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Just as many modern Paiute Indians know very few details about an individual ancestor unless the person worked for a ranch or some other body that left a paper trail, the only way I know about the earliest of my known ancestors, Patrick Stanton, is because he was the tenant of an historically famous family that had a large country estate in rural Ireland. In 1857, a record shows that Patrick paid three pounds, eight shillings in rent to the Moores of Moore Hall. That's it.

My Grandmother's Family and George Moore of Moore Hall

Moore Hall, Mayo, ireland - www.trickster.ie
Moore Hall, County Mayo, Ireland

 

At the end of March 1885, thirty-three year old author George Moore was at Moore Hall, the ancestral Irish estate he'd inherited as a teen-ager.1 Usually he was somewhere else-anywhere else, actually-London, where his operetta was to be staged next month, or Paris, where he counted Zola, Manet and Degas among his friends-Manet had painted his portrait-or sometimes he might even be in Dublin. But now he was in County Mayo, where he'd been described in a local paper as "the degenerate son of a worthy father."i He preferred not to think about his 12,000-acre estate except as a source of revenue; the Hall itself, in his opinion, was decorated to suit a "retired soap boiler,"ii rather than a dandyish young man. And although he had some pity for his tenants, generally they disgusted him-dirty, starving, unruly Irish-speaking peasants.

George may have thought back to a time five years earlier when he'd made his way here from Dublin, slowly and fearfully, staying with friends along the way and delaying his arrival as long as possible in the hope of finding a new estate manager, someone who might control his tenants' violence and, if necessary, evict them.

He'd been right to be afraid: he'd returned just in time for the Land War of 1879-82, which had begun in this very county, and was being waged here by angry, violent tenants who had just suffered terribly through three years of failed harvests, and were now hopelessly behind in their rents. A fellow landlord had been killed, and his neighboring landlord, Captain Charles Boycott, found himself completely isolated as his servants, estate workers, tenants, everyone, in fact, abandoned him in an isolation so devastating that it gave a new word to the English language.

How could things have gone so wrong? The Moores were Catholic, and during battle in the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798, the hero General Humbert had named George's grandfather, John Moore, "King of Connaught." George's father, George H. Moore, a Member of the British Parliament, had been a celebrated champion of Irish nationalism, known for his famine relief. George himself was a liberal landlord. But the tenant-based economy was paralyzed-landlords, and shopkeepers were enmeshed in debt, and the tenants in hunger as well as well as debt. . Even "in Moore's own parish of Carra, the surveyor could not identify the boundaries of small holdings without the protection of police, and no one would dare to serve notices of rent due."iii

But at least George would be leaving in April, for London and the operetta, and then perhaps Paris. After all, he was a much-published writer of short works, and in the last couple of years, years, his first two books had been published. He needed to be with other artists-not here.

Nearby, down in a stone cottage on Lough Carra, Julia Stanton was giving birth to her fourth child, helped by her mother and mother-in-law. Her husband Thomas took the children to the barn and distracted them with stories-their favorite was the one about a long-ago Moore bride, a "Spanish lady," whose large dowry of gold coins was so tightly packed in a chest that the first coins had to be plucked out with tweezers. Thomas was a stonemason working on the Moore estate, but his it was his elderly father Patrick who had the tenancy of their tiny farm, and Thomas was doing most of the farm work. He was proud of the cut-stone cottage he'd built for them, to replace the old house, in this idyllic setting on the reed-fringed marl lake. He'd even had a pulley system for lifting staples up into its loft. But staples of any sort had been scarce for a long time. At least now, thanks to the fact that a few years ago Thomas had emigrated to America to work, the children had potatoes and bread baked on the open fire. He was well known among the neighbors in Carra for scrimping and sending almost all his earnings home and looking after his family. In fact, one of his happiest days had been when he came back last year and crept up on the three children kneeling beside a chair, drinking milk and eating a dinner of potato boxty out of a flat basket. But soon Thomas would have to leave this place, where the marl lake changed color in the summer heat and the mayflies danced above the brown trout, to return again to the mills in Youngstown, Ohio.

