Moore’s Maladies – An Irishman’s Diary on the short-lived ‘Republic of Connacht’ and the man who was its president

Moore Hall: grounds have recently been acquired by Mayo County Council

Moore Hall: grounds have recently been acquired by Mayo County Council

 

The term “Republic of Connacht”, a concept still proudly remembered in those parts, is a fond misnomer. It was of course a Republic of Ireland that the invading French meant to establish in 1798. In the interim, on the last day of August in that fateful summer, Gen Jean Humbert set up a government of the mere province of Connacht, with one John Moore as president.

So it was an act of devolution, and revolution, in one.  

Alas, the project of spreading French-style democracy eastwards did not get farther than Ballinamuck, Co Longford, where the Franco-Irish forces were defeated on September 8th. The single-term presidency of “Citizen Moore”, as he was also known, had lasted a week. His consolation is that, the Irish Republic having failed to take off, the brief liberation of Connacht was posthumously promoted in folk memory.

Spanish-born and French-educated, Moore might have been hanged like so many other rebels then, had his wealthy father not mounted an expensive legal campaign to exonerate him. This bought enough time that post-insurrection political sensitivities began to recommend leniency too.  

Unfortunately, Moore’s life was already beyond saving.  

Although only 30 during the rebellion, he had never been a healthy man, and imprisonment while awaiting transportation to a penal colony made him much worse.

He died, ironically for a republican, in a Waterford inn called the Royal Oak.  

Consciously or otherwise, pubs of that name commemorate an English monarch, Charles II, who escaped the Roundheads by hiding in an oak tree in 1651. But Moore wasn’t hiding. He was being kept under armed guard when, badly emaciated, he expired on December 6th, 1799.

But he had also lived the life of a wealthy playboy, running up big debts

Thus ended a short, tragic reunion with his ancestral homeland. His father George had left Mayo years before to make a fortune from Spanish wine. He later traded in iodine too, harvested from Galway seaweed. In between, Moore snr had returned to his home county to build the mansion that became Moore Hall.

That was completed in 1795 and, in a great Irish tradition, may have been cursed from the start. They take their curses seriously in Mayo, at least in GAA circles. But George Moore is said to have ignored local advice not to choose a site associated with brutal events in 365 AD, when the king of Connacht and his druid were killed.

The house went ahead anyway, just as young John completed legal studies in London and came to Ireland to pursue a career. He had been inspired by the ideals of the French revolution.

But he had also lived the life of a wealthy playboy, running up big debts.

So he has been described as a “reluctant patriot” who, in first seeking out Humbert in 1798, may have hoped only to guarantee the safety of the family estate. In any case, he and the French general were of similar age. Whether by persuasion or coercion, Moore joined the cause.  

Immediate consequences aside, those folkloric planning consultants of the 1790s may since have had further vindication in their belief that the Moore house was ill-sited.  

It came with another revolution, 125 years later.  

That one did eventually bring an Irish Republic. In the meantime, it also caused a Civil War, and when Moore Hall was deemed to be on the pro-Treaty side, it suffered the fate of other Big Houses, being burned down in 1923.

The house has not been exhumed from its 1923 grave: the VIP residents these days are bats

By then, the Waterford grave of John Moore was overgrown and forgotten. It remained so until 1960, when the cemetery caretaker dug through a mound of earth and hit a stone slab.  

One thing led to another. A year later, the exhumed remains of Citizen Moore, former president of Connacht, were reinterred in Mayo, watched by an official Irish president, Eamon de Valera. The British Pathé news agency called it a great occasion for “all true patriots of Éire”.

There may be another such occasion this coming weekend when a ceremony takes place at Moore Hall. The house has not been exhumed from its 1923 grave: the VIP residents these days are bats. But the grounds have recently been acquired by Mayo County Council. And to help celebrate that, the French ambassador will raise his country’s flag there on Saturday.  

The event will be part of the 220th anniversary of the Year of the French. But Stephen Dunford, musician, historian, and fount of all knowledge on 1798 (to whom I owe most of the foregoing), reminds me of another milestone. Contrary to the date on Moore’s grave (1763), he was in fact born in 1768. This year is his 250th anniversary. 

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