A Short History of County Mayo


County Mayo, located in the west of Ireland, is the third largest county in the country with an area of 5,398 sq. km. (2,084 sq. miles) and a population of 110,713 according to the 1991 census. It extends from 53o28' to 54o21' north latitude and from 8o25' to 10o5' west longitude.

The county stretches from Lough Corrib and the long narrow fjord of Killary Harbour in the south to the barony of Erris and Killala Bay in the north, and from the Atlantic ocean on the west coast to the counties of Sligo and Roscommon on the east.

The county's attractions include delightful uncongested holiday resorts, excellent angling or fishing waters, exciting walking and mountain climbing trails, a good choice of golf courses, opportunities for many other types of activity-holidays, as well as some of the most interesting archeological and historical sites in Ireland.

It is the county of Croagh Patrick and Ballintubber Abbey, numerous mediaeval friaries, and the Marian Shrine of Knock, Mayo provides ideal and diverse habitats for wildlife, especially along its spectacular indented coastline and on offshore islands. Mayo is a place where visitors can relax and enjoy nature far removed from the hassle and pressure of modern city life. You name it, Mayo has it naturally!


It is a county with a varied landscape, scenic panoramas, natural amenities, a rich archaeological, historical and sporting heritage, which is of interest to the geologist, the botanist, the archaeologist, the historian, the angler, the mountain climber, the sporting enthusiast, the adventurist, the rambler and the tourist alike.

It is now a county with an international airport, which visitors can use to explore the beauty and attractions not only of Mayo, but also of the west of Ireland.

A wide variety of geological formations have created a wide diversity of topographical features in County Mayo.

The landscape varies from the relatively flat terrain in East Mayo, through large island-studded lakes, like Lough Conn, Lough Carra, Lough Mask, renowned for their game fishing and beauty, to the naked quartzite peaks along the indented Atlantic coast, with their rugged cliffs interspersed with flat clean sandy beaches.

The extensive tracts of blanket bog in North Mayo contrast with the mountains of South Mayo, and illustrate the diversity of scenic panoramas of the county, which vary from valley to valley.

Mweelrea (819m.), the highest mountain in Connacht situated just north of Killary Harbour, is the start of a mountain range: Ben Gorm, Ben Creggan, the Sheeffry Hills, Maumtrasna and the Partry mountains. This area has some of the most beautiful scenery in the county, which includes Doo Lough, Delphi Lodge, the Aasleagh Falls, Lough Mask, Lough Corrib, and Cong.

Further north, the landscape is dominated by Ireland's holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, (765m., 2,510 feet), where thousands of pilgrims annually have worn a path to the summit (where you have the church on the highest altitude in Ireland).

The view from the summit is enchanting on a clear day; the islands of Inishturk and Inishbofin rise out of the pounding Atlantic waves on the southwest, with Clare Island on the northwest, and the drumlin studded Clew Bay to the north with Achill Island in the background.

The Nephin Beg range of mountains lies north of Clew Bay, which give way to the blanket bog in North Mayo, and the spectacular sea-cliffs along the north Mayo coastline between Benwee Head and Downpatrick Head, and several sandy beaches all the way from the Mullet peninsula to Inishcrone in Co. Sligo.

Achill Island, the largest island off the coast of Ireland, is an important tourist resort with scenic cliffs and several delightful resorts like Keel, Dooega, and Keem. The island is dominated by the spectacular peaks of Croaghaun (668m) and Slievemore (627m.)

The chief rivers of the county are the Moy, Deel, Palmerstown, Ballinglin, Glenamoy, Owenmore, Owening, Owenduff, Newport, Bunowen, and the Erriff.


To speak of the 'history of County Mayo' before the latter part of the 16th century is in a sense anachronistic. For the county, as such, did not exist before Queen Elizabeth's Lord Deputy in Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, and his subordinates undertook the shiring of Connacht about the year 1570.

County Mayo got its name from the diocese of that name which evolved from a 7th century monastery established by Saint Colmán and some English monks on 'the plain of yews', about 3km. south of Balla.

Mayo became a diocese in the 12th century, but it was amalgamated with Tuam about 500 years later. When the county was established around 1570, it was called 'Mayo'after the famous monastery and diocese.

The Irish name for Mayo is Maigh Eo , which means 'plain of yew-trees'.

Evidence of this settlement are still visible in Mayo Abbey as it is now known and there is extensive work going on there at present with the intention of reroofing the old church (pre-famine) and turning it into an interpretive centre for the area.

In the following pages, an attempt is made to recount, as concisely as possible, the principal events which have shaped the history of the area now designated 'County Mayo'.


Bernard O'Hara and Nollaig Ó Muraíle have put together An Outline History of Mayo which is divided into smaller sections also:

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