Moore Hall restoration could be flagship project for the county

I have always had a great affection for Moore Hall. I remember as a child, reading an account by an old man of looking across Lough Carra and seeing the flames coming from it, the smoke rising over the trees, on a sad day almost a century ago. The man, who was but a boy at the time in 1922, knew that the smoke and flames could only have meant one thing, that the iconic big house on the edge of the lake was ablaze. The holes that those flames left, the burnt out windows, served as hollowed-out eyes on a skull thereafter.

It is still one of the most moving sights in Mayo, to take a stroll along Carra on those calm summer nights, when the shallow lake presents like a mirror to the reeds that populate its shores; and to look up at the trees and see the giant chimney stacks reaching for the sky.

Like arms crying out to a world to be heard, the envelopment of Moore Hall by its woods is part of its magic. Make your way along the haunted path, past the memorials to racehorses long passed, and watch as the impressive building takes form before you. If you do this after twilight, the place takes on an eerieness, perhaps that is why the bats love it. This local symbol to sadness and history, hidden away in a green camouflage of foliage.

Apart from my lifelong interest in Moore Hall, I had a slight connection to the Moores. My grandfather Michael Morris was a driver/butler of the gentry Kenny family in Ballinrobe for a lot of the early part of the last century. Those familiar with Ballinrobe will know the Kenny house to be that large ivy-clad building at the bottom of Bridge Street as you enter the town from the Castlebar side.

As the effective butler of the house, he was asked to do many tasks, including driving the Kennys here and there in what was then only the second car in Ballinrobe, and undertaking the day to day duties of the household. One one occasion, he was asked by his employers to go to the train station in Ballinrobe to collect something.

The novelist George Moore had passed away in England and his ashes were being brought home. So my grandfather collected the urn and walked back through the streets of Ballinrobe back to the house in Bridge Street. On his way, he met many of his fellow townspeople on their way to the train station asking him "what time is the train with Mr Moore’s body coming in at?" as they wished to meet it. And my grandfather, ever the discreet gentleman, told them the time, but never revealed that the famed Mr Moore was at that time tucked under his arm.

I am thrilled this week with the news that Mayo County Council have purchased the property for a steal at €400,000. It is a remarkable estate that has fallen down in recent years but which could do with an injection of enthusiasm, interest and care if it is to be restored partially, and with the sensitivity it deserves.

Imagine what the place would be like if it had an interpretative centre there telling the story of the Moores and their often tragic lives; the story of their legacy and how it all ended. While a full refurbishment seems unlikely, it is still within the bounds of possibility that were the roof to be restored and the doors and windows replaced, it could become a flagship attraction for the county. Imagine, if it had a Turlough Park-like transformation?

It is to be welcomed that the National Parks and Wildlife Service will partner Mayor County Council in this endeavour, as they will act responsibly in ensuring that the redevelopment of the woods and grounds and buildings will be restored in a sustainable and sensitive manner. They will also ensure that the bat colony that lives there can continue to do so without the disturbance of the general public.

In time, with the right benefactor, Moore Hall might look across Lough Carra again without its toothless grin; perhaps one day, the lights will go on in its upper floors and shine across the lake.

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