This year’s AGM was held in County Mayo in the beautiful town of Westport. Situated on the shores of Clew Bay and near Ireland’s most famous mountain, Croagh Patrick, it proved a perfect venue for the event. The weekend event was hosted by the Westport Historical Society who extended a very warm welcome to the visitors and proved to be wonderful hosts and ambassadors during the course of the weekend activities. The delegation stayed in the Castle Court Hotel and were given first class treatment by a great staff who looked after all their needs. The event was well attended with representatives from Naas, Rathcoffey, Athy, Clane, Foxrock, Ballingcollig Navan, Drogheda, Fohenagh, Galway, Clontarf, and Donnamede as well as well as local historians from Westport and around the county. The programme started with dinner on the Friday evening followed by a fascinating talk on the Lawrence Collection of photos relating to the town and given by local man, Seamus Gavin. The in depth exploration of the detail of each photo uncovered all sorts of hidden gems within the picture itself. Seamus zoomed in to expose images within the picture not readily obvious on first glance and thereby enriching and embellishing the story it was telling.
On Saturday the AGM was officially opened by Austin Vaughan , the Mayo County Librarian, who welcomed the Federation to Westport and emphasised the great work being done by local historians all over the country and particularly the Westport Historical Society and the local Heritage Centre. He spoke of the close relationships that existed between libraries and local historians and how they worked together for the betterment of the local community and nationally. The business of the AGM was completed and it was particularly interesting to hear during the society “spake” delegates from all over the country informing each other of the activities they were involved in. After lunch the group assembled, in beautiful sunshine, at the “Clock Tower” for the guided tour of the town centre. Local historian, Bronach Joyce, from the Westport Historical Society proved to be an excellent and delightful guide as she steered the visitors on a historical journey through Westport’s eventful past. Bronach managed to bring the history of the town back to life with details of the many buildings, streetscapes and landmarks many of which were hidden from the uninformed eye. There were stories of intrigue, tragedy and celebration including the Pirate Queen, Granuaile, 1798 and exploits during the War of Independence. One of the many highlights of the walk was a visit to the COI, Holy Trinity Church. The Church was beautiful inside with its impressive marble architecture, its stained glass windows, its attractive woodwork and a unique old relocated organ. The tour concluded with a stroll, again in the afternoon sunshine, along the beautiful tree lined Georgian Mall by the side of the Carrowbeg river. Everyone agreed it was a tour to be remembered and thanked our guide Bronach for a most interesting afternoon.
Sunday saw the intrepid wanderers on the move again as they made a visit to the beautiful little village of Murrisk nestling at the foot of Croagh Patrick and guarded by a flotilla of islands in Clew bay. Again ably guided by Bronach Joyce the group went to see the evocative National Famine Memorial, the “Coffin Ship”. Unveiled by President Mary Robinson in 1997, it symbolises the many people who died in these ships. This was followed by a visit to ruins of the old Augustinian Abbey which dates back to1457. Although now in ruins the south wall is crowned with unusual battlements and several carved human heads adorn the outside wall. Before leaving the area the visitors climbed up to the statue of the St. Patrick at the foot of Croagh Patrick. Next it was off to see the highlight of the day, Westport House, the ancestral home of the Browne family and built on the site of Grace O’Malley’s 16th. Century Castle. The Federation, courtesy of Westport House, were treated to a free guided tour of the famous house by Murial Barry who gave a enthralling account of its interesting history. The house with its thirty one rooms adorned with original antiques, architecture and artwork proved to be a real “gem”. The magnificent Entrance Hall, the Drawing Room, the Library, the Long Gallery, the Dinning Rooms, the Marble Staircase and the Bedrooms all presented something different and unique. A visit to the Dungeons reminded all of the days of piracy and the Pirate Queen Granuaile.
Westport House was a fitting end to a memorable visit to Westport which will also be remembered for the great friendliness and hospitality of the people we met.