Westport House, County Mayo

The entrance hall is the only surviving interior by Castle that remains intact. It has a Doric frieze and a magnificent coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling that has been compared to the roof of the temple of Aesculapius at Spoleto. Light pours into the room through a delicately wrought brass lunette above the frieze, though at one time there was also a Venetian window at the west end. The original monumental black marble chimney-piece, a type much favoured by Castle, was considered so oppressive by the family that they replaced it in the 1940s with one brought from Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire.

The brilliant Waterford chandelier in this room is one of several in the house, while the parquet floor was laid down in 1857 at the same time as the imperial staircase was installed where the courtyard had been. Approached through arches from the hall, this grand staircase of Sicilian marble was designed for the third Marquis by George Wilkinson to replace two smaller ones on either side. The cantilevered stairs have undercut treads, while the metalwork balustrade, which was made by Skidmore of Coventry, has eagle motifs that were once gilded. In a recess on the half-landing is C. T. Fuller's marble 'Angel of Welcome'; close by are several delightful local landscapes by James O'Connor and a pair of chalk drawings of the children of the second Marquis by F. Wilkin.

The library to the left of the hall replaces one that was designed by Wyatt's son Benjamin in 1819 and subsequently destroyed by fire in 1826. It is a comfortable room whose walls are lined with bookcases stretching to within two feet of the ceiling; to the right of the door is a secret passage said to have been used to hide arms. On the other side of the hall lies the drawing-room, now inexplicably used as a restaurant. This has a frieze of Etruscan figures and a cloud painted ceiling circa 1825, as well as a very fine marble mantelpiece by John Flaxman. The adjoining long gallery, where there is a collection of family portraits, was decorated by James Wyatt but remodelled by his son Benjamin, who removed all the plaster decorations- a great loss if they resembled the plasterwork in the adjacent dining-room.

Although Wyatt never actually came to Ireland, let alone Westport, the delicate Adam-style plasterwork in the dining-room must rank among the best examples of his work. Both walls and ceilings incorporate medallions of classical figures with garlands, bows, festoons and gilded ears of wheat. Originally coloured green and white, the room was repainted grey, blue and gold with touches of red in 1915. The mahogany doors came from the family estates in Jamaica, while the massive sideboards supported by the family eagles were made by Gillow's for the second Marquis. Also on display in this room are Colonel John Browne's dinner service, Waterford glass finger bowls, eighteenth-century silver dish rings and a potato bowl of bog oak and silver that has belonged to the family since the seventeenth century.

There are more family heirlooms in the small dining-room, most notably the flag of the Mayo Legion which was brought to Ireland by General Humbert when he landed in Killala in 1798 with French troops. Elsewhere in the house visitors can see the exceptionally beautiful ceiling by Wyatt above the oak staircase, the Wyatt mantelpiece in the morning room and the Chinese room with its handpainted eighteenth-century wallpaper, which tells the same story as the willow pattern plate.

The property presently belongs to the tenth Marquis of Sligo, whose son and daughter-in-law, the Earl and Countess of Altamont, have opened the house to the public since the 1960s. It is greatly to be regretted that such an important house has had to develop additional attractions such as the zoo in the walled garden in order to meet the outgoings.

Located just outside the town of Westport. NGR: L 987852. Open daily May - September. Refreshments available. Toilet facilities.