Westport in Co Mayo is typical of many traditional sleepy looking small Irish towns. The flute player from the Chieftains, Matt Molloy has a bar there. Stepping inside is like stepping back in time at least 70 years to a time of foot tapping Irish music and even more traditional Irish beers, stouts and whiskeys.
There’s nothing traditional, however, about the sleek modern industrial complex on the outskirts of town, which incredibly, produces the entire world supply of Botox. Yes, every Hollywood star with a botoxed wrinkle free forehead owes a debt of gratitude to Westport.
How this came to pass is one of the main success stories of the Celtic Tiger economy that has transformed Ireland since the gloomy days of the 1950s.
In the 1960s, the Irish government set about boosting the economy by offering grants, tax breaks and goodness knows what else as sweeteners to encourage overseas companies to set up business in Ireland.
Among the takers was the burgeoning US firm Allergan. It set up a small plant in Westport in 1977 with just a handful of employees to start producing a promising new product called Botox. It was originally developed to treat conditions like facial spasms but was later developed as an anti-ageing agent to reduce wrinkles and help people look younger for longer.
The company now employs almost 1,000 people in Westport. They’re largely well-paid jobs with an average salary or around €45,000. That amounts to about €45 million going into the local economy every year. Not bad for anti-wrinkle beauty product. It’s certainly a lifeline to a small town that doesn’t have a lot of other options.
The Mayor of Westport, Ollie Gannon, like most other people in this small town of only 5,500 people, works at Allergan. He’s been there for 16 years.
He told the Mirror newspaper: “From a personal point of view I would prefer to grow old gracefully, warts and all. But we live in a very different world now. People are more image-conscious and if they look good, then they feel good.
“A few years ago I was watching the build-up to the Oscars on TV and there was a doctor being interviewed. He said he’d had such demand for Botox in the run-up to the awards he’d had to ship another batch from Westport.
“I just couldn’t believe our town had made it to the Oscars.”
Botox was once the preserve of movie stars and the fabulously wealthy. Now it’s available to everyone, although it doesn’t come cheap. A session could easily set you back between €250 and €500.
There has also been a rise in the popularity of Botox, with many celebrities openly endorsing the treatments and the benefits it can have for patients. Kim Kardashian once famously underwent Botox injections on live television.
Strangely enough though, no one in Westport admits to ever having used it. Perhaps the security offered by work at the Allergan plant is enough keep them worry and wrinkle-free.