Moorehall in County Mayo - Ghosts of Writers

On a dreary winter day in February of 2007, my dear friend, author Michael Mullen of Castlebar took me on a day-long visit to thin places in County Mayo. We started early in the morning and ended the day at Moorehall. Pictured above, one can see the grand residence is but a shadow of its former self. The house was built by George Moore around 1795 on a hill overlooking Lough Carra. His son George II had a fondness for books and built a vast library at Moorehall that is said to have included a manuscript copy of the Annals of the Four Masters. The Moores were part of the Anglo Irish aristocracy and were later known locally as being sympathetic to the plight of the common man, and more benevolent to their Irish tenants during the Irish potato famine that others of their social stature.

George Henry (son of George II) oversaw the estate during the Great Hunger and spent much of his early life focued on horse racing.  He used the fortune he won in a particular race to provide relief to his tenant families.  Rents were commuted, and food distributed so that no family on the Moore estate was evicted, and no tenants died of hunger during the famine. George Henry entered Irish politics during his later life.  He died of a stroke at Moorehall in 1870.

George Henry's son, George IV had the heart of an artist and went off to study painting in Paris after his father's death in 1970.  He switched his focus to writing and became acquainted with many of the great European writers of the day.  My friend, Michael told me that George Henry entertained many writers at Moorehall... that Moorehall itself was a tribute to great thinking - great thinkers.

On February 1, 1923 the house was set afire by - as the Steward of Moorehall stated "an ignorant mob that don't know what they are doing."  All was lost including the grand library, including the copy of the  Annals of the Four Masters.  The mob apparently objected to the Moore family's stance on Irish liberation. Maurice Moore, brother of George IV hoped to restore the home one day, but died in 1939 before he could achieve any attempt and the estate was eventually given over to the government, who hold it today.  It is now a park with beautifully forested walking trails.

Why did Michael take me to this place 84 years after its destruction?  He explained that this was a place where beautiful thoughts led to creative concoctions in literature. Some places lend themselves to the freeing of the mind.  This is one of them. It's funny that I've known Michael for years and read many of his books, my favorites being The Hungry Land and Kelly.  Michael is known today for being a great writer of Irish children's literature and more currently books written in the Irish language.  The piece of Michael's writing that most impressed me was Croagh Patrick, a Perspective where he produced my favorite quote about thin places.

On this arid summit, where the winds blow hard, where no root takes hold, where distance seems infinite and heaven close, the spirit is tested and replenished, for the pilgrim had reached a thin place, where one steps into the highest dimension of one's existence.
But for all I knew of Michael, I really knew nothing of his past.  On our walk through the woods around Moorehall, Michael told me about his life.  All the intimate details poured forth.  What a wonderful story it was too.

I came to Moorehall with an old friend, unfamiliar with that particular landscape or the story of the family that once lived there.  While there, Michael and I became images in the same landscape occupied by the Moore family, their tenants, their friends, their visitors and the mob that destroyed the place.  The separation of time and space was minimal.

We left Moorehall, not as old friends - but as "soul friends" - Anam Caras.  Thin Places are fertile ground for moving closer to those around you.

References used for this article include the commentary of Phillip O'Reilly, a descendant of the last Steward of Moorehall. Photos by Mindie Burgoyne - Copyright 2007, All Rights Reserved. Used only with permission.

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