1st January 1837
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A snapshot of pre-famine local history, as described in the "Topographical Dictionary of Ireland" by Samuel Lewis, 1837.

WESTPORT, a sea-port, market and post-town, in the parish of AUGHAVAL, barony of MURRISK, county of MAYO, and province of CONNAUGHT, 8½ miles (W.) from Castlebar, at the termination of the road from Dublin; containing 4448 inhabitants.

  • This town is situated at the south-eastern extremity of Clew bay, and at the mouth of a small river, which falls into that portion of it constituting the bay or harbour of Westport.
  • It is of modern date and consists of three principal streets, and a Mall of large and handsome houses on both sides of the river, the banks of which are planted with trees and afford a pleasing promenade.
  • The total number of houses is 617, most of which are well built and roofed with slate; a spacious and handsome hotel has been erected and splendidly furnished at the expense of the Marquess of Sligo, who assigns it rent-free to the landlord.

The approach from Castlebar is singularly beautiful, being enriched with the plantations of the Marquess of Sligo, and commanding a fine view of the mountain of Croaghpatrick, the lofty ranges of Achill and Erris terminating in the stupendous mountain of Nephin, and of Clew bay studded with innumerable picturesque islands.

Westport House, the elegant mansion of the Marquess, who is the proprietor of the town, and to which is an entrance from the Mall, is a handsome and spacious structure of hewn freestone, situated on the margin of a small lake in the surrounding demesne, which is also embellished with the windings of the Westport River, on which are two picturesque waterfalls; it commands some beautiful views of the bay, with its islands and shipping.

Near the town are also: 

  • Murrisk Abbey, the seat of J. Garvey, Esq.;
  • Marino, of J. Cuff, Esq.; and
  • Trafalgar Lodge, of C. Higgins, Esq.

The trade of the port, which is of comparatively recent origin, consists in the exportation of agricultural produce, particularly corn, and in the importation of timber from America and the Baltic, and of articles of British manufacture.

  • In the year 1834, 116,117 quarters of grain and 5140 cwts. of flour and meal were shipped hence for different ports in England and Scotland.
  • The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port, in that year, was 6, of the aggregate burden of 123 tons; 4 foreign vessels and 97 from British ports entered inwards, and one foreign vessel and 153 to British ports cleared outwards, in the same year.
  • The herring fishery is still carried on here, though not so extensively as in 1780, when the port was first established for its use; the number of boats employed and the quantity of fish taken vary considerably.
  • The port is advantageously situated for trade at the head of Clew bay, which is 8 miles in breadth and from 10 to 12 in length, and has two entrances, one on the north and another on the south of Clare island, which occupies about a third part of the mouth of the bay, and on which a lighthouse has been erected.
  • The ordinary channel leading into the bay or harbour of Westport is that of Beulascrona, which is marked out by a small lighthouse on the northern beach, erected by the corporation for improving the port of Dublin; and also by a light erected by the Marquess of Sligo.
  • The entrance is 240 fathoms wide and 6 fathoms deep; but there are shoals on each side, extending on the north from 200 to 300 fathoms (N. W. by W.) of the light; and on the south, or Doreinnis side, nearly half a mile in the same direction seaward; but the intermediate channel is clear (S. E. by E.).
  • When within the entrance, a vessel may anchor anywhere behind the bar of stones on the south side, called Doreinnis, in two fathoms or less, which is the ordinary place for vessels trading to Westport; or turning round the eastern end of the isle, a vessel may enter the harbour of Innis Gort, which is completely sheltered on all sides, and anchor in from three to five fathoms; or passing the entrance to Innis Gort, may anchor behind an island on the left, called Innis Lyre, in two fathoms or less.
  • From Innis Lyre up to the quays at Westport, buoys are placed along the channel, a distance of three miles: vessels drawing 13 feet of water can come up to the quays, where the spring tides rise to the height of 14 and neap to 8 feet.
  • The quays are now being extended, and when completed will be nearly a mile in length.
  • A commodious range of warehouses and stores has been built for the merchants of the town, and ranging with them are the king's stores, a neat building but less extensive.
  • The custom-house is well arranged; the amount of duties paid in 1836 was £577. 8. 4.

In the town is an extensive distillery belonging to W. Livingston, Esq., established in 1826, producing annually about 60,000 gallons of whiskey and consuming 9000 bushels of grain; a brewery belonging to the same gentleman, and established by his father in 1800, has very much declined since the reduction of the duty on spirits, but is still considerable; in both these concerns about 150 men are regularly employed.

Another brewery, with a malting concern, has been established by Messrs. Graham, who have two salt-works and three corn-stores on the quay, and a tannery in the town, affording together employment to 30 persons, and to double that number during the winter.

The Manor flour and oatmeal-mills were built in 1808, and are set in motion by two water-wheels equal in power to 30 horses.

At Belcarra is a cotton factory, in which are 26 looms, affording employment to 30 men and a considerable number of women and children.

About two miles from the town are the bleach-green and linen and cotton-manufactory of Messrs. Pinkerton & Thompson, in which are 24 power-looms, producing weekly 48 webs of 52 yards each, and affording constant employment to 50, and when in full operation to more than 200, men.

The market is on Thursday; and fairs are held on Jan. 1st, May 25th, Aug. 6th, and Dec. 1st.

A chief constabulary police force is stationed in the town, which is also the head of the coast-guard district, comprising the stations of Innisturk, Old Head, Islandmore, Mynish, Achilbeg, and Keem, and including a force of 6 officers and 52 men, under the control of a resident inspecting commander.

The general sessions for the county are held here annually in April, and petty sessions every Thursday; a manorial court is also held on the last Friday in every month, at which debts not exceeding £10 Irish are recoverable.

The court-house is a neat and well-adapted building; there are also a good market-house and a linen-hall.

The parish church is situated within the demesne of the Marquess of Sligo; and on the Mall is a handsome R. C. chapel, erected in 1820 by Dr. Kelly, at an expense of £6000; the altar is embellished with a fine painting of the Crucifixion. There are also places of worship for Presbyterians in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the third class, and for Wesleyan Methodists.

On the estate of Mr. Garvey are some interesting remains of the ancient abbey of Murrisk, founded by the O'Malleys, lords of this country.

SOURCE: A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (pub 1837)

READ MORE 1837 Lewis' Parish Reports


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