From Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland (1900)

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Description of County Mayo | Pontoon | Clew Bay | Cong Abbey | Moyne Abbey | Mayo Map

NAME.—The county took its name from the little village of Mayo (near Balla in the southeast of the county), which is called in Gaelic Magh-eo (pron. Mayo), the plain or field of the yew trees; magh, a plain; eo, a yew. In the 7th century St. Colman, an Irish monk, having retired from the see of Lindisfarne, erected a monastery at the spot where the village now stands, in which he settled a number of English monks he had brought over with him; and for many ages afterward it was much resorted to by monks from England. Hence it came to be known by the name of Magheo-na-Saxan, or Mayo of the Saxons.

SIZE AND POPULATION.—Length, from the boundary east of Ballyhaunis to the coast opposite Eagle Island near Erris Head, 66 ½ miles; breadth, from Killary Harbor to Downpatrick Head, 54 miles; area, 2,126 square miles; population 245,212.

SURFACE.—The surface of Mayo is very much mixed and varied. There is a tract of level land north of Lough Conn, which extends 6 or 8 miles west from Killala Bay. The Mullet peninsula and a considerable breadth of country east of Blacksod Bay, are also level. The district made up of the north part of the barony of Erris and the northwest of the barony of Tirawley, is an elevated moor, relieved by a few mountains; the district south of this—lying south of the valley of the Owenmore River—from Lough Conn westward to the western extremity of Achill Island, is one great mass of mountains. The peninsula of Murrisk is all mountain, except a narrow belt of level land along the coast on the northwest. East of Clew Bay the country is level. With some few exceptions the rest of the county is level, namely, the greatest part of the baronies of Gallen, Costello, Clanmorris, Carra, and Kilmaine.

MOUNTAINS AND HILLS.—Beginning at the southwest. In the south of the peninsula of Murrisk, Muilrea (2,688), the highest mountain in Connaught, rises straight over Killary Harbor; further east, rising also over the same harbor, is Bengorm (2,303), and a mile further inland, Ben Creggan (2,283). On the north side of the same peninsula is Croagh Patrick (2,510), rising from the very seashore, a beautiful conical mountain, perfectly uniform in shape from whatsover side viewed, and commanding from its summit one of the finest views in Ireland, including the whole of Clew Bay with its numberless islands. This mountain was the scene of some interesting episodes in the life of St. Patrick; and it is celebrated in legend as the place whence the saint drove all the demon-reptiles of Ireland into the sea. Between its base and the sea are the interesting ruins of Murrisk Abbey.

The Partry Mountains are separated from the Murrisk group by the valley of the Erriff River. Of this range, which runs from southwest to northeast, Devil's Mother (2,131), and Maumtrasna (2,207) lie on the boundary with Galway; and futher to the northeast is Bohaun (1,294).

The vast mountain region west of Lough Conn begins magnificently with Nephin (2,646), a great detached dome, seen in its full height from the shores of Lough Conn. A little further west, separated from Nephin by a deep valley, is Birreencorragh (2,295); and passing another valley west of this we come to another group, containing Laght Dauhybaun (2369), Nephgin Beg (2,065), Glennamorig (2,067), and Bengorm (1,912).

In the moory region north of the Owenmore River are Slieve Fyagh (1,090), and Benmore (1,155). In Achill Island, Slievemore (2,204), in the north, rises over the sea; and in the west is Croaghaun (2,192), which exactly resembles Slieve League in Donegal, as it presents to the sea a face of rock the whole way down from summit to base—the most tremendous precipice in Ireland.

COASTLINE.—From Killala Bay west to Broad Haven Bay the coast is the abrupt termination of a high table land and presents to the sea a continued succession of perpendicular cliffs broken and pierced by fissures in an extraordinary way, some of the grandest sea cliffs in Ireland. All the western coast is broken and infinitely varied; that of the Mullet peninsula and round a great part of Clew Bay being generally flat; while the coasts of Achill and of the Merrisk peninsula are bold and rocky, and in many places magnificent.

