On February 1st next it will be 95 years since Moore Hall, County Mayo was needlessly burnt by a group of anti-treaty forces during the Civil War. Since then the building has stood empty and falling ever further into ruin. Moore Hall’s history was discussed here some time ago, (see When Moore is Less, June 30th 2014), and at the time it looked as though the house, dating from the 1790s, had little viable future. For many years the surrounding land has been under the control of Coillte, the state-sponsored forestry company, which displayed no interest in the historic property for which it was responsible. However, yesterday Mayo County Council announced it had purchased Moore Hall and 80 acres. The council proposes ‘to develop the estate as a nationally important nature reserve and tourism attraction’, its chief executive declaring this will ‘ensure that the natural, built and cultural heritage of Moorehall is protected yet developed and managed in a sustainable manner for current and future generations.’ Further details have yet to be provided, but one initiative Moore Hall’s new owners could immediately undertake is to clear away the trees that now grow almost up to the front door, thereby reopening the view to Lough Carra and explaining why the house was built on this site.
Extracted from a letter written by George Henry Moore of Moore Hall, County Mayo to his mother Louisa (née Browne) on 6th May 1846:
‘My dearest Mother,
Corunna won the Chester Cup this day. We win the whole £17,000. This is in fact a little fortune. It will give me the means of being very useful to the poor this season. No tenant of mine shall want for plenty of everything this year, and though I shall expect work in return for hire, I shall take care that whatever work is done shall be for the exclusive benefit of the people themselves. I also wish to give a couple of hundred in mere charity to the poorest people about me or being on my estate, so as to make them more comfortable than they are; for instance, a cow to those who want one most, or something else to those who may have a cow, but want some other article of necessary comfort; indeed I will give £500 in this way. I am sure it will be well expended, and the horses will gallop all the faster with the blessing of the poor…’
Moore Hall dates from 1792 and is believed to have been designed by the Waterford architect John Roberts whose other house in this part of the island, Tyrone, County Galway is also now a gaunt ruin. The Moores were an English settler family originally members of the established church who converted to Roman Catholicism following the marriage of John Moore to Mary Lynch Athy of Galway. Their son George Moore, who likewise married an Irish Catholic, moved to Spain where through his mother’s connections with various Wild Geese families, he became successful and rich in the wine export business. In addition he manufactured iodine, a valuable commodity at the time, and shipped seaweed from Galway for its production, owning a fleet of vessels for this purpose.
Having made his fortune, George Moore then returned to Ireland and bought land to create an estate of some 12,500 acres. He commissioned a residence to be built on Muckloon Hill with wonderful views across Lough Carra below and the prospect of Ballinrobe’s spires in the far distance. Fronted in cut limestone, Moore Hall stands three storeys over sunken basement, the facade centred on a single-bay breakfront with tetrastyle Doric portico below the first floor Venetian window. A date stone indicates it was completed in 1795, three years before Ireland erupted in rebellion. Among those who took part was George Moore’s eldest son John who after being schooled at Douai had studied law in Paris and London had returned to Ireland where he joined the uprising. On August 31st 1798 the French general Jean Joseph Humbert issued a decree proclaiming John Moore President of the Government of the Province of Connacht. However within weeks the British authorities had crushed the rebellion and captured Moore who died the following year while en route to the east coast where he was due to be deported. George Moore, who had spent some £2,500 attempting to secure his heir’s release, had died just a month earlier.
Moore Hall now passed into the hands of its builder’s second son, also called George Moore. A more studious character than his brother, he is known as an historian who wrote accounts of the English Revolution of 1688 (published in 1817) and, on his death, left behind the manuscript of the history of the French Revolution. He married Louisa Browne, a niece of the first Marquess of Sligo, and the couple had three sons, one of whom died at the age of 17 after a fall from his horse. The same fate would befall the youngest child, Augustus Moore when at 28 he was taking part in a race at Liverpool. He and the eldest son, another George, had set up a racing stable at Moore Hall and become notorious for their fearless recklessness. But this George Moore had an intelligent and sensitive character – while still a teenager he was publishing poetry – and following the death of his brother and the advent of famine in Ireland in the mid-1840s he turned his attention to Moore Hall and the welfare of its tenants. The letter quoted above shows that after his horse Corunna won the Chester Cup in May 1846 he used the proceeds to make sure no one on his land suffered hardship or deprivation. In 1847, having already participated in calling for an all-party convention to work for the betterment of Ireland, he was first elected to Parliament where he proved to be a deft orator (his background as a youthful poet came in handy) and an ardent advocate of the country’s rights: he spoke in favour of the Fenians and was an early supporter of the Tenant League, established to secure fair rents and fixity of tenure in the aftermath of the famine. But his philanthropy was George Moore’s undoing. In the spring of 1870 his Ballintubber tenants withheld their rents, judging he would not dare retaliate. Since Parliament was sitting at the time, he returned from London to settle the matter and four days later died as a result of a stroke.