Julia's mother gave the signal now, and they all ran to the house. The little girl who was born that late March day, 1885, was my grandmother, Margaret. As she grew, she joined the other children, John, Mary and Catherine, and later, Patrick, playing on the limestone shingle beach, swimming in the lake, making toys from the reeds in the long summer evenings, scaring each other in the twilight with stories of Drithliu, the magician, who had been killed in this spot more than a thousand years ago. They waited in the barn once again as their grandfather died, and then watching as women laid him out on a scrubbed table, under "the good sheet" that they draped, tented, over the rafters. Thomas was back in Youngstown again, and now Julia and the children were going, too. The house was sold to a neighbor. They set out for the train in the ass and cart belonging to Julia 's uncle, the carpenter Murphy, for the first part of their journey. Margaret waved at her grandmother until Murphy rounded the bend in the woods near Moore Hall. Even at the age of eight, she realized she'd never see her again. John, 16, and the only real English speaker in the house, thought they wouldn't see Carra again, and yesterday he'd taken his father's tools and carved his name and the date of their leaving on the cut-stone corner of their house. They'd all watched, even little Patrick; he was glad because no matter how far they went, now he'd be able to find his own house again.

They took with them eight bone-handled knives, and the good spoon that the priest would need when he said Mass or administered the last rites in the house. A feather quilt, a picture of St. Joseph the Carpenter teaching the child Jesus. A dozen hard-boiled eggs, for fear they wouldn't have food during the week's steerage on the City of New York. But they didn't need the eggs: "The eats was swell," Margaret recalled, ninety years later.

Only John could speak English, and he was taken away to bunk in the men's quarters. An old man advised him on going through immigration, and when they landed, the man took them across town to the train station and waited with them. Thomas met them at the other end in Youngstown. In the grim environs of Summit Street, and through all the things that happened--the girls, after a few years of school, becoming maids in a boarding house; Mary's gunshot wedding, abandonment and stillborn only child; John's rising to political influence in Cleveland, and Pat losing his wife in childbirth--they never forgot the lake. Thomas often talked about it, about how, in a storm, the marl made it look like milk; his words-silver, pearl, ivory, bone--brought back the ghostly shades the lake took on. He talked about it on the night before he was killed by a shifter, a small train, in the mill. The same year, 1905, George Moore, described by Frazer as "one of the writers of Irish birth who remade English literature at the end of the nineteenth century," iv published The Lake.

When my grandmother was in her late nineties, I recorded long accounts of her memories. The Moores were good landlords, she said. No one on their land died during the Famine. They were good Catholics, always at Mass on Sundays.

But I still have questions-Thomas's father was dead when they emigrated, so he now had the farm tenancy, but how had he sold the house, as my grandmother always told me? What did he own? Had he taken advantage of a lease arrangement that George Moore had put in place? And, "Didn't Thomas join other tenants in the violence a few years before her birth?" I asked her. "I don't know anything about that," she said, and refused to say more. But then one day I asked about our family's odd custom, passed down through the generations, of never calling a spouse by name (although we refer to them by name). "I don't know," she said. And then, "I think it had something to do with the war... the men would be out in the woods or at the lake and you wouldn't want to call them." But the War of independence (1919-21) and the Civil War (1921-23) occurred long after she'd left. "It was the French, maybe." (General Humbert's French invasion in support of Irish tenants, nearly a hundred years before?) "Or maybe...I don't know."

For many years, John, in Ohio, had exchanged letters with Rory Moore, George's nephew, who lived in California. (He also returned as a successful man to visit his old homestead on the lake, but unfortunately, the Cadillac he'd shipped over for the triumphal return was dropped and smashed on the docks when he landed. (To this day, there would be no possibility of driving it down the local lanes.)

In 1933, George Moore was buried with some of his ancestors in an island on the lake. Perhaps there will be a Moore renaissance, but why was he forgotten after his death? Fraser's explanationv is intriguing: Moore belonged to no particular national tradition-each place he associated himself with seemed to think of him as belonging to another-French in England, English in France, not-Irish in Ireland. He experimented with form and style to such an extent that the reader who liked one of his books might easily be disappointed in the next. His latest book might be be sexy, outrageous, politically loaded, self-mocking, or sensitive to the plight of the poor. Three were banned by the London circulating libraries. He was a feminist of sorts, an anti- Catholic from a Catholic family. His sexuality was unclear. He had crossed many boundaries-he was an aristocratic trickster.

For years, my grandmother hoped to find a copy of The Lake. John had seen a copy once and said that some of our people were in it. But what she really wanted was to remember his early life on the lake. She never got the book-it was out of print too long, unobtainable by the public library, known only to antiquarians who weren't known to us. This morning I downloaded it as a "classic" on my Kindle in two seconds.

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