HEADLANDS.—Beginning at Killala Bay and going round from right to left: Benwee or Kilcummin Head marks on the west the entrance to Killala Bay; Downpatrick Head, near it, is a fine, bold, scarped promontory. Benwee Head is the turning point of the coast to the southwest; Erris Head is the northwest extremity of the county; Annagh Head lies on the west side of the Mullet peninsula. At the west end of Achill Island is Achill Head, a long sharp point of rock like a spur projecting from Croaghaun Mountain; and Emlagh Point is the northwest extremity of the Murrisk peninsula.

ISLANDS.—The islands of Mayo are very numerous, and many of the mare large and important; all the larger islands are inhabited. Achill Island is the largest round the Irish coast, and is separated from the mainland by a narrow strait running north and south, of which the north half is called Achill Sound. The island is shaped somewhat like a triangle, measuring about 15 miles along the base from Achill Beg Island to Achill Head, and containing 50 square miles. There is much bog and moor, interspersed with patches of arable land; and the surface is for the most part elevated, especially in the north and west, where there are lofty mountains; its coasts abound in great sea cliffs. Inishbiggle lies between Achill and the mainland; between that again and the mainland is Annagh Island; and immediately beside the southern extremity of Achill is Achill Beg. To the east of the southern end of Achill is the rugged peninsula called Curraun, which is very nearly insulated by Bellacraher Bay.

Taking first the islands south of Achill: Clare Island stands in front of Clew Bay, 3 miles from Achill; it is 4 ½ miles long by about 2 miles broad, and contains 6 square miles. It rises 1,520 feet at its western side, and presents a fine appearance from the mainland, looking like a gigantic fortress standing up out of the sea. Five miles southwest of Clare Island is Inishturk, which is 2 ½ miles long, near which on the east is the little island of Caher; and 4 miles southwest of Inishturk is Inishbofin, which is 4 miles long, and contains 5 square miles. Beside Inishbofin on the west is Inishshark, a mile and a-half in length; and near Inishbofin on the east are the two little islands Inishlyon and Davillaun. Outside the mouth of Killary Harbor is the small rocky island of Inisdegil More. In Clew Bay, near the coast, there is an extraordinary cluster of islands, almost innumerable, most of them low and grassy or sandy; of which the most important are Inishlyre and Island More.

North of Achill: Duvillaun More lies near the south point of the Mullet peninsula; and 2 miles west from the south end of the same peninsula are the two adjacent islands of Inishkea North and Inishkea South, both of which contain ecclesiastical ruins, the remains of a nunnery and its branches established there in the primitive ages of the church by the virgin saint Kea, and maintained on the islands for many ages afterward. North of this, and about a mile from the shore of the Mullet peninsula, is the little island of Inishglora, containing the ruins of a monastery founded in the 6th century in honor of "St. Brendan the Navigator;" it was formerly believed that human bodies buried or deposited on this island never corrupted, but remained so fresh that the hair and nails continued to grow for years after death.

The long, low sandy island of Bartragh, in Killala Bay, was the scene of some of St. Patrick's labors in Connaught. The peninsula west and north of Belmullet, extending from Erris Head in the north to Fallmore in the south is called The Mullet, and is very nearly insulated, being connected with the mainland by only a very narrow neck at Belmullet.

BAYS AND HARBORS.—Killala Bay, at the mouth of the Moy River, lies between Mayo and Sligo; off which on the west is the small bay of Rathfran. Proceeding regularly round the coast, we come first to Bunatrahir Bay, immediately west of Downpatrick Head. Broad Haven Bay strikes deeply between Benwee Head and Erris Head. Blacksod Bay, a capacious inlet, sheltered on the outside by Achill and the Mullet peninsula, branches inland into Trawmore Bay, Tullaghan Bay, Bellacragher Bay, and Achill Sound. Keel Bay indents the middle of the south side of Achill Island. Clew Bay fringed on the east with a complicated cluster of islands, cuts deeply into the land, is guarded by Clare Island in front, and is confined at its entrance, on the north by the Curraun peninsula, and on the south by the peninsula of Murrisk, all mountainous; off Clew Bay is Westport Bay at the southeast, and Newport Bay at the northeast. On the south of the Murris peninsula is Killary Harbor, at the mouth of the Erriff River, which resembles a Norwegian fiord, being long, narrow, and winding, and overtopped by towering mountains.

