STATELY DECLINE Moorehall as it stands today. Pic: Ciara Moynihan (2013)
(This article was first published on August 27, 2013. It is republished here in the wake of Mayo County Council's announcement on January 5, 2018, that it has purchased the estate. The Council plans to develop Moorehall as a tourism amenity, celebrating its signicance as a site of natural and cultural heritage.)
On a visit to Moore Hall on the shores of Lough Carra, Ciara Moynihan savoured the peace but was enchanted by the obvious history.
Rising out of a forest on the north shore of Lough Carra is the stark, stately skeleton of Moore Hall. Built on Muckloon Hill in the 1790s by the Moore family, it was sadly destroyed by fire in 1923 during the Civil War.
A trip to Moore Hall stays with you. It leaves you wanting to know more, wanting to find out about what happened. And the more you find out, the more you hope that someone might have the vision, and wherewithal, to restore this wonderful building so filled with history.
Catholic landed gentry, the Moores were regarded as decent landlords by the local population. Moore Hall was built by George Moore (1727-99). It was designed by the architect John Roberts, who also designed Waterford Cathedral, and was completed in 1795.
Originally from Straide, George went to Spain during the time of the Penal Laws, and there made his fortune in the wine and brandy trade, running his business from Alicante. When the Penal Laws were relaxed at the end of the 18th century, he returned to Mayo with a fortune of £200,000, and in 1783, he bought 12,000 acres of land and commissioned the grand residence of Moore Hall.
George’s son, John (1767-99), was educated in France, but he returned to Mayo with the rebellion of 1798. General Humbert appointed him President of the Connacht Republic after the Races of Castlebar, making him the first president of an Irish republic. That claim to fame was all too brief, however: He was captured by the English Lord Cornwallis, and died in captivity in Waterford on December 6, 1799. In 1961, his body was exhumed and brought to Castlebar, and he was buried in the Mall with full military honours. His brother, George, married Louisa Browne, a niece of the second Earl of Altamont. A historian and something of a recluse, he died in 1840.
The next George, George Henry Moore (1810-70) was marked out by compassion. At the height of the Great Irish Famine in 1846, he entered a horse called Coranna for the Chester Gold Cup and made £17,000 from bets laid on the animal. During the Famine, he imported thousands of tons of grain to feed his tenants, and gave each of his Mayo tenants a cow from his winnings. It is said that on the Moore Estate, no one was ever evicted from a home for non-payment of rent in hard times, and that nobody died there during the Famine.
George Augustus Moore (1852-1933) is remembered as a novelist who became involved with the Irish Literary Revival and the founding of the Abbey Theatre. He moved in the circle of famous writers of the time, and many, including Lady Gregory, Maria Edgeworth, George Osborne and WB Yeats, regularly visited Moore Hall. It was under this George’s watch that the beautiful family home burned. He had turned against the Catholic church, and is variously recorded as agnostic and a Protestant sympathiser. This, combined with his pro-Treaty stance, was probably the undoing of Moore Hall.
George Moore wrote to The Morning Post in February 1923, describing the fateful evening anti-Treaty irregular forces came, demanded the keys, took the house and gave it over to flames. It’s a heartbreaking read, worth looking up.
Such a shame that this grand building, with its columns and steps, high windows and low cellars, walled garden and horse tunnel, is now left to crumble away. Nature is taking over, and now its walls, which once resonated with the lively talk of politics, commerce and the arts, now lie silent, save for bird call and the odd visitor.
But a trip to Moore Hall seeps into you. You savour the peace, and the dramatic history adds romance to the visit. The walls, the surrounding forest and the lake itself support a huge variety of winged creatures. In the Living pages of The Mayo News, John Shelley has written that “Ornithologists time their visits to coincide with the evening roosts of starlings and swallows, to see the grey-winged arrows of hunting hawks, to watch great-crested grebe and gadwall on the water or to wonder at the warbler’s song.” Lesser horseshoe bats now inhabit Moore Hall’s walls, and barn owl, wagtail, wren and raven swoop through its open windows and interior.
Botanists visit the estate ‘to look at spring gentians and a wonderful diversity of wild orchids’, says Shelley, while ‘trout anglers come here to test their skills against the most stubborn breed of trout that ever swam’, and ‘walkers and hikers, mountain-bikers and the occasional horseman make use of the forest tracks’.
The network of woodland trails feels like the stuff of fairy tales. A wander out to the ruins of the church and the old family tomb adds to the other-worldly feel. Passing through the dappled beechwood light, you eventually come to a beautiful view of the lake, a strange and beautiful green as its marl floor reflects in the sunshine.
Breathtaking, romantic, tranquil, sad, beautiful and ghostly. Moore Hall is all these things, and more.
• The Moore Hall Restoration Trust is still in existence, and while the restoration project has been shelved, the trust holds memorabilia related to the family and the estate.*
*This article was first published on August 27, 2013. It is republished here in the wake of Mayo County Council's announcement on January 5, 2018, that it has purchased the estate. The Council plans to develop Moorehall as a tourism amenity, celebrating its signicance as a site of natural and cultural heritage.