmation of the huge potential envisaged in the masterplan for this unique offering.
“However, the Government cannot do it on its own. We need to attract private investment into large-scale tourism attractions, and the PPP model is helping here to make that happen,” O’Connor said.
He envisages that the multilayered development at Westport Estate will attract more visitors up the coast from Galway, the Wild Atlantic Way and beyond.
Mr O’Connor’s portfolio in the tourism sector includes the revamping of the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, as General Manager at the Killeen Castle Resort and manager of the hotel at the Doonbeg Golf Resort.    
“We need to build tourism attractions of scale. Ireland currently has an edge in tourism over countries such as Croatia and Denmark, but we need to continue to invest to keep that edge,” he said.

Conservation
Meanwhile, earlier this year, significant restorative works were started on Westport House.
“These major and much-needed restoration works have included the refurbishment of all the windows, or, if necessary, the replacement of a small number. There is also extensive roof-work and restoration works on the parapets, terraces and the summer house. We hope to have this work completed in the autumn,” O’Connor explained.  
This part of the project is separate to the Fáilte Ireland funding and is estimated  to cost some €5 million. It is an important conservation step in the overall plans for the Georgian-era house.
O’Connor told The Mayo News, he hopes once the relevant Government restrictions are lifted, they will be in a position to hold some guided tours of the house later this summer.
When asked about the implications of a projected increased number of 277,000 visitors to the new attractions, he confirmed such considerations were part of the application for the funding.
“The main entrance to the estate will probably be on the Newport Road as a spur from the new N5 will facilitate this. There will also be significantly more parking facilities,” he said.   
The redevelopment of Hotel Westport was tweaked after Mr O’Connor came on board. One significant change is the development of a 300-seater ballroom and the shelving of the development of a conference centre. A key part of Mr O’Connor’s focus is on leisure and wedding facilities.
Built by the Hughes family in the 1970s, the hotel project involves the demolition of much of the public areas and the development of the new ballroom, restaurants, and bars, and a refurbishment of all rooms and its leisure centre.

 

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