RIVERS.—The Moy, coming from Sligo, enters Mayo 5 miles northeast of Swineford, makes a semicircular sweep through the county, and forms the boundary between Mayo and Sligo from a point 2 ½ miles above Ballina down to the mouth. From the Mayo side it is joined (a little above Foxford) by the Gweestion River, which is formed by the rivers Glore and Pollagh. At the mouth of Killala Bay, the Cloonaghmore River runs into the little bay of Rathfran. The river Deel rises in Birreencorragh Mountain, and after a very winding course enters the upper or north end of Lough Conn. The Clydagh enters Lough Cullin at its south end; and the overflow of both lakes runs from Lough Cullin into the Moy.

West of Lough Conn, the Crumpaun River rises in the eastern slopes of Birreencorragh, and flows into Lough Beltra; issuing from which it is called the Newport River, and flows into Newport Bay. In the southwest of the county, the Erriff—a very beautiful stream—flows through a fine valley into the head of Killary Harbor, being joined on the west or right bank by the Owenmore. In the Murrisk peninsula are the Owenwee, running into Westport Bay; and the Bunowen into Clew Bay. The Aille rises in the Partry Mountains, near the source of the Erriff, and running first north and afterward south, it enters the head of Lough Mask; at the turn from north to south it flows for two miles under ground.

In the south the Robe, flowing in a very winding course westward, passes by Holly mount and Ballinrobe, and enters the east side of Lough Mask; near which, a little to the north, the Manulla flows southward into Lough Carra. At the extreme southern corner, the Black River flows west into Lough Corrib, forming the boundary between Mayo and Galway for about 4 miles. And in the southeast the Dalgan forms the boundary of the same two counties, after which it enters Galway. In the east of the county, the river Lung, running in a general direction northeast, sometimes through Roscommon, sometimes through Mayo, and sometimes on the boundary, falls near Ballaghaderreen into Lough Garra.

LAKES.—The lakes of Mayo are almost innumerable. Lough Conn is one of the largest and finest lakes in Ireland, being 9 miles long, with an average breadth of about 2 ½ miles; area 24 ½ square miles; at its lower or southern extremity is Lough Cullin, an expansion in immediate connection with it, shaped like a rectangle, 2 ½ miles long and 2 miles broad. Lough Conn drains into Lough Cullin, and this into the Moy (which runs close by on the east), by a river channel half a mile long.

In the south, the beautiful Lough Carra is 6 miles long and very intricate in shape; and south of this are Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, both on the boundary with Galway. A chain of lakes stretches from near Westport to Castlebar; the chief of which are Islandeady Lake, 1 ½ mile long; and Castlebar Lake, 3 miles long and very narrow. Near Newport, north of these, is Beltra Lake, a fine sheet of water, 2 ½ miles long; and near it on the west Lough Feeagh, with which is connected Furnace Lake at the southern end. Lough Carrowmore, 4 miles long, lies in the northwest, near Belmullet. On the eastern boundary lies Lough Gara, a small part of which belongs to this county.

In the south of the Murrisk peninsula is a chain of small lakes, viz., Glencullin Lough, Lough Doo, and Fin Lough, which are remarkable for their beautiful scenery. In the southeast, near Ballyhaunis, are Mannin Lake, Island Lake, Lough Caheer, and Urlaur Lake. Scattered over almost, every part of the county are lakes which would be remarkable in other counties, but which are too numerous to mention here.

