Mayo’s first president – the ill-fated John Moore

On August 31, 1798, General Humbert, self-appointed Commander in Chief of the Army of Ireland, rather presumptuously declared an Irish Republic in Castlebar and a regional government for the province of Connaught.

The declaration by the French general came during his eight days in Castlebar while he awaited further orders from France. He saw it as a way of recruiting locals to the fight as without backup his mission was doomed.

“The Government shall occupy itself immediately in organising the Military power of the Province of Connaught,” he stated, “and with providing subsistence for the French and Irish Armies.”

Humbert wanted eight regiments of infantry and four of cavalry.

“Every individual from sixteen years of age to forty, inclusive, is REQUIRED in the name of the Irish Republic, to betake himself instantly to the French Camp, to march in a mass against the common enemy, the Tyrant of ANGLICIZED IRELAND, whose destruction alone can establish the independence and happiness of ANCIENT HIBERNIA.”

As part of this offensive he declared a local man John Moore as President of the Republic of Connaught. 

John Moore was an eager, well-educated recruit the son of a wine merchant who made a fortune with a fleet of ships in Alicante, Spain and making iodine from seaweed. John’s father, George, built Moore Hall in 1792 on the shores of Lough Carra near Ballinrobe (now a sad ruin in a public forest with wonderful walking trails). He sent his son to be educated in a Catholic school in Northern France and then to the University of Paris. 

When General Humbert landed at Killala with his French troops, John joined them, as did a considerable number of Moore’s tenants. As a well-educated, French-speaking officer with a fine house, he was an ideal candidate for the hastily-created position of president.

He didn’t really have time to do very much except to issue a lot of paper money in the name of the French Government. 

After General Humbert’s defeat in the Battle of Ballinamuck on September 8, 1798, dreams of an Irish Republic were dashed. President Moore was captured in Castlebar and held captive for months while the rebels were rounded up and slaughtered.

Eventually Moore was tried and sentenced to transportation and while being taken to a port for shipment to New Geneva, he died in a coaching inn in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.

His grave in Waterford was only discovered by accident in 1960 and his remains were conveyed under Army Guard to Mayo, where they were reinterred at The Mall in Castlebar at a state military funeral attended by President Éamon de Valera, Taoiseach Seán Lemass and the ambassadors of Spain and France.

All we have now to remember John Moore is the eerie ruins of Moore Hall on the peaceful shores of Lough Carra whose tranquillity is disturbed only by wild ducks, coots and swans.

Interestingly, the site of Moore Hall was never considered auspicious for a leader’s house, as when a previous King of Connaught, Brian Orbsen was killed in the 4th Century AD, his druid Drithliu had fled to that very spot, and was hunted down and killed.


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