The burning of Moorehall house almost a century ago

by Tom Gillespie

FEBRUARY 1 marks the 98th anniversary of the burning of the historic Moorehall House on the shores of Lough Carra.

The building of Moorehall was started in 1792. The house was completed in 1795. From then on the Moore family and their descendants were part of the major social, historical, cultural and political history of Ireland.

The house was occupied continuously from 1795 until 1910. For the next 13 years it was periodically unoccupied until it was, sadly, burnt down by the Old IRA in 1923 during the Irish Civil War.

George Augustus Moore (1852 to 1933) was a well-known novelist and writer who mixed with all the famous literary people of his time, such as Oscar Wilde, Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats. He was one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

It was he who was present at the property on the night that armed men, unknown to him, demanded the keys to the big house to set explosives and burn the house down.

This anti-treaty band considered the fact that Colonel Maurice Moore had taken a pro-treaty stance enough of a reason to justify their actions. These so-called Republicans hadn’t done their research on the family history, or didn’t care anyway.

Maurice George Moore (1854 to 1939) became a statesman and humanitarian. He was a colonel and a senator. He served with the Connaught Rangers in Africa and became the first envoy to South Africa.

George Augustus Moore was heartbroken at the loss of his precious library.

In a statement to the press, he said: “I could do nothing but stand by with the same feelings that one has standing by the open grave of a very dear friend.”

George subsequently emigrated to London, and was later quoted saying that Ireland was not a gentleman's country.

The loss of Moorehall was the loss of a huge piece of Irish history - the loss of the Irish home of the first president of an Irish republic, the loss of the home of an important poet and novelist, the loss of the home of an unusual humanitarian who saved thousands during the Famine, and the loss of an important piece of Irish architecture.

George Moore (1727 to 1799) was a wine merchant who owned a fleet of ships and had made a vast fortune in Spain.

He came from a Protestant family but George himself was Catholic. Originally from Co. Mayo and having gone into exile to Spain because of the restrictive Irish Penal Laws, George wanted to retire in Ireland.

He sold up in Spain and managed to purchase lands around Lough Carra, benefiting from a relaxing in the Penal Laws at this time. He took an oath of allegiance to the English crown so that he would be able to have tenants on his land to generate some income. The house, Moorehall itself, was a status symbol for a man of his means as well as a fulfilment of a long-standing dream.

Moorehall was of architectural significance having been designed by the architect John Roberts, who also designed Waterford Cathedral and Tyrone House in Galway. It was decorated with beautiful Italian plasterwork, traces of which can still be seen in the ruin of the house today if you look carefully.

George had a certain design in mind - he wanted the house to overlook Lough Carra. Although he owned land in more than one location around the lake, the local legend goes that he chose to ignore advice warning him that his chosen hillside site was unlucky because of events here in ancient history which involved the killing of a druid around 400 A.D.

The Moore family went on to produce some eminent members whose names were to write history. Moorehall provided employment for locals and became important in the local economy as big houses needed many servants.

The Moore family were liked by the locals. But the family also seemed to suffer more than a fair share of ill-luck after settling here.

George Moore himself died prematurely aged 70 having gone blind after an earlier stroke. His son John Moore (1767 to 1799) died within a month of him, aged 32.

John Moore was a lawyer and an Irish Nationalist. He joined the French troops who invaded Ireland at Killala in 1798 and was made the first President of Connaught. When the rebellion was quashed, he was arrested and sentenced to death.

His father spent a fortune on legal expenses defending him in the courts as a result of which his sentence was reduced to deportation. However, a month after his father's death, John died in captivity while awaiting deportation having been maltreated.

His grave was unknown. It was eventually discovered by chance in 1960 in a graveyard in the south east.

As a national hero, his remains were exhumed and buried with full military honours at the Mall in Castlebar in 1962.

George Henry Moore (1810 to 1870), who had a strong interest in horses and racing, was to become a hero during the Famine when he used winnings from horse racing to feed his tenants with corn and to supply them with cows.

Mayo was one of the counties worst affected by the Famine, but all of the tenants at the Moore estate survived as a result of his actions.

Mayo County Council has acquired the house, courtyard and a walled garden, along with 80 acres of woodland at Moorehall.

Plans are ongoing to develop this historical site into a nationally important nature reserve and tourist attraction for the benefit of the people of Mayo and the nation.