The Great Western Loughs

Lough Carra

Lough Carracovering an area of about 1,500 hectares / 4,000 acres, is 6 miles long and 2 miles at its widest, though its ragged outline contains many promontories and islands. The water is mainly produced from springs, mostly at depths of 5 to 10 feet.  It is connected to Lough Mask by the Keel Canal (on the Partry / Ballinrobe road).  

Lough Carra lies just within the western edge of the limestone region, and is the largest Marl lake in Ireland. Lakes were widespread in this region after the Ice Age but fen vegetation and raised bog have covered over many of them.   The lake is famed for the purity of its waters and the colours produced by the marl. Limey encrustation is visible on the shoreline rocks in summer when the water level decreases. Deeper down, this soft soapy chalk prevents the growth of aquatic vegetation. Even the growth of reeds is poor.

Lough Carra Wildlife Sanctuary


Noted Botanists who have reported on the wildlife of Lough Carra include Praeger (1906); Kelly (1973); Shackleton (1975) and Roger GoodwillieAn 1837 record of Flora is also known. and a comprehensive report supplied by our local Forest and Wildlife Representative.


The habitats here show an interesting contrast to their more southerly and coastal equivalents in The Burren. The most northerly limit of the Spring Gentian centiana verna, and dense flowered orchid neotinea intacta lies here. There are 24 species of Orchid listed for Ireland 19 of these are found around Lough Carra (keep this a secret, as in Britain, Orchid fanatics are known to dig up Orchids as their hobby; they die quickly (the orchids I mean!!) – when they are removed from their habitat. 


The chain of lakes running from Kiliala Bay to Galway Bay (Conn, Cullin, Carra, Mask, Corrib) is a regular and habitual line of migration of migrants (mainly waders and wildfowl) and wandering seabirds when travelling along our western seaboard and as they enter Counties Galway and Mayo. It is the wintering ground for whooper swans, bewick’s swans, snipe, woodcock, waders and occasional Geese. It holds the record for 150 pairs of breeding Mallard. The resident population is increased in winter by migrants from Iceland, Alaska, Canada and Northern Europe. A mallard survey started in 1968 is ongoing and some of those ringed here were found in England, Sweden, Denmark and France. In Autumn large congregations of mallard are to be seen on open sheets of water and in Winter they emerge from the reeds on disturbance where they roost in daytime. Their breeding ground is within a 12 mile radius. During breeding from late February onwards the females are secretive. The main predators are the hooded crow, the greater black-headed gull and when lake levels are low, mammals may gain access to the islands.


The most numerous migrant duck species is the teak; widgeon; goideneye and redbreasted merganser can be resident but visit mostly. A comprehensive record entitled “Birds in Counties Galway and Mayo” by RF Ruttledge for Irish Wildbird Conservancy is recommended.

The 60 foot depth of ‘The Black Hole’ (on the Archaeological Trail) is of great interest.



George Moore (1727-1799), born in nearby Straide of a Protestant father and Roman Catholic mother (Jane Lynch ofGalway), travelled to Spain, where he was received at the Court of King Carlos III c.1760 and married Caterina de Kilkelly(Kelly) c.1765. He established a successful wine and brandy business in Alicante and returned to County Mayo as the Penal Law era was ending with a fortune of some £200,000. He purchased over 12,000 acres of land beside Lough Carra fromFarragh Mc Donnell.


Moore Hall, designed by the prominent Waterford architectJohn Roberts, was completed in 1795, with farm outbuildings and facilities to make it a self-sufficient manor. It remained in continuous occupation until 1910, during which period the Moore family played an important part in the social cultural and political history of Ireland.


George’s son, John Moore (b.1767), was educated in France and became a barrister in both London and Dublin, but returned to Mayo at the start of the 1798 Rebellion. Following the French invasion of August 1798, General Humbertappointed him President of the Connacht Republic in Castlebar. Soon captured by the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, he was initially condemned to hanging, but had his sentence commuted to deportation. He was due to be embarked from the dreaded New Geneva prison in County Waterford, but died in the Royal Oak tavern in Waterford City on 6th December 1799. His body was exhumed fromBallygunnermore Cemetery in Waterford and brought toCastlebar, where he was reinterred in the Mall with full military honours on 13th August 1961.


