News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 5th February 2016

10 Million and it’s yours? as Westport House gets the hammer to end an era

Historic Mayo property on sale after a long battle by Browne family to retain ownership


Westport House in County Mayo, home to the Browne family since the 1700s and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations is on the market for €10 million.

The placing of Westport House for sale on the open market by its administrators follows a protracted five-year battle by the Browne family to retain the property, which has been in their hands since the 17th century.

When a loan taken out during the boom years to reinvest in the house became unserviceable, the family faced an uphill battle to hold on to the house.

Their ultimate failure in this regard will strike a chord with other owners struggling to retain historic properties within their families.

The property on 455 acres goes on sale today as a going concern through agent Ganly Walters, asking €10 million.

Though the house and immediate grounds are not affected by the outstanding debt of €9.6 million on the lands, any sale of the entire estate will be contingent on acquisition of this debt at a (presumably) negotiated discount.

From the time Westport House opened its doors to the public in the 1960s, Sheelyn Browne, the eldest of five daughters of the late Lord Altamont,Jeremy Ulick Browne, the 11th Marquess of Sligo can only ever remember the family battling to keep Westport House in the family’s hands.

Sheelyn admits that amid her devastation at the loss, there is also some relief that the huge responsibility for this historic home will be passed on to someone who can afford to invest in it.

“Despite our efforts there’s an urgency for us to sell now, because the house is stagnating.

“The gates may be open, but if someone doesn’t buy it soon it won’t be maintained and funded in the way it should to ensure its upkeep,” Sheelyn says.

Reputed to be built on the foundations of a castle owned by pirate queen Grace O’Malley (Granuaile), the original Westport House was built in 1679 by Colonel John Browne after he married Maud Burke, Grace O’Malley’s great-great granddaughter.

The main house as it now stands was designed 50 years later by German architect Richard Cassels, who also designed Leinster House, Carton House and Russborough House.

It was completed by English architect James Wyatt who was also commissioned by John Browne, the 1st Earl of Altamont, to lay out the town of Westport, Ireland’s first planned town.

The second Earl of Altamont, Howe Peter Browne, later added a more gracious south facade designed by architect Thomas Ivory.

As a consequence there are striking contrasts in the design of the house, from the delicate ceiling plasterwork by Ivory, to the imposing double-height front hall with its barrel vaulted ceiling and decorative parquet flooring.

A library to the rear of the house was replaced with a magnificent Sicilian marble staircase with wrought metal balustrades.

Estates in Jamaica?

Many of the finer later additions were made by the second earl who appears to have been the last Browne to have had sufficient funds to invest in the house with abandon.

Having married Elizabeth Kelly from Galway, her family’s numerous estates in Jamaica greatly enhanced the family purse.

Howe Peter became governor of Jamaica in 1834 and was instrumental in the campaign to end slavery there.

He later commissioned Benjamin Wyatt to complete the long gallery and long diningroom with their ornate ceiling artwork and friezes with medallions of classical figures.

The mahogany doors are from the family estate in Jamaica.

Upstairs, accommodation comprises 10 bedrooms, three dressingrooms and six bathrooms, with three smaller bedrooms in the attic. The Chinese bedroom, also by Wyatt, features extraordinary hand painted wallpaper to a Chinese design that doesn’t repeat.

There is some water damage which occurred prior to the house being reroofed in 2011 with a State heritage grant of €1.6 million.

Though everywhere is in need of an upgrade – the west side is showing the effects of constant battering from the coastal winds and the windows throughout need restoring – the views from many of these rooms out to Carrowbeg River and Clew Bay are spectacular.

Also extraordinary on this floor is a room occupied by eight waxworks of leading cultural figures with west of Ireland connections, including WB Yeats,Percy French and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Several upstairs rooms feature exhibitions focusing on the role played by family members in various periods in the house’s history, not least the late Lord Altamont’s landmark case in 1993 to secure the inheritance for his five daughters by having a private Bill in the Oireachtas passed.

