County Mayo (Irish: Maigh Eo, meaning "Plain of the yew trees") is a county in Ireland. It is located in the West Region, and it is also part of the province of Connacht. It is named after the village of Mayo, which is now generally known as Mayo Abbey. Mayo County Council is the local authority for the county. The population of the county is 130,638 according to the 2011 census. The boundaries of the county, which was formed in 1585, reflect the Mac William Íochtar lordship at that time.
County Mayo has a long history and prehistory.
Throughout the county there is a wealth of archaeological remains from the Neolithic period (approx 4,000BC to 2,500BC), particularly in terms of megalithic tombs and ritual stone circles.
The first people who came to Ireland – mainly to coastal areas as the interior was heavily forested – arrived during the Middle Stone Age, as long as eleven thousand years ago. Artefacts of hunter/gatherers are sometimes found in middens, rubbish pits around hearths where people would have rested and cooked over large open fires. Once cliffs erode, midden-remains become exposed as blackened areas containing charred stones, bones, and shells. They are usually found a metre below the surface. Mesolithic people did not have major rituals associated with burial, unlike those of the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period.
The Neolithic period followed the Mesolithic around 6,000 years ago. People began to farm the land, domesticate animals for food and milk, and settle in one place for longer periods. The people had skills such as making pottery, building houses from wood, weaving, and knapping (stone tool working). The first farmers cleared forestry to graze livestock and grow crops. In North Mayo, where the ground cover was fragile, thin soils washed away and blanket bog covered the land farmed by the Neolithic people.
Extensive pre-bog field systems have been discovered under the blanket bog, particularly along the North Mayo coastline in Erris and north Tyrawley at sites such as the Céide Fields, centred on the north east coast.
The Neolithic people developed rituals associated with burying their dead; this is why they built huge, elaborate, galleried stone tombs for their dead leaders, known nowadays as megalithic tombs. There are over 160 recorded megaliths in County Mayo, such as Faulagh.
There are four distinct types of Irish megalithic tombs type--court tombs, portal tombs, passage tombs and wedge tombs—examples of all four types can be found in County Mayo. Areas particularly rich in megalithic tombs include Achill, Kilcommon, Ballyhaunis, Killala and the Behy/Glenurla area around the Céide Fields.
Bronze Age (2,500 BC to approx 500 BC)
Megalithic tomb building continued into the Bronze Age when metal began to be worked for tools alongside the stone tools. The Bronze Age lasted from approx 4,500 years ago to 2,500 years ago (2,500BC to 500BC). Archaeological remains from this period include stone alignments, stone circles and fulachta fiadh (early cooking sites). They continued to bury their chieftains in megalithic tombs which changed design during this period, more being of the wedge tomb type and cist burials.
Iron Age (500 BC to 500 AD approx)
Around 2,500 years ago the Iron Age took over from the Bronze Age as more and more metalworking took place. This is thought to have coincided with the arrival of Celtic speaking peoples and the introduction of the ancestor of Irish. Towards the end of this period, the Roman Empire was at its height in Britain but it is not thought that the Roman Empire extended into Ireland to any large degree. Remains from this period, which lasted until the Early Christian period began about 325AD (with the arrival of St. Patrick into Ireland, as a slave) include crannógs (Lake dwellings), promontory forts, ringforts and souterrains of which there are numerous examples across the county. The Iron Age was a time of tribal warfare with kingships, each fighting neighbouring kings, vying for control of territories and taking slaves. Territories were marked by tall stone markers, Ogham stones, using the first written down words using the Ogham alphabet. The Iron Age is the time period in which the tales of the Ulster Cycle and sagas took place. The Táin Bó Flidhais which took place mainly in Erris sets the scene well.
Early Christian Period (325 AD - 800 AD approx)
Christianity came to Ireland around the start of the 5th century AD. It brought many changes including the introduction of writing and recording events. The tribal 'tuatha' and the new religious settlements existed side by side. Sometimes it suited the chieftains to become part of the early Churches, other times they remained as separate entities. St. Patrick (4th century AD) may have spent time in County Mayo and it is believed that he spent forty days and forty nights on Croagh Patrick praying for the people of Ireland. From the middle of the 6th century hundreds of small monastic settlements were established around the county. Some examples of well-known early monastic sites in Mayo include Mayo Abbey, Aughagower, Ballintubber, Errew, Cong, Killala, Turlough on the outskirts of Castlebar, and island settlements off the Mullet Peninsula like the Inishkea Islands, Inishglora and Duvillaun.
