Marquess of Sligo, Jeremy Browne Altamont, dies at 75

Image copyright © Eric Jones/CC Geograph
Image caption Westport House is the historic family home of the Browne family, and under Lord Altamont's guidance, it became a significant visitor attraction in the west of Ireland

The 11th Marquess of Sligo, Jeremy Browne Altamont, has died at the age of 75 following an illness.

Lord Altamont was the owner of Westport House in County Mayo, one of Ireland's best known stately homes.

He was a direct descendant of Grace O'Malley, a famous chieftain known as the "Pirate Queen of Connaught".

Westport House was built on the site of one of her castles, and tributes have been paid to Lord Altamont's efforts to promote Westport as a tourist location.

'Driving force'

The late marquess lived on the 400 acre estate with his family and under his guidance, Westport House became a significant visitor attraction in the west of Ireland.

Irish Minister of State for Tourism Michael Ring said he had been a driving force for tourism in the region and had given a life of service to Westport town.

Lord Altamont opened his 18th Century mansion to the public in 1960, in a bid to help pay inheritance taxes.

Since then, more than four million people have visited the stately home and its gardens.

Image copyright © Suzanne Mischyshyn/CC Geograph
Image caption A bronze statue of Ireland's "pirate queen" Grace O'Malley stands in the grounds of the estate

During Lord Altamont's tenure, a pirate-themed children's adventure park opened in the grounds, in tribute to his famous ancestor.

Grace O'Malley, known as Granuaile in Irish, was the daughter of an Irish chieftain who defied Gaelic customs that barred women from clan leadership roles.

Male succession laws

In the 16th Century, she led a personal army of about 200 men against English military generals who tried to curb her increasing power among Irish clans.

Facing rebellion charges, she sailed to England for negotiations with Queen Elizabeth I, and struck a deal that ensured both her own freedom and her family's future security.

Lord Altamont helped his own daughters break down modern Irish barriers to female leadership.

Under the terms of his inheritance, his estate had to pass to a male heir, but he had five daughters and no sons.

With his family facing a future battle to hold on their historic home, Lord Altamont challenged male succession laws in the Irish parliament.

'Breaking the mould'

In 1993, he introduced a private member's bill in Seanad √Čireann (Irish senate).

The legislation was passed, meaning his five daughters will inherit the estate.

However, the title of marquess, a British peerage created by the 1801 Act of Union, will continue to pass down the male line, to a cousin in Australia.

At present, two of his daughters run Westport House as a business and a third runs a bar and restaurant in the grounds.

The estate's website states that "for the first time in history the mould has been broken and the reins have been taken by the female line".

Last month, the estate hosted a two-day music festival headlined by Bryan Adams, Kool and the Gang, Sinead O'Connor and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

However, Westport House was closed to the public on Monday as a march of respect to its late owner.

A private cremation service is due to take place in Dublin on Tuesday and a memorial service for Lord Altamont will be held at a later date.

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