Westport Town OS circa 1900

Historic Towns Initiative Fund, 2013-2015

(Funded by Mayo County Council via the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht)

Project Aim

Westport is renowned for being a planned town with beautiful architecture dating back to the late seventeenth century. Although many of the buildings are still intact, the gardens that were planted behind the facades have been disappearing over the years.

This project aims to reintroduce some of the varieties of fruit trees that were planted during that time to ensure the survival of the old heritage lineage.

Workshops in grafting and pruning fruit trees

The Edible Landscape Project proposes to continue the work of planting fruit trees in Westport Town. As part of the Historic Towns Initiative we are currently in the process of identify existing fruit trees found in isolated locations around the town i.e. in the Bank of Ireland and Convent of Mercy gardens. These varieties have stood the test of time and the climatic conditions of the West of Ireland, which not all varieties can.

In both Spring 2014 and 2015 we took cuttings from a number of local, old trees and ran community grafting workshops where the cuttings were grafted onto a variety of rootstocks. We replanted the new trees in a small orchard at the Quay Community Centre in Westport. Later in 2015 and in 2016 we will replant these trees in various locations in town.

We have also visited the National Library of Ireland in Dublin where Westport House records are held and which contains a detailed list of the varieties of trees grown on the estate over the years. Some are no longer in existence, others we think match varieties we have found within the town and which we will graft in the spring. The Botanic Gardens in Dublin have also been helping us to identify  these old varieties, one of which we are sure is Irish Peach!

It will take time however to fully identify and graft all the local varieties so in the meantime we are sourcing heritage varieties which would have been grown on the West coast of Ireland such as the Ballyvaughan Seedling and which we know will survive climatic conditions in this part of the world.

Conservation of Heritage varieties of Irish fruit trees for the future

Research and archaeological evidence has shown the apple to have been a feature of Irish life for over three thousand years. Older varieties of apples tend to have a resistance to diseases, a later flowering time, which makes them less vulnerable to frosts, and are acclimatised to the warm and damp Irish weather conditions, resulting in quality fruit and a longer harvest season.

In the early 1990’s Irish Seed Savers Association and The Armagh Orchards Trust began to study the works of Dr Keith Lamb, who in the 1940’s researched the native Irish apple. The ‘National Apple Collection’, housed in University College Dublin, lists 140 different types of Irish apple trees.

Brief History of the origins of Westport Town Gardens

Many of the buildings of Westport town were noted for their gardens and orchards. In particular Octagon House (currently the Town hall); the Convent of Mercy Garden & Orchard; Livingston’s Brewery Garden, and the Bank of Ireland Garden. The layout of some of these gardens can be seen in the ordinance Survey Maps below.

Unfortunately many of the orchards have been removed due to urban developments and growth, but some apple trees planted in the last 40 years or so still remain.