George Henry Moore (1810 – 1870) was educated at Oscott College (a Roman Catholic school near Birmingham) and at Cambridge University, though he failed to graduate. His main interest was in horse breeding and racing; his greatest personal feat as a jockey was to win the 1843 New Melton Stakes at Cahir, said to be one of the greatest races ever run in Ireland, with jumps that included high stone walls. (His brother Arthur Augustus was killed after a fall from the horse Mickey Freeduring the 1845 Aintree Grand National).

During the Great Famine, George Henry`s horse Coranna won the 1846 Chester Gold Cup, netting him £17,000, which he used to buy a cow for each family of tenants on his estate (a portrait of Coranna still hangs in the church in Carnacon). He was chairman of the famine relief committees for Partry andBallintubber, both areas full of destitute people who benefitted from his donations. In 1847 Moore, the Marquess of Sligo and Sir Robert Blosse Lynch requisitioned the ship Martha Washington to deliver 1000 tonnes of flour from New Orleans to Westport for their tenants at a combined loss of £4819.0.6d. As the famine got worse he gave grazing lands to the people and placed others directly under his care upon his own estate, where nobody was evicted or died of starvation. Moore was one of several like-minded landowners declared bankrupt by the end of the Famine, but was able to buy back large tracts of land and successfully fought two libel actions against The Times regarding his character and treatment of tenants.

George Henry Moore was elected MP for Mayo in 1847 and helped found the Independent Irish Party at Westminster. He was a member of the Fenian Brotherhood but strongly advocated friendship with the Orange Lodge. During his lifetime, O’Donovan Rossa and the future Cardinal Newman were frequent visitors to Moorehall. His funeral Mass was attended by thousands from all over Mayo attended his funeral, where the Fenian firebrand Father Pat Lavelle delivered the oration, and he was buried on his estate at a place called Kiltoom. He was succeeded by his brother-in-law, George Ekins Browne.


George Augustus Moore (1852 – 1933), an anti-Catholic agnostic, travelled extensively and became friendly with leading intellectual figures such as Zola and the Impressionist artists; his portrait was painted by Manet, Degas, Henry Tonks, Sir William Orpen and Jack B Yeats. He became a distinguished writer of the Irish Literary Revival period, when both Moore Hall and his Ely Place residence in Dublin were regularly visited by famous writers such as Lady Gregory and WB Yeats, with whom he co-founded Ireland’s “national theatre”, the Abbey. His ashes are interred on Castle Island (referred to locally as Moore’s island ) on Lough Carra in view of the big house on the hill and accessible by a five minute boat trip from the Moorehall shore.


Maurice George Moore (1854 – 1939), a Colonel in the Connaught Rangers, served in the Boer War in South Africa, where he became concerned with human rights. Back in Ireland, he became deeply involved with Horace Plunkett’s Co-operative Movement. His son Ulick was killed fighting in WWI in 1918. Maurice was appointed by the First Dáil as envoy to South Africa in 1920. From 1923 he served in the Seanad, where he moved legislation for the return of Irish prisoners in English jails and defended the retention of UCG when it came under threat.


Moore Hall was occupied only sporadically from 1910 to 1923, when it was torched by Republican irregulars during the Civil War, because Maurice Moore was regarded as a pro-Treatyite. Remnants of fine Italian plasterwork and oak pannelling are still visible, and there is a movement to restore the house for use as a community amenity.


The lakeside estate, now used by Coillte for forestry, is a carst limestone area of botanical importance, comparable to the Burren and home to several species of rare wild orchids. The natural resources of woods, rivers, smaller lakes and wildlife of the area remain largely untouched and untarnished.

Castle Carra,an imposing C13th Tower House complex overlookingLough Carra, was originally built by the de Staunton family, who later adopted the Irish surname, Mac an Mhilidh (“son of the warrior”), anglicised asMacEvilly  / MacAvelly. The surrounding area was at one stage known as MacEvilly’s Country. The castle was surrendered to the Crown in the 1570s and granted to Captain William Bowen, who strengthened the bawn. Acquired by Sir Henry Lynch in the 1660s, it remained in the possession of his descendants until the C19th. (Photo byJoeKellyDiver)

Burriscarra, from which the local parish takes its name, is the location of a dramatic stone archway straddling the public road, associated with the nearby ruins of two churches – one a C14th parish church, the other a monastic edifice founded in 1298 byAdam de Staunton as a Carmelite Priory; reoccupied in 1412 as an Augustinian Friary, it was burned in 1430 but survived until King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries.  The land was purchased by Oliver Bowden in 1608 and granted by King Charles II in 1668 to Sir Henry Lynch, whose family owned it until the C19th.