In 795AD the first of the Viking raids took place. The Vikings came from Scandinavia to raid the monasteries as they were places of wealth with precious metal working taking place in them. Some of the larger ecclesiastical settlements erected round towers to prevent their precious items being plundered and also to show their status and strength against these pagan raiders from the north. There are round towers at Aughagower, Balla, Killala, Turlough and Meelick. The Vikings established settlements which later developed into towns (Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Waterford etc..) but none were in County Mayo. Between the reigns of Kings of Connacht Cathal mac Conchobar mac Taidg (973-1010) and Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (1106–1156), various tribal territories were incorporated into the kingdom of Connacht and ruled by the Siol Muirdaig dynasty, based initially at Rathcroghan in County Roscommon, and from c. 1050 at Tuam. The families of O'Malley and O'Dowd of Mayo served as admirals of the fleet of Connacht, while families such as O'Lachtnan, Mac Fhirbhisigh, O'Cleary were ecclesiastical and bardic clans.
Anglo-Normans (12th to 16th centuries)
From 1169 AD when one of the warring kings (Dermot MacMurrough) in the east of Ireland appealed to the King of England for help in his fight with a neighbouring king, the response of which was the arrival of the Anglo-Norman colonisation of Ireland. County Mayo came under Norman control in 1235AD. Norman control meant the eclipse of many Gaelic lords and chieftains, chiefly the O'Connors of Connacht. During the 1230s, the Anglo-Normans and Welsh under Richard Mór de Burgh (c. 1194-1242 invaded and settled in the county, introducing new families such as Burke, Gibbons, Staunton, Prendergast, Morris, Joyce, Walsh, Barrett, Lynott, Costello, Padden and Price, Norman names are still common in County Mayo. Following the collapse of the lordship in the 1330s, all these families became estranged from the Anglo-Irish administration based in Dublin and assimilated with the Gaelic-Irish, adopting their language, religion, dress, laws, customs and culture and marrying into Irish families. They "became more Irish than the Irish themselves".
The most powerful clan to emerge during this era were the Mac William Burkes, also known as the Mac William Iochtar (see Burke Civil War 1333-1338), descended from Sir William Liath de Burgh, who defeated the Gaelic-Irish at the Second Battle of Athenry in August 1316. They were frequently at war with their cousins, Clanricarde of Galway, and in alliance with or against various factions of the O'Conor's of Siol Muiredaig and O'Kelly's of Uí Maine. The O'Donnell's of Tyrconnell regularly invaded in an attempt to secure their right to rule.
The Anglo Normans encouraged and established many religious orders from continental Europe to settle in Ireland. Mendicant orders—Augustinians, Carmelites, Dominicans and Franciscans began new settlements across Ireland and built large churches, many under the patronage of prominent Gaelic families. Some of these sites include Cong, Strade, Ballintubber, Errew, Burrishoole Abbey and Mayo Abbey. During the 15th and 16th centuries, despite regular conflicts between them as England chopped and changed between religious beliefs, the Irish usually regarded the King of England as their King. When Queen Elizabeth 1 came to the throne in the mid-16th century, the English people, as was customary at that time, followed the religious practices of the reigning Monarch and became Protestant. Many Irish people such as Gráínne O'Malley, the famous pirate queen had close relationships with the English monarchy and the English kings and queens were welcome visitors to Irish shores. The Irish however, generally held onto their Catholic religious practices and beliefs. The early plantations of settlers in Ireland began during the reign of Queen Mary in the mid-16th century and continued throughout the long reign of Queen Elizabeth I until 1603. By then the term County Mayo had come into use. In the summer of 1588 the galleons of the Spanish Armada were wrecked by storms along the west coast of Ireland. Some of the hapless Spaniards came ashore in Mayo, only to be robbed and imprisoned, and in many cases slaughtered. Almost all the religious foundations set up by the Anglo Normans were suppressed in the wake of the Reformation in the 16th century.
Protestant settlers from Scotland, England, and elsewhere in Ireland, settled in the County in the early 17th century. Many would be killed or forced to flee because of the 1641 Rebellion, during which a number of massacres were committed by the Catholic Gaelic Irish, most notably at Shrule in 1642. A third of the overall population was reported to have perished due to warfare, famine and plague between 1641 and 1653, with several areas remaining disturbed and frequented by Reparees into the 1670s.
