The Pirate Adventure Park at Westport House – The Final Year

by Paul Feeney // March 23 // 0 Comments

After nearly 50 years, millions of visitors, generations of Irish families and endless summer memories, Westport House bids farewell to its famous Pirate Adventure Park.

All good stories must come to an end, and as the Pirate Adventure Park at Westport House prepares to open its gates for one last season, we invite you to enjoy one last ride at our beloved amusement park.

When the Browne family decided to invite the public to Westport House in 1960, they knew it was the start of a completely new direction for the Estate. Through their determination, passion, and willingness to develop with the times, it became clear that opening the house was only the first step in creating a successful visitor attraction.

Denis Browne (10th Marquess of Sligo) and his wife José, along with their son Jeremy Browne (11th Marquess) of Sligo and his wife Jennifer busily readied the house for its successful grand opening in 1960, and while the house had, and continues to have a draw for visitors, stately homes have had to grow their offerings to compete with the changing demands of the public.

The commercial development of Estates in the UK were accelerating at an extraordinary pace at the time of Westport House’s opening to the public, all thanks to the addition of family attractions and, in Jeremy’s own words, ‘a house or castle by itself very seldom or ever constitutes an attraction which brings in enough people to make the property viable.’

Jeremy eventually took over the management of the Estate and in the 1970’s, he and his wife Jennifer visited the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, who had recently opened Woburn Safari Park on the grounds of the country house, and it became apparent during this meeting there was an opportunity to expand the Estate of Westport House in the same way.

In 1973, a Children’s Zoo was opened at Westport House which massively increased admission figures. The zoo enjoyed great success, with a variety of animals inhabiting the Estate including llamas, Rosa the elephant, flamingos, Flipper the seal, and even monkeys. Accommodation, a campsite and caravan parking were introduced during this time, also proving to be a big hit with visitors to this day however, as trends moved on, demand grew for leisure attractions. 

The first ‘ride’ installed was the lake side train, running half a mile around the grounds and which still entertains passengers even now. The Cannonball Run, also known as the famous Slippery Dip, was established in the late 1970’s, and while the slide only ceased operation last year, it helped to forge the beginnings of the Pirate Adventure Park we know and love today.

Determined to grow the estate, Jeremy researched further, contacting numerous leisure parks to get an idea of what attractions were most popular with families and overwhelmingly, the ‘Flume Ride’ appeared the most favourable. In the 1980’s, it cost an estimated £500,000 to build a Flume Ride at Westport House which at the time, would have been a sizeable investment. It wouldn’t be until 1998 when the wheels for the Flume Ride were put in motion, creating the centre piece of an iconic leisure park.

Since then, the adventure park has steadily grown with the addition of new attractions every year, and officially became The Pirate Adventure Park in 2008. Themed after Grace O’Malley, the 16th century pirate queen whose castle forms the foundation of Westport House and a direct descendant of the Browne family, the Pirate Adventure Park has welcomed millions of visitors since the introduction of those first rides in the 1970’s. Now a fully-fledged leisure park complete with rides, slides, boats and trains, attractions such as The Pirate Queen Swinging Ship, Mini Ferris Wheel and Westport House Express Train, have proudly entertained families for nearly 50 years, with generations of families visiting and revisiting Westport House for their annual trip to the Pirate Adventure Park.

In June 2021, Westport House was awarded Fáilte Ireland’s Platforms for Growth grant for Heritage and Cultural Attractions. Worth €20.2 million, the funding is part of an overall vision to reimagine the entire offering within the 433-acre grounds as part of a €75 million strategy, including the redevelopment of Hotel Westport. This ambitious masterplan will transform Westport Estate into a world-class tourism destination and visitor attraction which will benefit the overall region. 

One of the key areas supported by the grant will be the creation of a very different and uniquely wild Irish landscape. Created in partnership with internationally acclaimed Irish gardener and landscape designer, Mary Reynolds, the experience will connect the earth with Irish heritage and Celtic mythology. Developed especially for Westport House, Mary has created a ferociously wild yet beautiful project rooted in Irish heritage, offering visitors a multi-layered, full sensory experience with nature, while exploring ancient Ireland through a series of accessible wild and natural spaces.

In addition to this, next year Westport House will welcome a brand-new, active, and exciting adventure park which will include the largest Net Park in Ireland! It will also feature two 100m zip lines flying across the dizzying heights of our quarry area, a multi wall climbing zone with a double sided, see-through wall, giant swings propelling you over the quarry wall as well as many new awesome outdoor attractions. Our visitors will also be delighted to know that a new Slippery Dip- esque slide complete with humps, curves and even corkscrew slides has also been planned, with all these thrilling new amusements landing next year.

Additionally, this summer our new Glamping Village complete with gorgeous 5-meter Bell Tents, freshly made beds and new private decking is ready and waiting to welcome guests from June 1st. A stress-free, luxury camping getaway, our Glamping Village is the perfect place to relax, explore Westport and discover the magic of our Estate with our exclusive glamper discounts!

Not only that, we will also be opening a BRAND NEW attraction this June where the world of digital gaming meets sports and active play. Designed for all age groups and abilities, we invite visitors to experience a life-sized video game in our futuristic Interactive Gaming Zone. We are so excited to officially launch our new game space this summer and for 2023 only, admission is FREE if you purchase a ticket to the Pirate Adventure Park!

To make way for these exciting projects and to continue to reimagine ways to evolve the Estate just like Jeremy had the foresight to do all those years ago, the Pirate Adventure Park will close its gates for the final time at the end of this season. While this will no doubt be tinged with sadness, endings are not necessarily a bad thing, and if we have learned anything from Jeremy and the diverse chapters of Westport House’s story, endings just mean that something else is about to begin. 

Don’t forget!

If you’re already planning multiple trips to the Pirate Adventure Park during its final year, check out our discounted family pass options for some incredible repeat visit deals!

About the Author Paul Feeney

When Paul is not being the Head of Marketing for Westport Estate, he is happily sitting at Gracy's bar enjoying his favourite pepperoni pizza with his favourite Mescan Beer.