The Doon Peninsula jutting out into Lough Carra almost divides the lake in two. It is named for a Bronze Age promontory fort with a later rampart and features several other archaeological sites set in exceptionally scenic surroundings. A signposted Nature Trail wends through lakeshore woodlands inhabited by wildlife ranging from frogs, pheasants and owls to foxes, hares and horseshoe bats.

Castle Burke / Bourke, a five storey Tower House on the northern shore of Lough Carra, was originally known as Kinvoynell. It was probably built shortly after the de Burgo led C13th Norman conquest of Connachtby the de  Stauntons , later known as  the MacEvilly clan, who were so numerous that this part of Mayo was known as “MacEvilly Country” and belonged by 1575 their chieftain Myles MacEvilly. It was renamed after being granted toMiles Burke, 4th Viscount Mayo, whose successor sold it to the Brownes of Westport. The SE corner collapsed in recent times.

Ballintubber (Co. Mayo / South)

Ballintubber / Ballintober (Baile an Tobair – “settlement of the well”) is located north of Lough Carra on an ancient route to a druidic site on the mountain now called Croagh Patrick. When Saint Patrick brought Christianity to the west of Ireland c. 461 AD he founded a church at Ballintubber and may have baptized converts at the Holy Well bearing his name, where a stone bears a mark said to be an impression of his knee.

Archaeological investigation confirms the area was cultivated 5,000 years ago, at the same time as the Céide Feilds in North Mayo.

Ballintubber Abbey


Ballintubber Abbey was founded in 1216 byCathal Crobdearg(“Cathal of the wine red hand”) Ua Conchobair / O’Conor, king of Connacht, and claims to have the only church founded by an Irish king which is still in use.


The Abbey was run by a wealthy community of Augustinian Canons Regular, i.e.priests rather than monks. It survived being suppressed during the Reformation only to have its lands confiscated in 1603. The complex was torched by Cromwellian soldiers in 1653, but the roofless church continued to be used throughout the Penal Law era by Roman Catholics.


A large tree marks the burial place of Seán na Sagart, an infamous priest-hunter. His name was John Malowney. Tradition say he was caught and sentenced to death for stealing a horse, but agreed to a proposal by Bingham, the Sherrif of Mayo, to spare his life in exchange for Papist priests’ heads. It is said that he captured a good number of priests, throwing their severed crania into Lough na gCeann (“Lake of the Heads”) in nearby Kilawalla / Kilavally in the northern foothills of the Partry Mountains, but was frustrated by his inability to catch two, so he resorted to the stratagem of pretending he was dying and wished to confess his awful crimes. His sister Nancy believed him and sent for the older of the priests, who bent over him only to get stabbed in the heart with the dagger Sean had hidden under the blanket. At the funeral the next day he recognised the other priest disguised as a woman and chased him across the fields, but before he could kill him he was himself stabbed to death with his own dagger by a peddler who had followed them. He was buried in unconsecrated ground outside the abbey cemetery, but the graveyard was later extended to include the spot.


In 1966 the nave was restored in time for the 750th anniversary of the abbey’s foundation, and in 1997 the Chapter House and Dorter area were reroofed. The charming C15th cloister has been partially recovered, and it is planned to restore the entire east wing before the 800th anniversary celebrations in 2016.


The Abbey that refused to die” is still an important place of worship, with regular Masses, vigils and retreats. Modern features include an abstract Way of the Cross, aRosary Way, an underground permanent Crib and a small museum.


A Passion Play called The Triumph of Easter has been staged by locals each Holy Week on the grounds of Ballintubber Abbey since 1982.


The Abbey has become a popular wedding venue, chosen by such well-known “celebrities” as actor Pierce Brosnan and Westlife lead singer Shane Filan for their nuptials.

The Celtic Furrow is a purpose built education and cultural centre that traces local heritage from Neolithic times to the present day.

Ballintubber is in the Tochar Valley, named for the Tochar Phádraig, the ancient pilgrimage route to Croagh Patrick, long defunct but now reopened as a cross-country trail / heritage route.

Ballintubber is linked by a scenic route passing several lakes with Aghagoweron ByRoute 1.


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