History of Mayo

Mayo Image 2 

County Mayo, in the province of Connacht, occupies a large part of the West Region, and is bound to the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean, the south by Co. Galway and the east by Co. Roscommon and Co. Sligo. Ireland's largest island, Achill, sits just off the coast of Co. Mayo and is home to the 2257 foot tall Croaghaun cliffs, the highest in the British Isles. Smaller, but no less dramatic, are the cliffs of Benwee Head that drop nine hundred feet straight down into the Atlantic. The tallest point in Co. Mayo is Mweelrea mountain, at 2670 feet, and the northwestern parts of the county are widely regarded as some of the best in the world when it comes to renewable energy resources. Castlebar is the county capital.

A huge collection of archaeological sites and remains can be found across Co. Mayo that date the first indigenous population back to the Neolithic period, some four to six thousand years ago. The first hunter/gatherers are known to have inhabited the coastal areas of Co. Mayo eleven thousand years ago, but only around 4000 BC did people begin to farm the land, raise cattle and put down roots to establish early settlements. During these ancient times, there was a great deal of megalithic tomb construction across the county.

As Christianity spread throughout Ireland with the Roman Empire retreating back across Europe, Saint Patrick is said to have visited Co. Mayo, and spent forty days and forty nights on Croagh Patrick praying for the people of Ireland. From around 550 AD onwards dozens of Christian monastic sites popped up across the county, such as Aughagower, Ballintubber, Cong, Errew, Killala and Mayo Abbey. Though these monasteries were subjected to regular plundering by Viking raiders, from 795 AD onwards, the invaders were not moved to build their own settlements in Co. Mayo as they did in many other parts of Ireland.

King Dermot MacMurrough requested help from the English throne, in 1169, to defeat his neighbouring enemies. This triggered the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland, with Co. Mayo being settled by English and Welsh colonists under Richard Mór de Burgh throughout the 1230s. However, after the collapse of the lordship in the 1330s the settlers were cut off from English rule in Dublin, and so immersed themselves deeply into the local, Gaelic-Irish culture, religion and population. In the seventeenth century, Protestant settlers from Scotland and England were even killed or driven out during the Rebellion.

Come the eighteenth century, and the wars in North America and France, the Irish too were ready to rebel again. This time, a small force from France landed in Killala and took Castlebar, declaring a new 'Republic of Connacht' with support from many powerful local families. However, as the new army marched towards Sligo and Leitrim, such was the size of the English force that suddenly stood before them, they surrendered within half an hour. Co. Mayo returned to the simpler, rural life it knew before.



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