|REMEMBERING GEORGE MOORE
Several years ago an erstwhile George Moore expert (who abandoned scholarly pursuits for the "real world of business") indicated that GM is all but forgotten, asserting "no one reads him for his own sake, but only for his association with other authors". While this may be true in the United States, in spite of the articles about him in literary quarterlies such as ELT, he is far from forgotten in his native Mayo in the west of Ireland.
There last July at Moore Hall, in its environs and neighbouring communities, he and his family were fondly remembered and honoured in a four-day celebration, called "A George Moore Extravaganza" - not, as the Irish Literary Supplement noted after the event in a five-line brief headed "Moore News", "an academic conference (thank God!)". It certainly was not just another gathering of pedants, mulling over minor textual differences and interpretations. Unlike the annual Yeats International Summer School in neighbouring Sligo, it was a gathering together of some members of the family, area residents, and a few particularly interested in the author and his works.
The "extravaganza" began Friday evening in Castlebar with registration at The Traveller's Friend Hotel, followed by the assembled guests being piped down the hill with an honor guard to the Mall for an opening ceremony at the grave of GM's grand uncle, John Moore, a particular Irish hero. He had joined the French forces when they landed at Killala in the failed Rebellion of 1798 and been proclaimed "President of Connaught" after the initial English rout at Castlebar. Soon, however, the resurrection failed, and Moore was captured and died in Waterford while awaiting trial. In 1960 his grave had been discovered in Ballygunner Cemetery, Waterford, and the next year his remains were exhumed and reburied in Castlebar with full military honors.
Acting as master-of-ceremonies at the grave-site was Mayo author Michael Mullen whose recently published novel, Rites of Inheritance, has as its chief setting a renamed Moore Hall, with two of the characters vaguely based upon GM's father and grandfather, and some of the action more specifically related to racing exploits of horses from the Moore stables. The ceremony honoring John Moore included the blessing of the family's colors and the investiture of the exuberant Lord Mayor of Galway, Michael D. Higgins, as the honorary second President of Connaught to serve for the duration of the extravaganza. This set the tone of friendly family comradeship that prevailed throughout the celebration. Back at the hotel, in the John Moore Room, there was an opportunity to meet other guests, prior to welcoming remarks by the president of the George Moore Society, sponsor of the weekend events, followed by a talk on "Moore in France" by Professor Jaques Aubert of the University of Lyon, an expert on Joyce and Irish literature.
Saturday the group gathered in the Carnacon Community Centre, next to the parish church where the Moore family had worshipped and to which they had made substantial contributions to its cost when it was built in 1835. The morning program, devoted to local history, enabled community members to share memories of the Moores and the "big house", relating stories passed down by parents and grandparents who had worked on the estate, as well as their own recollections of GM's nephew, Maurice "Rory" Moore, who had come from his home in California thirty years before for the reburial of John Moore. One of the panel, Kevin Coyne, spoke specifically of GM's father, George Henry Moore, quoting some of his early poetry, noting his service in the English Parliament as a representative from Mayo, his interest in racing, and his benevolence as a landlord, pointing out that when his horse "Corona" won the Chester Cup in England he used the purse of money gained wagering on his horse for the relief of his tenants during the great famine.
A particularly interesting video was shown, taped in Nova Scotia at the home if Kenelm Gow, a grandson of GM's sister, Nina Kilkelly, as he displayed and reminisced about Moore family papers and photographs in his possession. some of the same pictures were in the exhibit of Moore memorabilia assembled for the occasion. Also on display were books by and about GM, and a copy of his death mask, brought from England by Mrs. Patricia Deane, another of Nina's grandchildren. Of special interest was a series of maps, floor plans and sketches of Moore Hall, both as it is today and as it was a century ago.
They were drawn by a grandson of the last caretaker, and are based on his personal research and that of his father, as well as on hints given by GM in Hail and Farewell, and the shared memories of "Rory Moore, who had lived there as a child.