This dissolved a 1963 settlement by which Westport House could only be inherited by an eldest male heir. Downstairs at basement level, a permanent exhibition recalls the exploits of Granuaile in the “dungeon”.

Sections of the grounds have in the past been variously used as a zoo, festival venue and caravan park and more recently as a Pirate Adventure Park.

Ironically enough, the sale of the house coincides with a turnaround in its fortunes.

The last couple of years have seen it firmly establish as a leading tourism destination in the region.

A report commissioned last year by Mayo County Council found there were 162,000 visitors to Westport House in 2014 contributing €1.7 million to the fiscal purse and the local economy, with 60 per cent of respondents citing Westport House as their main reason for visiting Mayo.

Clearly disappointed that the State has not followed through on public expressions of interest in saving Westport House, Sheelyn believes much of the ground has been laid for a buyer to continue operating it as a tourism offering.

The house contents?

The contents of the house, which include rare paintings by John Lavery and James O’Connor, and exceptional items of rare silver, are not included in the sale price.

The family is hoping for a benign buyer who might also be interested in making an offer for the contents.

“The contents tell the whole story of the house. The family has always been here, and everything we have done until now has been done to save the house with the contents intact. It would be a terrible shame.”

Included in the sale is a five-bedroom coach house, a stable yard, substantial farm buildings, an orchard, cottage and fully-serviced caravan park.

The homes of two family members living on the estate are not included in the sale.

Party campaigners urge under 25’s to register for voting in General Election


Trade unions, youth groups and women’s rights campaigners have joined forces to encourage the country’s 460,000 under 25s to register to vote.

With the election announcement marked by photos of students getting registration papers stamped at Garda stations, the seven organisations claimed almost two thirds of 18-25-year-olds cast a ballot in 2011.

Teresa Walsh, chairman of the youth wing of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which is helping to spearhead the campaign, said young people have been hit hard by recession since 2008.

“From those forced to emigrate or those faced with disappearing opportunities for decent jobs, unpaid intern-ships or precarious employment, it is time that young people came together to make our voice heard,” she said.

“We need more investment in education, training and expanded apprenticeship programmes to create decent employment for our youth. But without a strong youth vote we may not get the attention we would like in a new programme for government, so we encourage all young people to engage now.”

Election 2016 is also being held on a Friday which some analysts suggest makes it easier for students to vote, but there is little evidence to suggest they find themselves tied to colleges on the last working day of the week.

The seven organisations in the campaign includes the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU), the Union of Students Ireland (USI), Spunout, a youth information network and the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI).

James Doorley, deputy director of the NYCI, said: “The upcoming general election will provide most young people aged 18 to 25 their first opportunity to vote in a general election and have their say in who governs Ireland which is why we are urging young people to register to vote now.

“There are approximately 460,000 young eligible voters who make up a significant cohort which cannot be ignored by political parties,” said

The campaigners called on anyone over 18 who wants to vote to register now by getting forms from the website

A new voter must fill in a RFA2 form, get it stamped by an officer at a Garda station and return it to the local authority before next Tuesday at 5pm and anyone with a new address since their last vote must complete an RFA3 form and again get it stamped and returned by the same deadline.

The USI launched its Rock the Register campaign to get up to about 2,500 new voters registered.

Kevin Donoghue, union president, said: “We have put together a general election manifesto which includes a number of priority issues which we know students and young people are concerned about.

“It is now their opportunity to vote in the upcoming election to ensure that politicians prioritise those issues in the new programme for government.”

Ian Power, executive director of youth information organisation Spunout, said: “Older generations may not have voted when they were younger but this generation are engaged, and they care more about issues than personalities.”

Cancer death rate in Ireland is the third highest across the European Union


The death rate from cancer in Ireland is the third highest in Europe, according to new figures published.

In total, 30pc of all deaths in Ireland are due to cancer, compared to 26pc across the EU as a whole, statistics compiled by Eurostat revealed.

The top two countries for cancer death rates are Slovenia (32pc) and the Netherlands (31pc).

In contrast, cancer accounts for less than one fifth of deaths in Bulgaria (17pc) and Lithuania (19pc).

