The Westport Heritage Garden

    History

    The Walled Garden dates back to Georgian times. Its high stone walls, still intact after more than two centuries, enclose almost an acre of land. Until recent times the Garden contained an arrangement of ornamental beds, rose bowers and pathways, an orchard, bowling green, vegetable plot and water feature.

    The Walled Garden is situated in the very heart of Westport town and is located along the North Mall in the Architectural Conservation Area. The Carrowbeg River runs beside the Garden before flowing down through the centre of the town. A slip-stream provides a charming water feature inside the Garden.

    Local people still recall going to the Garden to buy vegetables grown there and some remember childhood forays to steal fruit from the ancient apple trees. The Garden would have originally supplied fresh produce for the occupants of the Dower House, originally built by Westport House, and more recently, the manager of the bank and his family, who resided in the Bank of Ireland Building.

    Current Situation

    In 1999, the Civic Trust had identified the Garden as an invaluable part of the town's heritage and was determined to prevent developers from completely destroying the last substantial green space remaining in the town. In 2000 the Bank of Ireland sold the Walled Garden and Courtyard to a local developer. The possibility that this great historical garden could become a prime target for development alarmed the Civic Trust, which mounted a vigorous and lengthy campaign to retain and preserve this precious resource in the very centre of the town.

    In 2000 a new Planning Act was issued, which stated that any property or grounds associated with a protected structure were technically considered “curtilage” of the structure in question and therefore should be afforded the status of “protected” in the local Development Plan. The Walled Garden is clearly attached to the Bank of Ireland Georgian building and Courtyard, which are both protected structures, and had been extensively used for nearly two centuries to grow produce for the occupants of the Bank House.

    After much hard work over many years, the Trust finally succeeded in helping to persuade the Town Council to re-zone the land. In the Westport Town Development Plan of 2009, 75% of the Garden was rezoned as Open Space, with the remaining 25% zoned potentially for development. However, no separate access could be created for this section, as the old stone Garden wall, curtilage of the Bank Building (a protected structure of National Importance), was itself classified as a “protected” structure. This, in effect, makes development very difficult, if not impossible.

    The Bank of Ireland moved out of the old Dower House in 2012, taking up new premises near the Clock Tower. The Dower House was sold and work commenced to turn it into a private residence. However, this was executed without proper procedure, and the Town Council halted the work.

    Then, in 2014, the Garden and Courtyard were once again placed on the open market. The Civic Trust stepped up efforts to devise a comprehensive plan, outlining a project involving the purchase or rental and restoration of the combined properties. A presentation was created for the Heritage Garden and Courtyard Project, highlighting the property’s enormous community, tourism and heritage potential. This was shown to the representatives of various local groups and businesses as well as local political figures, in an effort to gain support for the project, and a steering committee was set up to oversee the enterprise.

    In 2015 the old Dower House was acquired by Westport Credit Union, and a careful restoration of the building commenced. The Credit Union opened its beautifully renewed Georgian doors to the public in 2016.

    Proposals for the Heritage Garden

    The Civic Trust has drawn up a development plan for creating a Heritage Garden which seeks to:

    • preserve original plant species and restore original paths and terraces
    • provide a central open green space for the community to enjoy
    • showcase a unique complex of Georgian structures

    Features which the Heritage Garden could include:

    • numerous benches to allow people to enjoy the Garden and to socialise
    • a sensory garden for the visually impaired, featuring plants with distinctive fragrances or textures, marked with Braille plaques
    • raised beds which would provide easy access to people with movement restrictions or those confined to wheelchairs
    • horticultural features with floral beds, fruit and vegetable plots and wildlife habitats
    • accessible and level lawn areas suitable for bowls, croquet etc.
    • wheelchair-friendly pathways
    • water feature with a duck house and adequate protection for small children
    • area for local residents to grow vegetables
    • geodesic dome/shelter for protected sitting and cultivation
    • bandstand/stage for concerts
    • herbaceous maze or labyrinth
    • solar-powered fountain
    • café with conservatory and open areas with play facilities to allow customers and their children to relax and enjoy the garden
    • Arts and Crafts workshops housed in the Courtyard buildings
    • educational facilities for schoolchildren, also providing higher-level training opportunities for horticultural students

    Benefits

    • Protects and promotes the heritage of Westport
    • opens up a unique complex of Georgian structures, including a walled Garden
    • Offers tourism potential
    • creates a popular tourist attraction in the centre of Westport convenient to Westport hotels, shops, pubs, cafés and amenities
    • provides a memorable tourist experience

    Community use

    • provides a focal point for the town and its residents
    • provides an open facility in the centre of town that is peaceful and traffic-free
    • offers a safe environment for the young, old and disabled
    • establishes a significant education and training facility

    Economic

    • boosts local businesses through goods and services procurement
    • encourages people to remain in the town centre in-between errands
    • augments tourism spend in local shops, hotels, restaurants etc.
    • provides job creation in development and on-going maintenance

    Next Steps

    Purchasing the Garden is clearly beyond the resources of a small not-for-profit community group such as the Civic Trust. Our aim is to raise local awareness, both amongst the wider community, and also amongst local businesses. It is our intention to find a way of working together with local groups and national agencies in order to secure the Heritage Garden and Courtyard Buildings for the use of townspeople and visitors, as well as for future generations.

    The Trust is currently in discussions with local stakeholders about the possibilities of developing a Heritage Garden. 

    Westport Civic Trust Aims

    Promote and initiate the preservation and protection, renewal and improvement of the buildings and other features of the natural, historical, cultural, scientific and architectural interest of the area, for the benefit of the community.

    Westport Civic Trust

    Westport,
    Co.Mayo.
    Ireland

    © 2018 Westport Civic Trust