Walking to the Point at Westport Quay is a step back into childhood. Once you passed Gill’s house and turned the corner at the Custom House you knew the lie of the land to the Point.
If the fishing boats were back in you got the whiff. You realised then that you would have to walk the gauntlet of monster skates hanging from the Sea Angling Club display stand.
Down by the Idle Wall across from the Custom House the action was anything but idle. Working men meeting, talking, and awaiting a call to load or unload a boat. A nearby hut served as a shelter on rainy days. Eventually, the Idle Wall became a meeting place for Quay hearts.
Walking by the quay walls, constructed stone by stone, you realise that it took years to ‘put order’ on the incoming tide as it weaved its way towards Westport House. Our ancestral Covies (Westport people) shed many drops of sweat coaxing those stones into place. Injuries were sustained and lives risked to ensure that the quay walls were constructed in a fitting manner under the auspices of Westport Port and Harbour Commissioners, with assistance from the Browne family of Westport House and others.
Back then we were under the UK government and essentially, local businesses and taxes levied by our ancestral colonial neighbours across the Irish Sea paid for local infrastructural works and improvements.
Before Westport Quay, the main pier was Hildebrand’s Pier just beyond Cherry Cottage at Druminaweelaun, Rosbeg. Hildebrand’s ‘harbour police’ eventually moved to Westport Quay when it became operational. Westport Port and Harbour Commissioners looked after proceedings until the area was signed over to Mayo County Council on March 30, 2009.
On the quayside, we stared at the boats being unloaded of tonnes of coal and timber destined for Mulloy’s on Shop Street and elsewhere. A small round building on the Roman Island causeway road, the Point side of the junction leading to The Towers, was used to store bodies washed up on the tide until they could be identified (or not) and accorded a fitting interment. This construction can be seen in sketches for the Illustrated London News.
Around that area the huge skates were hung in a desperate show of death. They were dead but active, most active from a stench perspective… Their lifeless bodies were still very busy creating the most unpleasant aroma anyone could imagine. Skate cologne! We dreaded the thought of having to walk by the drooping, seeping carcasses.
If you peered over the edge into the water below you could see the discarded dogfish, maritime sandpaper, a useless by-product after a day on the bay. Catch and release was not the order of the day back then. Thoughts emerge of the first boat trip out Clew Bay under the due care and diligence of Kieran Clarke and Donie Quirke; so breathtakingly memorable we even got their autographs! The age of innocence!
In days past, a dredger cleared the tonnes of sand and silt deposits and unloaded them further out the bay. The Sea Angling Centre was the centre of social life for many years from the early 1970s. A lot of fishing also went on there… Some got away and some were caught! Onwards to Pollexfens Mill, a brilliantly constructed cement giant and great employer in its day, before it grew tired and weary. There was talk way back then that Block jumped off the top gantry of the mill.
On to the Point for a swim, jumping off the wall, diving from the steps, whooping and hollering like there was no tomorrow. Swallowing too much water then fighting over a towel with a younger brother (Brehon law rules) and a quick game of football.
We lumped loose change together and cadged a few bob if we were short. A visit to the Roman Island Caravan Park shop was a treat and everything was shared. Onwards from the little bluebelled woods to the Bath Hotel to soak in imaginary salted baths sucking a lollipop.
The Point was never too far to walk to. We walked everywhere. It seems we still are. Long may we.