Across Europe, cancer is responsible for 37pc of deaths among people under 65, compared to 39pc in Ireland.

And among the over-65s, the death rate for Europe from cancer is 23pc, but it is 27pc in Ireland.

The report points out that in every EU country, fatal cancers killed more men than women, with the highest gender gaps seen in Greece and Spain.

Donal Buggy, head of services at the Irish Cancer Society, said the figures reinforce the importance of early detection on what is World Cancer Day.

“It means there are more treatment options available to the patient and it can save your life,” he said.

Early diagnosis? “Cancer can be treated once it is diagnosed early.”

However, he warned: “Inequalities exist at every step of the cancer journey and people from disadvantaged backgrounds have fewer GPs in their area, wait longer for vital tests for cancer and are less able to cope with the cost of cancer.

“This has caused a cancer gap between rich and poor.

“We will be asking the public to support our General Election goals which, if implemented by the next Government, will help close the cancer gap and will help ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to live a healthy life.”

The most prevalent cancer leading to death in the EU was lung cancer. In Ireland, lung cancer accounts for 21pc of deaths from the disease compared to 26pc in Hungary, followed by Belgium, Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands.

The highest rate of deaths from breast cancer was observed in Cyprus and Malta at 21pc, compared to 17pc in Ireland.

Meanwhile, a new study by the National Cancer Registry in the Journal of Psycho-oncology has found that head and neck cancer can have a considerable financial impact on carers.

Head and neck cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide and can cause disfigurement, either directly or indirectly as a result of medical treatment.

It can also lead to substantial problems with swallowing and speaking.

It is a cancer that tends to be diagnosed in older people and often in people who are from poorer backgrounds.

The study found that supporting some patients with head and neck cancer can have a serious impact on carers’ finances.

The Diagnostic process? 

This financial impact often begins soon after the patient’s diagnosis, with carers having to pay for travel and commuting costs to and from hospital, said researcher Dr Myles Balfe.

They sometimes have to give up work or reduce their working hours when their relative or friend begins treatment.

Patients with head and neck cancer often have difficulty returning to full-time work after treatment, which further reduces the income coming into the carers’ household.

Carers who have pre-existing financial commitments, such as mortgages or children’s college expenses, can find themselves in very difficult financial situations.

Understandably, this causes great distress and anxiety because of the reduced household income, he pointed out. Several are unsure of entitlements.

Brain scans to catch depression before it starts? new research identifies. 

WHO says 350 millions of all ages suffer from depression


The researchers say a better understanding of how depression affects the brain will lead to better treatment options for those most at risk.

Researchers at MIT’s McGovern Institute are using the latest advances in brain imaging to identify children at high risk of depression before the debilitating and sometimes deadly disorder sets in.

According to the World Health Organization an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. It’s a serious mental disorder that affects every aspect of a person’s life and in severe cases could lead to suicide.

The study involved two groups of children, one at high risk of depression due to family history and a control group with kids at low risk.

Kids from both groups were scanned to map the network pathways in their brains. The question was if the researchers could find differences in brain activity that would be an indicator for a higher risk of depression.

“They answer is there are very great differences. We saw differences that were striking in a number of circuits including those that change in depression, including those involved in feelings, other parts that are involved in thinking. The additional thing besides seeing these differences were that the differences were so strong child by child that that we were very close to perfect with being able to categorize from a brain scan itself whether a child was at risk or not,” said John Gabrieli, a professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.

The goal going forward is to follow these children and see who among the high risk group goes on to develop depression, tracking changes in their brain function along the way .

“Obviously the children that go on to depression the more we can identify them well the more we are hopeful that we can get preventive treatments going. Not waiting for them to be suffering but helping them beforehand,” said Gabrieli

“So we want to learn both to identify early children who are at true risk, help them before they struggle and learn from those that are resilient what is different about them because that might be a hint about how to help the children that are not resilient,” he added.

The researchers say a better understanding of how depression affects the brain will ultimately lead to better treatment options for those that are most at risk.

