Mayo: The distant past that shaped our present

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The ancient history of Mayo is rich, fascinating and dotted around the rugged landscape for all to see. Archaeologists continue to break new ground and open up new information and perspectives on what previously could only be guessed at.  

Among the things we do know from is that humans have lived in Mayo for around 11,000 years. It is in the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, period, from 4,000 BC on, that we see increasing evidence of that human settlement throughout Mayo.

Megalithic tombs, which are impressive and elaborate burial monuments, are characteristic of this period and can be found all over the county.

The most well-known record of the extensive agriculture and sophisticated culture of the period has been unearthed at the Ceide Fields in North Mayo. An extensive set of fields, lined out and farmed to a high level of sophistication and productivity, have been identified and mapped in what is one of the world’s outstanding archaeological finds.

The people who farmed these fields were sophisticated, had a rich diet, had complex belief-systems, and traded far beyond their immediate surroundings. We know also that an ancient climate change had a major bearing on the decline and disappearance of their community.

The Neolithic moved into the Bronze Age, and archaeologists have found evidence of human civilisation in the standing stones and in the cooking apparatuses known as fulachta fiadha, both of which can be found all over the county.

Mayo is full of all sorts of ancient archaeology – check out the Clew Bay Archaeological Trail to find out more about this history and to get information about visiting some of the sites from this fantastic resource.

Celtic and Christian Ireland – Before the Invasion

The coming of the Iron Age, around 500 BC, is when it is thought the Celtic peoples came to Ireland, bringing with them a language which would become modern Gaelic.

This period was a time of territorial fights between clans, who were organised into small local kingdoms, as well as the widespread practice of slave-trading. It also saw the introduction of the first written language, Ogham, the development of the great epic tales of Ireland and, in the later part of the period, the arrival of Christianity.

St Patrick, among other missionaries, brought Christianity to Ireland and Patrick’s association with Mayo is multi-layered.

Croagh Patrick, known as the Reek, is long associated with a story of Patrick spending forty days and forty nights at its summit, praying for peace in the land.

The ancient pilgrim route, known as the Tochar Phadraig (Patrick’s Causeway) is well associated with the saint and is still in use today.

Ballintubber Abbey, one of the most beautiful churches along that journey, is a centre of the pilgrim route.

The growth of Christianity in Mayo saw the development of many religious sites and churches. From the late 8th century on, the Vikings began to raid Ireland and religious sites became a particular target for their attacks. While the Vikings left no permanent settlement in Mayo, as they did in other parts of Ireland in the form of many of our cities, their raiding along the coastline must have made its impact. It is commonly believed that Round Towers were built to provide defence against these attacks, and whether this is true or not, five fine examples of them can be found in Mayo – at Turlough, Meelick, Killala, Aughagower and Balla.

The name ‘Mayo’ itself comes from the Abbey founded by St Coleman in the 7th Century, in a place now known as Mayo Abbey. The Gaelic name ‘Maigh Eo’ for Mayo means ‘Plain of the Yew Trees’. Continue to  THE MIDDLE AGES

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