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Mayo is a county located in the province of Connacht (also referred to as Connaught) on the west coast of Ireland. An oceanic climate affects the county, and much of the geography is characterized by mountain ranges, grasslands, and farmlands, as well as a few urban areas. Mweelrea is the highest mountain peak, reaching a height of 819 meters.[1] The shorelines are comprised of several high, rocky cliffs, most prominently in Achill Head, Erris Head, and the Clare Island Cliffs. Additionally, along the coastline is the Atlantic Drive, which draws a considerable number of tourists annually, especially those who take an interest in exploring County Mayo. The county also features many historic sites, some of which date back from the 9th to the 12th century. The round castles, in particular, were built during this time period, and Mayo is home to five of these structures.[2] An event that took place in the 1800s, known as the Great Famine, was one of the most impactful times in County Mayo's history, and several sites can be found throughout the county in remembrance of the tragedy.

What Mayo is known for

Located in the western region of Ireland, County Mayo occupies an expanse of land, with an area of 5,398 square kilometers, making it the third largest county in the country. The 1991 census reported nearly 110,713 total residents inhabiting Mayo, and the 2016 census recorded 130,425 people. The name of the county derives from the Irish words “Maigh Eo,” which translates to “plain of the yew trees.” To the north and west of Mayo, the Atlantic Ocean borders the county, followed by County Galway to the south of Mayo, with County Roscommon to the east, and, finally, County Sligo located to the northeast.[1]

One of the biggest draws for tourism in County Mayo is the Atlantic Drive along the southern shores of Achill Island. The route is most popularly known for its coastal scenery. Additionally, near this road is Grace O’Malley’s Towerhouse, also known as the Kildavnet Castle. The structure was built in the year 1429 by the O’Malley Clan, with an extensive background in nautical history. Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen that the site was named after, lived in the castle, additionally owning another fort called Rockfleet Castle in Clew Bay, plus a tower located on Clare Island.[7] Another castle in County Mayo that a considerable number of tourists visit annually is the Ashford Castle near Cong on the borders of Mayo and Galway. Over the course of the centuries that it has existed, the castle was expanded and converted into a hotel that visitors can currently stay in. The building is designed to have a medieval and Victorian style.[8]

Several visitors come to Mayo to engage in outdoor activities. Keel Beach, in particular, is often visited by those who appeal to such outdoor recreation. Another activity is horseback riding, which can be provided by a notable attraction called the Carrowholly Stables & Trekking Centre. Beach and trail rides are offered, as well as pony camps and group parties. For those who take interest in exploring the various historical sites that Mayo has to offer, the Westport House & Gardens tells visitors about the historical significance of the building. As stated on Trip Advisor, the site is known to be “Ireland’s Most Beautiful Home.” An on-site pirate park is also situated on the acreage of Westport House & Gardens.[9] 


Mayo’s coastline is fragmentary, with several bits of land disconnected from the county’s whole. Many inlets are scattered from Killala Bay in the north to Killary Harbour in the south. To the north of Killary Harbour is where the mountain ranges of Mweelrea reside, which is the highest mountain in Connacht at 819 meters. Lower peaks, such as Nephin and Croagh Patrick characterize the topography as well. Farmlands in the north and west of the county are relatively smaller in size, though about one-fourth of the population is employed in agriculture.[4] Mayo additionally features several high cliffs along the edge of the sea at Achill Head, as well as Erris Head, and the Clare Island Cliffs. An abundance of seabirds can be found there, such as kittiwake, fulmar, puffins, peregrine falcons, oystercatchers, and turnstones.[1]