In the afternoon, there was an incisive talk on GM's books by Professor Robert Welch of the University of Ulster and editor of The Way Back: George Moore's The Untilled Field and The Lake, in which is included his major study of the two works. Later in Claremorris there was a reception and a display of a group of works at the Claremorris Art Gallery in "tribute to George Moore, the man and the artist" and these included an etching of Moore Hall based on a mid-nineteenth century print, a portrait of GM, a number of amusing copper and brass caricatures and a mask, as well as pictures inspired by characters in GM's books.
Sunday the main gate to Moore Hall was opened and visitors were able to drive up the long winding road through the woods to what remains of the Georgian mansion on Muckloon Hill, overlooking the eastern arm of Lough Carra. Built at the end of the eighteenth century by an earlier George Moore, it was burned in 1923 during the Irish Civil War, and is now only a sturdy shell with small trees and shrubs growing inside, but with its exterior walls intrinsically intact, so that it is easy to envision its earlier grandeur. Here GM was born and spent happy days as a child, a fascinated spectator at the racing stable's bustling activities, which instilled in him an unfilled ambition to be a jockey, and more importantly providing him with the background material for Esther Waters.
Formerly the expansive slope beyond the broad front steps was an open meadow down to the shore road, affording a breathtaking view of Lough Carra, the scene of many of G's youthful excursions, and which throughout his life was never far from his mind, its beauty inspiring some of his finest descriptive writing in The Lake and in Vale. Now the slope has been planted by the Forestry Service, which owns the property, and only a glimpse of the lake can be seen through the trees. At the bottom of the path leading down to the lake, there is a parking lot, and this was the setting for an afternoon festive jazz jamboree, at which the young GM of the Nouvelle Athènes might have felt at home, but certainly the older author would have been bewildered at the availability of George Moore T-shirts reproducing Sir Robert Staples's 1894 drawing of him.
That evening, again at the Community Centre, the novelist Brian Moore (a resident of the United States, but a Belfast native and not a Mayo Moore) read a chapter from his latest book Lies of Silence, published in both Great Britain and the United States to critical acclaim.
His reading was following by a premier of Dreaming House, a two-character play by the Mayo writer Tom Kilroy, set in GM's final home in London, where the author "dreams his past back into existence and has an unusual visitor". In it, the author reminisces about his past life in the manner of his autobiographical works, with brief spectral appearances by William Mullowney, the valet from Mayo, who accompanied GM to Paris when he went there as a young man to study art.
Most of the reverie is taken directly from Hail and Farewell, Confessions of a Young Man, and A Communication to My Friends, deftly woven together in a virtual monologue, giving the impression of time turned back sixty or more years, with GM addressing an attentive guest at 121 Ebury Street, possibly one of the many who came with a letter of introduction to meet the renowned author. There is so much authentic GM in the play that if it is published it must be noted in his primary bibliography.
On Monday, the final day of scheduled events, there was a bus tour of Moore country, and a farewell luncheon at Ballinrobe, after which Anthony Cronin, author of the perceptive "George Moore:The Self-Made Modern" included in his Heritage Now, spoke about "The horse-racing tradition of the Moores". This was emphasised later in the day at the Ballinrobe Races by the first running of the "Moorehall Corana Hurdle" (named after one of George Henry Moore's prize horses) and the presentation of a perpetual bronze trophy to the winner
A memorable treat was still in store for three guests from the United States and a fitting finale for an exhilarating visit to Moore country. Clinton Krauss, his wife Stephanie, and I had been invited by one of the organisers of the festival, Irish speaking Art Ó Súilleabháin, to meet him at the boat landing near the parking lot for an evening ride on Lough Carra and a visit to Castle Island. It is there that GM's ashes are buried and where the trio added yet other small rocks to the cairn behind the engraved stone monument marking the site. This sentimental gesture, as well as the final silhouetted view in the fading light of Moore Hall high above the lake, concluded a nostalgic weekend, which certainly was not an "academic conference" in the usual sense, but rather a friendly gathering of a special group sharing a common interest.