A lovely small town, Newport (Baile Ui Fhiachain) is nestled on the mouth of the Black Oak River on the north-east shores of Clew Bay in the Barony of Burrishoole, some 11 km from Westport on the road to Achill and 18 km from Castlebar.
Established in the early 18th century by the Medlycott Family, who owned the estate here, it was founded by their land agent Captain Pratt and called Newport-Pratt. Captain Pratt had a linen business in the town and encouraged a community of Quakers to settle in the early 18th century and work as weavers in his business. The town thrived for a time, but the linen business began to wane and the Quakers moved away to be closer to a wider community of Quakers.
Arriving into town from Westport, one is immediately struck by both the dramatic, high seven-arch Viaduct adjacent to the traffic bridge over the river and by the church atop a hill overlooking the town. The viaduct bridge was built in 1892 to carry the newly constructed Westport to Achill railway. However, the railway was closed in 1937 leaving the bridge a nice place to walk with its views of the river as it flows out to sea.
St. Patrick’s church was built in 1914 in the Irish Romanesque Revival style and has the distinction of having a stained glass window by Ireland’s greatest stained glass artist. Harry Clarke’s ‘Last Judgement,’ a three-light window, casts a rich and evocative light from the east wall of the chancel. It depicts Mary in the company of saints and cherubs bound for heaven, Christ with a halo, wearing red robes with saints and angels with the souls of the dead waiting be judged. The final panel portrays St. Patrick with the saints, while the unworthy descend to hell where a green devil awaits them.
The Black Oak River draws the angling crowd as it has a reputation for good fishing. Knowledgeable local ghillies can organise outings for salmon or trout. On the banks of the river, Newport House was built at the beginning of the 18th century by the O’Donel family. Today it operates as a seasonal country house with 18 bedrooms and a quality restaurant.
The town has renewed energy in recent years since the explosion of interest in the Greenway, the walking and cycling path on the former railway line from Westport to Achill. Dubbing itself ‘Heart of the Greenway’ Newport is a favoured pitstop among cyclists. Swathes of people in high visibility jackets with bicycles, often with children’s extensions and trailers are a common sight. The Blue Bicycle Tea Room has risen to teh challenge of providing refreshments and it’s outdoor seats are rarely empty. Besides a hotel on the main street there is a cafe and several pubs, including the Grainne Uaile, an award-winning pub and restaurant.
Rockfleet Castle, the home of the Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley (Grainneuaile) is a few km from town, as is Burrishoole Abbey. In town, a walk around the quay offers lovely views and soothing sounds of the lapping ocean against the harbour wall. Princess Grace Park, a small woodland park is along the way, named for the actress whose ancestral home is just outside Newport. In summer, the river is plays a central role in fishing and water sports such as kayaking, river swimming and water trampolining.