Belmullet is a city in Mayo that is home to several types of plants, namely deer-grass, purple-moor grass, black bog rush, marsh saxifrage, white-beaked sedge, bog myrtle, and bell heather, among several others. A few of the more prominent wildlife species that inhabit the area are Greenland white-fronted geese, golden plover, red grouse, and otters. A fair amount of endangered animals can also be found primarily in the Inis Gé Islands including seabirds and grey seals.[6] Throughout the county, a wide range of bird species reside, many of which can be viewed in some of the designated bird conservation areas. During the winter, the barnacle goose, the whooper swan, the common scoter, and the ringed plover visit the area, while in the summer, the corncrake, the lapwing, the twite, the snipe, and the dunlin are more typical. As for insects, dragonflies and butterflies tend to be some of the more rare species. Many types of fish inhabit the waters of County Mayo, including the Atlantic salmon and the brown trout in different rivers of the county, more particularly in Errif, Moy, Delphi, and Deel.[1] 

County Mayo is influenced by an oceanic climate. Based on tourism statistics, the best month of the year to visit Mayo is July, due to temperatures that are warmer compared to other times of the year. The average high during this particular month is typically around 62 degrees Fahrenheit. November, December, and March usually receive the most amount of precipitation, with average low temperatures dropping to the 40s.[5]


Several famines occurred throughout the early nineteenth century in County Mayo, the biggest one being the Great Famine that lasted from 1845 to 1849. About one million people died from the Great Famine, and another million went into exile. By 1841, a significant increase in the population took place as the number of inhabitants went from four and a half million in 1800 to over eight million. Pressure on the economy was manifested from the population’s growth, as land became subdivided into smaller plots. At the time, potatoes were the main food product that people depended on; however, in 1845, a lethal fungus known as Phytophthora infestans began to kill potato crops within the county, destroying about one-third of the national potato crop that year. Nearly ninety percent of County Mayo’s population had depended on potatoes, causing over 100,000 people to lose their lives by the end of the Great Famine. The year 1847 was given the nickname “black forty-seven,” as it had presumably been considered the worst year of the Great Famine.[1]

In the 1840s, a number of workhouses were built in an effort to arise from the Great Famine’s impact. For a chance to survive, people would leave home to labor in one of these workhouses, nine of which were located in County Mayo. Beyond these tragedies, the famines had ultimately caused future generations to become more prepared for potential poverty, especially in the year 1877, when another serious threat to harvests had taken place. The people were far more prepared to handle this famine compared to those who suffered the Great Famine. County Mayo’s landscape is characteristic of several reminders of the Great Famine, namely workhouse sites, famine graves, abandoned homes and villages, and soup-kitchen sites.[1]

A number of historic sites can be found in Mayo, especially those of a medieval time period. Early Gothic architecture is most prominently represented by one of County Mayo’s notable historic sites, Cong Abbey. The ruins of the site date back to the 13th century, but in the 7th century, a church was built on the site. Twenty years after the construction of the church, the High King of Ireland, Turlough Mor O’Connor, refounded the abbey. After the site’s buildings had been destroyed by raiders in the year 1137, the king rebuilt them and refounded the site a second time as an Augustinian settlement. The king’s son, Rory O’Connor, lived in the abbey for the last fifteen years of his life. There, he died and was supposedly buried in the abbey. Eventually, the abbey was reconstructed and dedicated to St. Mary in 1307. Cong Abbey later fell into ruins after the year 1542, and the restoration of the site did not take place until 1855 when Benjamin Guinness purchased the nearby Ashford Castle.[3]

Other sites that had been constructed in earlier history include the ‘round towers,’ and County Mayo features five of these structures at Balla, Killala, Aughagower, Meelick, and Turlough. Built sometime between the 9th century and the 12th century, the towers are considered to be correlated with ecclesiastical sites, meaning they are associated with the Christian church. The particular reason why these monuments were built is semi-mysterious, though some speculate that the towers were created as a place of refuge due to the fact that the entranceway to the tower is located several feet above the ground. Others presume that the monuments served as a place of prayer for religious individuals. Some towers reach a height of 20 meters, while others extend to nearly 40 meters tall. Currently, a few of the round towers are used to host celebrations occasionally.[2]