And so Moore Hall passed to the next, and final, generation, being inherited by another George Moore, one of the greatest prose stylists Ireland has produced, a decisive influence on James Joyce and many another Irish author since. Today his contribution to this country, as well as that of his forebears, is insufficiently appreciated, but during his long lifetime George Moore was recognised as a great writer, as well as a serial controversialist. If he is no longer as celebrated as was once the case, then Moore must accept at least some responsibility for this state of affairs since he was given to creating and maintaining feuds with those who by rights should have been his allies. In his wildly entertaining, if not always credible, three-volume memoir Hail and Farewell he explained, ‘It is difficult for me to believe any good of myself. Within the oftentimes bombastic and truculent appearance that I present to the world, trembles a heart shy as a wren in the hedgerow or a mouse along the wainscotting.’ If no match for his father as a horseman, he inherited the latter’s bravado and audaciousness, and as a result created far too many enemies all of whom relished an opportunity to denigrate him. W.B. Yeats called Moore ‘a man carved out of a turnip’, while Yeats’ father considered Moore ‘an elderly blackguard.’ Middleton Murry described him as ‘a yelping terrier’ and Susan Mitchell ‘an ugly old soul.’ Yet they all had to acknowledge his genius. ‘When it comes to writing,’ declared Ford Madox Ford, yet another opponent, ‘George Moore was a wolf – lean, silent, infinitely sweet and solitary.’ The monument erected to him on Castle Island on Lough Carra rightly proclaims:
Born Moore Hall 1852 died 1933 London
He deserted his family and friends
For his Art
But because he was faithful to his Art
His family and Friends
Reclaimed his ashes for Ireland.’
In keeping with his character, George Moore always had an ambivalent relationship with Moore Hall. He wrote about it often, both in fiction and fact, but spent relatively little of his adult life in the place. For much of the time the estate was run by his younger brother Maurice with whom, like everyone else, he inevitably quarrelled. Unlike most Irish landowners of the era, however, he understood their time was drawing to a close, that the age of the big house was coming to an close and that the class into which he had been born would soon be no more. As he wrote to his brother in 1909, ‘The property won’t last out even my lifetime, that is to say if I live a long while and there will be nothing I’m afraid for your children…You always put on the philosophic air when I speak of the probable future and say “the future is hidden from us.” But the future of landlords isn’t in the least hidden from us.’
Nor was it, although the end was gratuitously harsh. On February 1st 1923 a local regiment of IRA men arrived at Moore Hall in the middle of the night, ordered the steward to hand over keys, moved bales of straw into the house, poured fuel over these and then set the place alight. It was a callous and philistine act which ignored the patriotic history of the Moores and lost the west of Ireland one of its finest Georgian residences. Many years later Benedict Kiely wrote in the Irish Times that he knew someone who had been present when Moore Hall was burnt and who could list various houses in the area containing looted furniture and other items. Envy and spite seem to have been the arsonists’ primary, if not sole, motivation.
Ever since the building has stood empty, the surrounding land today owned by Coillte, a state-sponsored forestry company. With all the sensitivity one might expect from such an organisation, it has planted trees all around the house so that the view down to Lough Carra – the reason Moore Hall was built on this spot – cannot even be glimpsed. There was much talk some few years ago of restoring the building but no more and the final traces of its interior decoration, not least the delicate neo-classical plasterwork, are about to be lost. So this is how Ireland honours her own: more in the breach than in the observance.