Sligo man who robbed ATM with a stolen digger is jailed for 7.5 years

Crime in Tubbercurry was ‘an affront and an attack on the sanctity of an Irish town’ says judge


The theft took place at the Bank of Ireland, Teeling Street, in Tubbercurry.

A 43-year-old man who used a stolen digger to smash an ATM machine containing over €124,000 out of a bank wall has been received a seven and a half year sentence.

Sentencing Bernard Quigley, with an address at Branchfield, Drumfin, Co Sligo, Judge Francis Comerford suspended the last two years of the sentence.

He also backdated it to August 15th, 2014 when the accused was taken into custody in connection with the theft at the Bank of Ireland, Teeling Street, Tubbercurry.

Imposing sentence at Sligo Circuit Court, Judge Comerford said ripping out an ATM machine from a bank wall had been “an affront and an attack on the sanctity of an Irish town”.

•  Man found guilty of using digger to steal ATM holding €124,000

He pointed out the damage to the bank and the cost of replacing the ATM safe had been over €40,000, which was a direct loss to the bank .

The judge said that while all the cash in the ATM had been recovered by gardaí, his was no credit to Quigley, but was thanks to the members of the public who alerted gardaí and to the “speediness and efficiency of the Garda response”.

The judge said that while it was a very serious offence, he was taking into account the fact that there was no violence and no firearms used in the theft.

It was “a less serious offence than someone going into a bank with a gun or a weapon” and threatening staff, he added.

But the judge told the accused, a separated father of six children, that anyone involved in such a crime was aware of the risk that members of the public could get caught up in it, as happened in this case.

Detective Sgt Tom Colsh, who agreed with defence counsel Aan Toal that the accused man was a “happy-go-lucky guy”, said gardaí had traced him through a Done Deal advertisement for a low-loader used in the raid.

Judge Comerford sentenced him to two concurrent sentences of seven and a half years with two suspended for the theft of the ATM safe and for causing criminal damage to the bank wall and ATM housing.

The defendant was sentenced to four years for being in possession of a stolen digger, and of causing criminal damage to a wall and ATM housing at Teeling Street, Tubbercurry on the same date.

Contact lenses may soon become like computer screens usable


Contact lenses can act as a computer screen:
New research looking into polymer capabilities seems to point us in a direction several steps beyond the doomed Google Glass experiment: contact lenses could soon become like computer screens.

I don’t have my phone’s notifications turned on. None. I have no audio or vibration. There’s no need. Even some of the most reluctant users might check their phone dozens of times a day.

Why, I wonder, would you need to be alerted towards its function? Well, there’s a chance pretty soon we’ll need neither phone nor notifications. That’s if the University of South Australia is right.

Australian researchers have developed a proof of concept on a polymer thin-film coating, which could act as a miniature circuit on top of your eye.

The lens polymer conducts electricity on the contact lens, meaning our smart devices may no longer be as far away as our pocket.

Okay, to be honest, it’s not quite PS4 or Galaxy Edge on your contact lens that we’re talking here, more a health wearable, monitoring the user at source.

The same team of researchers that worked on “fully plastic car mirrors” a few years back have now partnered with a UK operation that specialises in contact lenses, bringing their ultra-thin polymer projects right to your eyeball.

Associate professor Drew Evans claims he always knew his coating technique “had potential for many applications”, with this nanoscale production that could allow the polymers to grow directly on contact lenses taking his team’s research a huge step further.

“The fluids in the eye provide markers of a person’s health, so our goal now is to build electrical sensors on a contact lens from our polymers to sense in real time a person’s well-being,” said Mr Evans.

“The next big leap is to develop complementary technologies to read the information transmitted by the conducting polymers.”

Evans reckons wearable computing is a natural progression from this proof-of-concept project, which is published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

“What is really significant is that the materials we are developing are not only safe but also have the potential for a range of personalised health-monitoring applications that could make life simpler for people struggling with chronic health problems.”

After that? Maybe we can take augmented reality to a whole new level. You never know.


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