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Short History of Mayo


Mayo's geological landscape holds the story of land connections with places and cultures, which today lie oceans apart. The long and turbulent geological history of the West of Ireland, which stretches back hundreds of millions of years, contains tales of colliding continents and the fusing of North America with parts of North West Ireland. An ancient, grinding force threw up mountain chains which today have remnants stretching from the Appalachians and Newfoundland, to Connacht and Ulster, to Scotland and finally through east Greenland to Scandinavia. Connections in the more recent past, some 20,000 years ago after the last great Ice Age, link Ireland to Scotland, Wales and England via land bridges, which were subsequently drowned by rising sea levels perhaps as recently as 8000 years ago.

It is on this geological landscape that the flora and fauna, and eventually human settlement, developed in Mayo that is demonstrated by the dated evidence of pastoral farming at Céide Fields some 5700 years ago.

Ceide Fields Neolithic Site

 File:Ceide Fields Neolithic Site.JPG


Mayo's rich archaeological landscape and its attendant cultures are evidenced in the many megalithic tombs and finds of bronze and gold artifacts some dated from about 3500 years ago. Stone circles, stone alignments and standing stones indicate ritual cultures which are comparable to those in Ulster, Scotland, Wales, England, France and Iberia. The formal coming of Christianity to Ireland some 1570 years ago marked further connections with Britain and the continent and in Mayo the parallel development of Patrician and Columban Church. The Columban tradition in Mayo was marked by strong connections with Ulster, Scotland and Northumbria. Farming settlements in the form of groupings of ringforts developed around the monastic sites.

With the coming of the Normans some 830 years ago there were further changes in the landscape with the establishment of estates and the medieval towns. The introduction and maintenance of large estates and landlords subsequently deeply affected rural life in the West of Ireland. This caused a dependency culture in land ownership and land use to exist that was to underlie the outcome of the Great Famine of 150 years ago. Mayo, along with other western counties, suffered great deprivations, which forced, for the more fortunate survivors, connections through emigration, to be made with North America and Australia.

Croagh Patrick, the saddle on the western flanks

File:Croagh Patrick, the saddle on the western flanks - geograph.org.uk - 605872.jpg

We must not forget that Mayo, being a coastal county, undoubtedly has a largely untold maritime history. This hidden history must be pervasive through archaeological and historical time and must provide vital connections in time and place to Mayo from a wider world.

Kevin Barton

Convener, Conference Organising Committee