‘The Irish Merchant of Alicante’ might seem at first to be an odd name for my new historical novel but dig a little deeper and it makes sense. The story is about four generations of the Moore family who built the magnificent Moore Hall in Co. Mayo.
Chapter One sees young George Moore leave Ireland on a ship in 1754, bound for a new life in Spain as a merchant under the wing of his mother’s relatives – Wild Geese exiles from the Jacobite Wars. Being the second son, he could not inherit the Ashbrook estate in Straide, Co. Mayo and as a member of an aristocratic Catholic family he had no career prospects in Ireland under the terms of the Catholic-punishing Penal Laws – so he went to Alicante to learn the merchant trade. George found great success in Spain and by the time the Penal Laws were relaxed he was a wealthy owner of a merchant business with his own fleet of ships. He purchased some 12,000 acres of land in his native Mayo, sold his shipping company and returned to Ireland with his wife Catherine and four Spanish-born sons, where he built his dream home on the shores of Lough Carra in the early 1790’s – becoming the first Master of Moore Hall. He had to take the Oath of Allegiance and follow the British imposed landlord system of leasing most of his land as small holdings to poor Irish tenant farmers.
Almost immediately his eldest son John was smitten by Wolfe Tone’s revolutionary ideals, and he joined the Society of United Irishmen. John was one of the first members of the Irish gentry to march in support of General Humbert’s French expeditionary force in the 1798 Rebellion and was appointed the first President of an Irish Republic – Connaught, before losing his life in the failed rebellion. His father George also became a casualty – dying from a stroke brought on by the stress of his son’s imprisonment and multiple trials. The reins at Moore Hall then fell to his second son, George, a reclusive historian who was wooed and wed by Louisa Browne, a strong-willed beauty who was the niece of the notorious Denis Browne, High Sheriff of Mayo, who had prosecuted John for treason and hanged so many Mayo rebels that he was known as Denis of the Rope. This marriage caused a split in the Moore family, including the self-imposed exile to London of George’s mother, Catherine, the family matriarch.
The third generation was led by George Henry Moore, a great horseman, celebrated horse trainer and popular Mayo MP at Westminster. He firmly established the nationalist credentials of the Moore’s and was widely believed to have taken the Fenian oath. In Parliament he became the champion of the Tenant Rights movement and won many concessions for Ireland from the ruling parties by cementing the Irish members block vote. He led Mayo relief operations during the Great Famine and when his horse Coronna won the Chester Cup he used the winnings to charter a shipload of American grain to feed the starving people of Mayo.
George Augustus was the fourth generation Master of Moore Hall, a cantankerous bachelor, a failed painter, a Protestant convert, a poor steward of the estate during a period of heightened agrarian unrest, a successful novelist and early mentor of the Irish literary revival that led to the establishment of the Abbey Theatre.
My mission was to bring the reader along to witness the up-close lives of four generations of the Moore family as they navigated through the complex allegiances to family, religion, the Empire and growing Irish nationalism – while the power and influence of their landlord class was slipping away.
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