ByRoute 15.2 Co. Longford (W) // Co. Mayo (N)

Mayo (Co. Mayo / Central)

Mayo (Magh Eó – “the plain of yew trees) (pop. 500), aka Mayo Abbey and Mayo of the Saxons, lies in the middle of the Plains of Mayo, and was formerly of such significance that Sir Henry Sidney‘s chose its name for County Mayo in his 1595 Composition of Connacht. (Photo by Colwynboy)

Mayo History

Saint Colman of Lindisfarne (c.605 – 675 AD), a native of the West of Ireland, was educated at the famous monastery established by Saint Columcille / Columba (d. 597 AD) on the island of Iona, which at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria (“North of the river Humber”) provided missionaries to convert the newly-settled Saxons of that region to Christianity. In 661 Ad he was appointed as the third abbot / bishop of Lindisfarne, an insular monastery established by his predecessor Aidan near the king’s castle at Bamburgh.


While monks from Iona had evangelised northern Britain in the traditions of the Celtic Church, Saint Augustine (d. 605 AD) had established Roman practices in southern England. Differences between the two traditions caused many disputes, which came to a head in 664 AD at the Synod of Whitby when a decision on the method of calculating the date of Easter was taken in favour of the English/Roman church. Colman, who had pleaded the Celtic cause, resigned as Bishop of Lindisfarne, and he and thirty Saxon monks and the large body of Irish monks then resident on Lindisfarne retreated to Iona, where they spent two years in prayer and contemplation before setting sail for Ireland.


Saint Colman and his followers founded a monastery on the island of Inishbofin, off the western coast, but conflict between the Irish and Saxon monks soon arose, so Colman brought the latter to the mainland and founded Magh Eó monastery. They were joined by more monks led by Gerald, the son of a Saxon prince and a follower of Colman, who with his three brothers and a large group of Picts had left Northumbria after the Synod at Whitby and eventually settled at Rosslee, where many had died from plague. Gerald was appointed as first abbot of the Magh Eomonastery, and Saint Colman returned to Inishbofin, where he died.


The Maigh Eo monastery at grew quickly, and by 700 AD had become a famous seat of learning, known throughout Christendom as Mayo of the Saxons, maintaining its links with England for several centuries. The importance and size of the monastery is recorded in many chronicles, the most important being theEcclesiastical History of the English People, written by the Venerable Bede of Jarrow, and The Annals of Ulster.


Mayo became a diocese following the 1152 Synod of Kells, and soon after the 1169 Norman invasion the area came under the control of Maurice de Prendergast, whose main stronghold was at nearby Brize. A Norman town was founded, and c.1400 AD the site of the original monastery was used to erect an Augustinian Abbey, which survived until King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries.


The Abbey was sacked during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but the town was still of sufficient size and importance to give its name to County Mayo. The diocese was merged with Tuam in 1630. Mass continued to be celebrated in the ruins of the Abbey during the Penal Law era.


Because of its size, state of preservation and place in the evolution of the early Christian Church in the British Isles, the area around Mayo Abbey village is considered by many experts to be one of the most important unexplored archaeological sites in Ireland, comparable to Armagh, Clonmacnoiseand Glendalough.


St Colman’s church (RC), built on the site of the Abbey and reusing much of the stone from the ruined monastery, was opened in 1845 and served the parish of Mayo & Rosslee until 1978 when a modern structure was erected in the village to the north of the monastic site. The architectural value of the C19th building as one of the few remaining pre-Famine church buildings in County Mayo have caused it to be re roofed and renovated.


A multi purpose resource centre was opened in 2000 with facilities including offices, function room with bar, heritage room, exhibition space and childcare services. It is named after the Roman Catholic Bishop Patrick O’Healy of Mayo, one of two Spanish-educated Franciscans tortured and executed in Kilmallock in 1579, the first Irish bishop to die for his faith.

The local Church of Ireland edifice retains an imposing tower, but is otherwise s roofless ruin, almost entirely blanketed with ivy. (We would welcome information about this building).

Mayo is


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