County Mayo in the province of Connacht

County Mayo in the Irish province of Connacht
by Bonnie Easton

County Mayo is the third largest county in Ireland, covering 2,156 square miles in the province of Connacht.

Located on the western coast of Ireland, it contains in its center some of the most fertile land of the province, but its eastern and western regions are mostly barren. The landscape is covered with lakes and the low peaks. The most famous of which are Nephin and Croagh Patrick.

Legend says that Saint Patrick himself spent time on Croagh Patrick on which stands the highest church in the country. Achill Island, the largest island off Ireland's coast, sits to the west, now connected by a bridge. The west of the county contains the largest bog in Ireland.

The earliest settlements in Mayo are dated at 4000 B.C. An assortment of conquerors and events shaped the history of this county. From the fourth to the sixth century, monastic sites were established. The Vikings arrived in the eighth century, plundering the monasteries. Round towers were built at the sites to provide lookouts to warn of oncoming attacks.

Mayo came under Norman control in 1235. Many new friaries and abbeys were built. Mayo became a county in 1570. The Pirate Queen, Grace O'Malley, lived in Mayo and offered her ships to help in local wars.

In 1588, the galleons of the Spanish Armada were wrecked by a storm along the west coast of Ireland. Some of the Spaniards came ashore in Mayo, only to be robbed, imprisoned, or slaughtered.

The Cromwellian Settlement of 1641-1651 displaced settlers in Ireland to Mayo with Oliver Cromwell's famous slogan "to Hell or Connacht."

The Great Famine of 1845-1849 hit County Mayo particularly hard. The population was 388,917 in 1841 and has never recovered. Over 100,000 died and about the same number emigrated. Most of the emigrants came to America. The 2002 census showed that the population in Mayo was still hovering around 117,000.

The Mayo Land League was founded in 1879, which placed land in the hands of tenant farmers. In the war that followed, the people attempted to ostracize a landlord's agent named Captain Hugh Boycott, thus leading to the word "boycott" becoming synonymous in the English language with "social ostracism."

Today, Mayo is a popular tourist attraction for Our Lady's Shrine at Knock where local people claimed to have seen a vision of The Virgin Mary in 1879.

The John Wayne-Maureen O'Hara movie The Quiet Man was filmed in the city of Cong during the early 1950s.

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