Batting for Moorehall

Features

MAKING PROGRESS The existing outdoor works at Moorehall House will be completed in early 2022 with the resurfacing of another 1.9 kilometres of pathway surrounding the house and walled garden.  Pic: Darren Moran/Firefly Photography


Oisín McGovern

NO trip to the shores of Lough Carra would be complete without a saunter over to the historic Moorehall house.
First constructed in the 18th century, the house and surrounding area derives its name from the Moore family, a clan steeped in the Irish nationalist movement who held the land for several generations.
During the Great Famine, George Henry Moore endeared himself to the locals when he distributed relief to his famished and impoverished tenants using the winnings from the Chester Cup horse race, in which his horse Coranna netted £17,000.
In 1923, Moore’s former residence was reduced to a smouldering ruin when the anti-Treaty IRA torched the house with a barrel of paraffin. In the process, the vandals destroyed reams of literature and priceless historical documents containing detailed local information.
In 2018, the first steps were taken to restore the estate to some of its former glory when Mayo County Council purchased Moorehall and the surrounding woodlands from Coillte.
Last year, the woodland pathways were restored and enhanced with information boards and wooden statues carved by chainsaw artist Tommie Kerrigan.
A mountain of wild overgrowth was also cleared from the newly restored walled gardens, where the Moore’s once enjoyed a game of croquet.
The existing outdoor works will be completed in early 2022 with the resurfacing of another 1.9 kilometres of pathway surrounding the house and walled garden.

Bat aristocrats
Part of the new LIFE project will involve a special conservation strategy for the protected Lesser Horseshoe bats that have roosted in the basement of the house and the surrounding buildings.
Under EU habitat directives the bats’ roosts may not be disturbed, which makes their presence the main impediment to any restoration of the house.
Believed to number 300 in the old granary and 700 in the basement of the house, the Moorehall bats are the most northernly colony in Europe and are central to the area’s Special Area of Conservation status.
These peculiar and fragile creatures cannot take off from the ground and only give birth to single babies.
The bats also thrive in stable temperatures found in old stone buildings like Moorehall, which gives them the moniker of ‘the aristocrats of the bat world’.
“The Lesser Horseshoe bat will be the reason that there is development at Moorehall, not the other way around,” says Robert Coyne, an executive engineer with Mayo County Council who has been extensively involved with the recent outdoor works.
Such redevelopment could potentially lead to a partial restoration of the old buildings as nesting habitats, similar to the restoration of Lady Gregory’s former home in Coole Park in Galway, which has become a habitat for various birdlife.
While not covered by the LIFE programme, such works could involve restoring the roofs and exteriors on the residence, granary and staff quarters.
Cllr Al McDonnell says that plans for a partial restoration of the house are being considered in the Council’s master plan for Moorehall, which is due to be published early next year.
“I would welcome the roofing of the house not just for the propagation and safety of the bats, but for the general interest in it,” says the Moorehall native.
“I think it would be an extraordinarily attractive location should there be a roof on it, and at least part of it renovated inside.
“That’s the current plan. The only one ingredient that we’re slightly short on at moment is money,” he adds.