The news that Moorehall, on the shores of Lough Carra, has been acquired by Mayo County Council has been hailed as the closing of a chapter in our history. And it represents a singular achievement for local councillor, Al McDonnell, who has campaigned relentlessly for many years for public ownership and restoration of the historic building.
Few places are more intertwined with the history of Mayo than is Moorehall, and few families have contributed as much to that history as the family which first settled there in 1785. It has seen its share of tragedies as well as heroics, and its chequered past itself reflects the ebb and flow of nationalist sentiment over the years.
The story is that George Moore of Straide was returning from Alicante in Spain, where he had made his fortune, when his eyes first fell on what was to become Moorehall. Journeying via Ballinrobe to his home in Ashbrook, he stopped to admire the landscape of Muckloon Hill. “This is where I want to build my mansion,” he declared.
Whether he was aware of the local legend concerning the location is not recorded. But the ancient story was that, in the fourth century, the King of Connaught, Orbisan, had been killed in battle nearby. His Druid, Drichlu, went into hiding in the lakeside woods near Muckloon Hill. However, he was tracked down and killed by local hunters, but not before he had put a curse on Muckloon Hill and all who would come to live there.
George Moore’s new mansion was indeed a splendid edifice, befitting a man who had amassed fame and fortune as a merchant in Spain. It had over thirty rooms, including its own sacristy and chapel, with walled gardens to match its elegance. His grandson, George, became an acclaimed novelist; another grandson, Colonel Maurice Moore, became a leading member of the Irish Volunteers in 1917, instrumental in preparing the ground for the armed struggle for national independence.
But all that was to change with the outbreak of the tragic Civil War which followed the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty. On February 1, 1923, Moorehall was burned to the ground by Republican forces. It was an incident which provokes controversy to this day, with conflicting views on the rationale behind an act which by common consent was later viewed to have been totally regrettable.
The prevailing view was that the burning of the House was a logical move by the anti-Treaty Republicans, who wanted to prevent the newly formed National Army from using the house as a military barracks, as had been done at Castlemacgarret near Claremorris. In addition, it had become Republican policy to burn the homes of senators, who were seen as having taken the side of the pro-treaty government by accepting nomination to the Senate. (Ironically, Senator Maurice Moore had by this stage become estranged from his brother, George, the actual owner of the property, and had not visited Moorehall for many years).
In the end, it was felt that the Moore family had been poorly thanked for their history of nationalism. They had marched with Humbert’s French Army in 1798; John Moore had been declared first ‘President of Connaught’; the family had saved local tenants from starvation during the Famine. And all that was left was the gutted, abandoned remnants of more prosperous days.