Get in on the act in Mayo
Traditional in style, this modern Westport cottage has plenty of space
What is is often recounted as the most violent incident in Irish theatre, kicked off in Westport on February 4, 1914. Local rector Canon Owen Hannay was an acclaimed playwright who used the literary pseudonym George A. Birmingham. His play General John Regan was set in a fictional town, which was supposed to represent Westport and the real fun started when it was staged there.
The play had already received great acclaim when it opened in London, with critics calling it a "really satisfactory three-act farce". It then moved to the Hudson Theatre in New York, where a review in the New York Sun said "General John Regan is easily the cleverest, as well as the wittiest play which has come across the water in many a long year".
Unfortunately for Birmingham, it was a time of resurgent nationalism at home. Irish people no longer wanted to be the butt of the joke, perceived as gombeens just to get a laugh out of overseas audiences. And so, when the play opened at the Westport Town Hall, it made it as far as the second act before a mob rushed to the stage and attacked the lead actor.
Hundreds of protesters thrashed the theatre before continuing the riot out on the street, where a constable was badly injured and five baton charges were made against the crowd. It was only when the parish priest, Fr Canavan, pleaded for order that the crowds dispersed and 20 young men were arrested.
Thankfully the Town Hall Theatre in Westport bares no scars from this clash. Indeed, latterly peaceful Westport was voted Best Place to Live in Ireland in 2012.
A short interlude by car from the theatre and the centre of the famous tourist town is Fernhill Cottage. Although it looks like a building that may have been around to witness these riots in Westport, the property was only built in 2000, in a very traditional style, both inside and out. The exterior has been plastered to give an old-style finish, and inside, you'll find exposed beams and antique fittings. At 1,948 sq ft, this house would make a roomy holiday home for one family, with plenty of space for guests.
From the entrance porch you come into an open-plan kitchen/living/dining room area, with Chinese slate floor and a stone fireplace with solid-fuel stove. There are ivory-painted fitted units in the kitchen area, and an integrated oven and hob.
The time-honoured Irish cottage style is evident with the use of solid beams and timber-clad ceilings. To the side of the kitchen is a utility room with built-in units and a sink. There are also two double bedrooms on the ground floor, one en-suite, and a family bathroom.
Upstairs there is a large living room that overlooks the area below. This has an oak floor and a Stira staircase up to the attic. The master bedroom is on this level. It is a large bedroom with an en-suite bathroom, complete with Jacuzzi bath, and a walk-in wardrobe.
Outside, the house is bordered by local stone walls and mature trees. The wrap-around gravel driveway means there is plenty of room for parking.
Fernhill Cottage is at the back of a residential cul de sac, just off the Ballinrobe Road at Sandyhill in Westport. It is about 1.5km outside the town, with the train station only a short distance from the house. The train journey to Dublin takes roughly three hours, about the same as a car trip to the capital. Galway is about an hour and a half away by car, while Belfast is close to a four-hour drive. Knock Airport is only 50kms from Westport and has scheduled flights to Edinburgh, Liverpool, Barcelona and Paris, to name but a few.
What to Do
It has to be said that the opening of the Great Western Greenway did wonders for this already popular part of the country. The 42km off-road cycling and walking route follows the old Westport to Achill railway which closed in 1937. The route is tidy and well-maintained with plenty of places of interest to stop off at along the way. Bike rentals are available from a number of companies in the area, with drop and collection services on offer from most. It's hard work on a windy day, by all accounts, and if you're doing it with children in tow, Westport to Mulranny is a good option.
Locals have become concerned this year about the number of near-misses on the road, with a huge increase in cyclists coming on and off the Greenway, coupled with a massive growth in camper van traffic. Cyclists are being warned to be extra vigilant as they exit the car-free route at Achill Sound.
Westport House has enough going on to keep even the most demanding family content for at least a couple of hours. A tour of the house itself will take you back to the 16th century when Grace O'Malley, Pirate Queen of Connacht, ruled the land and sea around the estate. A trip down to the dungeons will fascinate the little ones. The Pirate Adventure Park on the grounds has a log flume ride, cannonball run slide, go-karting, playground and swan pedalos on the lake.
If golf is your thing, there is a good choice around the area, with Westport Championship Golf Course just five minutes from the town centre. There are some fantastic beaches in the area, not least around Old Head.
Eating and Drinking
You won't be stuck for a decent place to eat in Westport. Among the many food options on offer in the town, the ones that stand out are The Pantry & Corkscrew, run by husband and wife team Dermott Flynn and Janice O'Rourke. It's a small restaurant with an elaborate menu, and a good early bird option.
Chef Frankie Mallon's signature dishes at An Port Mór aren't to be missed. With dishes like Crab Cakes in a Seaweed Polenta, and Coffee, Almond and Black Pepper bread, it would be worth booking a table at this popular seafood restaurant.
If you're after a cosy pub with a good pint, Dunning's Bar or T Bourkes in the town won't let you down.
Westport is crawling with American tourists all summer long, whether on foot, coach or camper van with their baseball caps and rain cheaters all round. When the high season is over, it is a much less hectic place, with a strong sense of community among the locals.
Agents have noticed that the interest from buyers in the UK has come to a halt this year, after the Brexit vote. What they now notice is young couples coming back home to Westport, looking to start families in the town they know so well. There is also a steady stream of city dwellers eyeing up holiday homes so they can get a taste of the good life at weekends and holidays.
What's Not to Like
A young family might prefer a house with a larger garden with a lawn for the kids to run and kick a ball about on.
Sandyhill, Westport, Co Mayo
Asking price: €335,000
Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Crowley, Westport (098) 29009