Visiting the ‘Big Houses’ of Ireland, as they are colloquially known, is always an interesting experience. These were the houses of the wealthy landowning class in Ireland over hundreds of years when the social and economic divide within Ireland was immense. They represent many things to many people, to some they represented a ‘foreign’ gentry, who owned land and cared little for the tenant farmers or local customs, however that is a short sighted and blatantly untrue full depiction of those who dwelled in the Ireland’s ‘big houses‘. Part of the reason these mansions hold such an interest to me is their role within 17th/18th century life, the land league and later the Irish Revolution/Civil War of 1919-1923. The ‘Big House’ burnings increased from isolated events up to 1921/22 but exploded in 1923 as anti-treaty forces were waning. Civil War by its very nature is chaotic and frenzied and the homes of many families whose histories had been decorated by Irish patriots and reformers ended up a a traget during those years. Moore Hall, beside Lough Carra in Co. Mayo is a prime example of just that. In many ways its painfully Ironic that the first ‘President’ of Ireland John Moore’s home should perish at the hands of his own people a hundred years later when Moore Hall was burnt down in 1923
Moore Hall dates from the early 1790s and was built by a local man named George Moore. His father John Moore was an English settler who converted to Catholicism when he married Mary Lynch Athy of Galway, George also married an Irish Catholic and moved to Spain, where he lived and traded in Alicante for many years. He traded wine and manufactured iodine, a prized commodity at the time, and returned home with a considerable fortune. He came upon the site on Muckloon Hill by chance while returning to Ashbrook. He passed through the 14th century town of Ballinrobe and towards Lough Carra when he came across Muckloon Hill and decided to purchase the land, alongside an estate of 12,500 acres in the surrounding countryside. Moore Hall was completed by 1795. The house was immense, thirty rooms in all with its own massive library, billiards room, school room, priest’s room and even a chapel.
The Moore’s were only in residence for three years when the 1798 rebellion erupted. George Moore’s eldest son John, who had been educated in Paris and London returned to Ireland and joined the rebellion. During the 1798 rebellion a small French force led by a veteran of its own bloody Revolution, General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert, fighting on the side of the Irish Rebels landed a small division of men at Killala, Co. Mayo. The were victorious in the Battle of Castlebar and on August 31st 1798 General Humbert declared John Moore the ‘President of the Government of the Province of Connaught‘. Sadly by this stage the rebellion had already been in decline and within weeks it had been completely crushed, John Moore was captured. Moore was sentenced to be executed but this was later commuted to deportation. He died in December 1799 at the Royal Oak Tavern in Waterford while en route to be deported, tragically he only barely outlived his father George who had died one month earlier.
Moore Hall then fell under the guardianship of George’s second son named George Henry Moore, who was a Historian and had published poetry as a teenager. During the famine of the 1840s George was renowned for his kindness and efforts to help his tenants during this time. George also had an interest in horses and horse-racing, and in 1846 a horse he entered in the Chester Gold Cup earned him £17000, and he used that money to feed his tenants. He imported thousands of tons of grain for food relief and gave each of his Mayo tenants a cow from his winnings. Also it should be noted that not one of his tenants were evicted for non-payment of rent during those dark years, saving the lives of thousands. In 1847 he was elected to Parliament and was an ardent advocate of the Fenians and was a supporter of the Tenant League. Due to being in Parliament iGeorge Henry spent much of his time away from Co. Mayo however his wife Mary Blake of Ballinafad remained at Moore Hall until his death in 1870. After 1870 she would have only sporadically stayed at the house due to the possible dangers with the rising tide of the tenant movement and the costs of keeping such a perhaps unnecessarily large residence afloat.
By the time a local regiments of IRA men arrived at Moore Hall on the night of February 1st 1923 only a steward was on duty. They ordered he hand over the keys, moved bales of straw into the house and set the place on fire. The entire house, with its beautiful library and priceless books, was completely gutted and so ended the story of Moore Hall, another in a long line of tragic Civil War era events.
Visiting Moore Hall and its estate is a wonderful experience, the grounds are captivating and the house is still magnificent. The walled gardens are now completely overgrown and even with collapsing outbuildings it still buzzes with life as a wilder nature reclaims what once must have been a beautiful landscaped garden. Finally I’d recommend walking down into the carriage tunnels behind the house for a truly spectacular view of the rear of Moore Hall as you enter through its gates.
GPS: 53.71341, -9.22623