17th and 18th centuries
Pirate Queen Gráinne O'Malley is probably the best known person from County Mayo from the mid-16th to the turn of the 17th century. In the 1640s when Oliver Cromwell overthrew the English monarchy and set up a parliamentarian government, Ireland suffered severely. With a stern regime in absolute control needing to pay its armies and friends, the need to pay them with grants of land in Ireland led to the 'to hell or to Connaught' policies. Displaced native Irish families from other (eastern and southern mostly) parts of the country were either forced to leave the country, often as slaves, or (if they had been well behaved and compliant with the orders of the parliamentarians) awarded grants of land 'west of the Shannon' and put off their own lands in the east. The land in the west was divided and sub-divided between more and more people as huge estates were granted on the best land in the east to those who best pleased the English. Mayo does not seem to have been affected much during the Williamite War in Ireland, though many natives were outlawed and exiled.
For the vast majority of people in County Mayo the 18th century was a period of unrelieved misery. Because of the penal laws, Catholics had no hope of social advancement while they remained in their native land. Some, like William Brown (1777–1857), left Foxford with his family at the age of nine and thirty years later was an admiral in the fledgling Argentine Navy. Today he is a national hero in that country.
The general unrest in Ireland was felt just as keenly across Mayo and as the 18th century approached and news reached Ireland about the American War of Independence and the French Revolution, the downtrodden Irish, constantly suppressed by Government policies and decisions from Dublin and London, began to rally themselves for their own stand against English rule in their country. By 1798 the Irish were ready for rebellion. The French came to help the Irish cause. General Humbert, from France landed in Killala with over 1,000 officers where they started to march across the county towards Castlebar where there was an English garrison. Taking them by surprise Humbert's army was victorious. He established a 'Republic of Connacht' with one of the Moore family from Moore Hall near Partry. Humbert's army marched on towards Sligo, Leitrim and Longford where they were suddenly faced with a massive English army and were forced to surrender in less than half an hour. The French soldiers were treated honourably, but for the Irish the surrender meant slaughter. Many died on the scaffold in towns like Castlebar and Claremorris, where the high sheriff for County Mayo, the Honourable Denis Browne, M.P., brother of Lord Altamont, wreaked a terrible vengeance - thus earning for himself the nickname which has survived in folk-memory to the present day, 'Donnchadh an Rópa' (Denis of the Rope).
In the 18th century and early 19th century, sectarian tensions arose as evangelical Protestant missionaries sought to 'redeem the Irish poor from the errors of Popery'. One of the best known was the Rev. Edward Nangle's mission at Dugort in Achill. These too were the years of the campaign for Catholic Emancipation and, later, for the abolition of the tithes, which a predominately Catholic population was forced to pay for the upkeep of the clergy of the Established (Protestant) Church.
19th and 20th centuries
During the early years of the 19th century, famine was a common occurrence, particularly where population pressure was a problem. The population of Ireland grew to over eight million people prior to the Irish Famine of 1845/47 The Irish people depended on the potato crop for their sustenance. Disaster struck in August 1845, when a killer fungus (later diagnosed as Phytophthora infestans) started to destroy the potato crop. When widespread famine struck, about a million people died and a further million left the country. People died in the fields from starvation and disease. The catastrophe was particularly bad in County Mayo, where nearly ninety per cent of the population depended on the potato as their staple food. By 1848, Mayo was a county of total misery and despair, with any attempts at alleviating measures in complete disarray.
A small poverty-stricken place called Knock, County Mayo, made headlines when it was announced that an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John had taken place there on 21 August 1879, witnessed by fifteen local people.
A national movement was initiated in County Mayo during 1879 by Michael Davitt, James Daly, and others, which brought about the greatest social change ever witnessed in Ireland. Michael Davitt, a labourer whose family had moved to England joined forces with Charles Stewart Parnell to win back the land for the people from the landlords and stop evictions for non payment of rents.
A new word came into the English language through an incident that occurred in Mayo. An English landlord called Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott could get no workers to do anything for him, so unpleasant as he was to them, so he brought in Protestant workers from elsewhere. He spent so much on security and protection for them that his harvest cost him a fortune and also nobody in the area would serve him in shops, or deal with him. This ostracisation became known as "boycotting" and Captain Boycott was left with no option but to leave Mayo and take his family with him to England.
The "Land Question" was gradually resolved by a scheme of state-aided land purchase schemes. The tenants became the owners of their lands under the newly set-up Land Commission.
A Mayo nun, Mother Agnes Morrogh-Bernard (1842–1932), set up the Foxford Woollen Mill in 1892. She made Foxford synonymous throughout the world with high quality tweeds, rugs and blankets. Mayo has remained an essentially rural community to the present day.
Mayo in the Annals of Lough Cé
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article County Limerick. especially the section "Geography and political subdivisions" and its subsections "Baronies" and "Towns and villages"