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Moorehall House may be restored after council purchase


VIEW FROM ABOVEMoorehall House and Estate pictured by a drone camera. The estate has been acquired by Mayo County Council.  Pic: Darren Moran/Firefly Aerial Photography

Edwin McGreal

Moorehall House, the centrepiece of the Moorehall Estate, could be significantly restored in time for the centenary of Irish self-governance in 2022 after Mayo County Council purchased the estate on Friday last.
That’s the hope of local county councillor, Al McDonnell, one of the driving forces behind the council’s purchase of the 78 acre estate from Coillte for just €400,000.  
But he is keen to add it will only depend on restorations not interfering with the habitat of the protected Lesser Horseshoe Bat, residents of the basement of the old Georgian mansion. Moorehall was burned down during the Irish Civil War in 1923.
“There is a possibility that it will be restored to some extent,” Cllr McDonnell told The Mayo News last night. “We could be looking at the roof being done, doors and windows being fitted as part of this. The Lesser Horseshoe Bat are occupants of the basement of the building and it has been suggested we could cohabit with them without undue disturbance but this has to be explored.”
The house, located just south of the village of Carnacon, was built by the Moore family in the 1790s and Cllr McDonnell, who is from Moorehall, is on record for many years as saying the restoration of the estate was ‘always the dream’.
“The restoration of Moorehall is now inevitable. It is now not a question of whether it will be restored but a question of the extent of the restoration and the timescale involved.
“The undocumented objective would be to have it substantially complete by the time of the centenary year of  this country in 2022,” he said.
Local reaction to the news, which was a well-kept secret before Friday’s announcement, was ‘ecstatic’.
“The fact that it is in local public ownership, people feel they own it and that’s how it should be, it should be public property.
“It is a very popular estate, with stunning, beautiful views and an extensive, positive history.
“When the news broke at 3.03pm there were emotional tears of celebration in the locality. I have never witnessed a decision from Mayo County Council to be as popular as this,” he said.

Coillte’s open door
In 2015 The Mayo News reported on a walk of the grounds where Cllr McDonnell explained about plans for the restoration of the estate’s Walled Garden. Initially the council were, Cllr McDonnell explains, seeking a lease for ten to 12 acres of the site until they met with Coillte and found them ‘most receptive to further plans’.
“Coillte were always sympathetic to the responsible development of Moorehall. When the proposal was then presented to [Mayo County Council Chief Executive] Peter Hynes, he had no hesitation in going for it. His role in this purchase will never be forgotten in this part of the world,” said Cllr McDonnell.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service are partners with the council in the acquisition of Moorehall and Cllr McDonnell feels they will be an ideal match.
“The NPWS are, like ourselves, interested in the responsible development of Moorehall without compromising the conservation of the estate or nearby Lough Carra. It is a working partnership to develop Moorehall in the most responsible way,” he said.
Cllr McDonnell said the council are hopeful of Government funding to assist with the ‘substantial job of work’ required at the estate. The local Carnacon Development Association have applied for Leader funding for the Walled Garden, he said, while a cross-border funding application with a project in Newry could see Moorehall receive ‘significant’ European funding if successful.
“We’re optimistic that some funding will be in place for Moorehall in 2018 and it is possible that we will have the Walled Garden complete by 2019,” he said.   
Council Chief Executive Peter Hynes described the acquisition as ‘a very exciting initiative that has significant potential in the areas of tourism, public amenity and cultural development’.
Mr Denis Strong, Divisional Manager, National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht, said ‘we look forward to working with the Council in providing expertise on the management of the natural habitats and, in particular, the protected bat species for which the site is designated a Special Area of Conservation’.
A masterplan for the estate is expected to be developed by the council and the NPWS, along with a public consultation process, in the coming months.