TOWNS.—Ballina (5,760, of whom 1,442 are in that part of the town lying in Sligo) is built on both sides of the Moy the eastern or Sligo suburb being named Ardnaree. The other towns on the Moy and its tributaries are; Foxford (611), on the main stream; Swineford (1,657), on a small tributary, and 1 ½ miles from the Moy itself; and higher up still Charlestown (778), on another tributary.

The following towns are on the coast: Westport (14,469), a well built and pretty town with a good trade; it stands on Westport Bay just where the mountain stream the Carrowbeg which runs through the middle of the town enters the bay. Three miles southeast of Westport is the hamlet of Aghagower, where St. Patrick during his missionary journey through Connaught, founded a church; the place subsequently grew to be an important religious center, and it now contains the venerable ruins of a round tower and of an abbey. West from Westport Louisburgh (546) stands on the Bunowen River, half a mile from the shore. In the extreme northwest of the county, Belmullet (852), a neat little town standing on the narrow isthmus connecting the Mullet peninsula with the mainland, is the capital of all that western district. Killala (700) stands on the shore of Killala Bay, having a round tower. Newport (688), on Newport Bay, 3 miles north of Westport.

Near the middle of the county is Castlebar (3,855), the assize town; and some miles to the east is Kiltamagh (935). A little to the south of both of these is Balla (419), now an unimportant village but once a place of ecclesiastical eminence; St. Mochua founded a church there in the 7th century; and it now contains the ruins of a church and a round tower. Near this, on the south, is the hamlet of Mayo, in which are the ruins of an abbey. This place was very famous in early ages; prince Aldfrid, afterward king of the Northumbrian Saxons, was educated here in the 7th century (among his countrymen, the colony of Saxon monks established by St. Colman); and there is extant a poem in the ancient Irish language in praise of "Inisfail," or Ireland, said to have been composed by him.

In the southern projection of the county is Ballinrobe (2,286), on the river Robe. Southward from Ballinrobe, on the neck of land between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, is the hamlet of Cong (277), containing the beautiful ruins of an abbey. In the abbey of this place Roderick O'Conor, the last native king of Ireland, spent the last 15 years of his life in religious seclusion; died 1198. The "Cross of Cong," the most beautiful work of ancient Irish art in existence, is now preserved in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

In the southeast are Claremorris (1,319); and not far from it to the east, Ballyhaunis (722), near the eastern boundary. Near the extreme east end is Ballaghaderreen (1,598). In the northeast, a little west of Ballina, is Crossmolina (765), on the river Deel, near the shore of Lough Conn.

ANCIENT DIVISIONS AND DESIGNATIONS.—The present barony of Erris represents the ancient Irros Domnann. There were in old times two districts called Umall, or as they are often called in English, The Owles, namely—Upper Umall, south of Clew Bay, now called the peninsula of Murrisk; and Lower Umall, extending along the north side of Clew Bay, whose name is preserved in the last syllable of the barony name, Burrishoole. The Umalls were the patrimony of the O'Malleys. The barony of Tirawley retains its ancient name and position—the land (tir) of Awley, who was first cousin to Owen and Conall from whom Tirowen and Tirconnell derived their names. (See Donegal and Tyrone.)

The ancient territory of North Hy Fiachrach tor Hy Fiachrach of the Moyt lay on both sides of the Moy, including the barony of Tireragh in Sligo, and all the north of Mayo, viz., the baronies of Tirawley, Erris, and Carra. (See Galway for South Hy Fiachracht). One of the districts called Conmacne (see Galway), lay in the south of this county, viz., Commacne Cuile Toladh, occupying what is now called the barony of Kilmaine.

The plain lying immediately to the northeast of Cong is the ancient Moytura of Cong, or Southern Moytura (see Sligo, for the Northern Moytura) where was fought a great battle celebrated in romance and legend, in which the Dedannans defeated the Firbolgs, and took possession of Ireland. The plain is to this day full of ancient graves, sepulchral mounds, and cromlechs.

Description of County Mayo | Pontoon | Clew Bay | Cong Abbey | Moyne Abbey | Mayo Map

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