MAYO, a western county of Ireland, in the province of Connaught, bounded N. and W. by the Atlantic Ocean, N.E. by Sligo, E. by Roscommon, S.E. and S. by Galway. The area is 1,380,390 acres, or about 2157 sq. m., the county being the largest in Ireland after Cork and Galway. About two-thirds of the boundary of Mayo is formed by sea, and the coast is very much indented, and abounds in picturesque scenery. The principal inlets are Killary Harbour between Mayo and Galway; Clew Bay, in which are the harbours of Westport and Newport; Blacksod Bay and Broad Haven, which form the peninsula of the Mullet; and Killala Bay between Mayo and Sligo. The islands are very numerous, the principal being Inishturk, near Killary Harbour; Clare Island, at the mouth of Clew Bay, where there are many islets, all formed of drift; and Achill, the largest island off Ireland. The coast scenery is not surpassed by that of Donegal northward and Connemara southward, and there are several small coast-towns, among which may be named Killala on the north coast, Belmullet on the isthmus between Blacksod Bay and Broad Haven, Newport and Westport on Clew Bay, with the watering-place of Mallaranny. The majestic cliffs of the north coast, however, which reach an extreme height in Benwee Head (892 ft.), are difficult of access and rarely visited. In the eastern half of the county the surface is comparatively level, with occasional hills; the western half is mountainous. Mweelrea (2688 ft.) is included in a mountain range lying between Killary Harbour and Lough Mask. The next highest summits are Nephin (2646 ft.), to the west of Lough Conn, and Croagh Patrick (2510 ft.), to the south of Clew Bay. The river Moy flows northwards, forming part of the boundary of the county with Sligo, and falls into Killala Bay. The courses of the other streams are short, and except when swollen by rains their volume is small. The principal lakes are Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, on the borders of the county with Galway, and Loughs Conn in the east, Carrowmore in the north-west, Beltra in the west, and Carra adjoining Lough Mask. These loughs and the smaller loughs, with the streams generally, afford admirable sport with salmon, sea-trout and brown trout, and Ballina is a favourite centre.
Geology.—The wild and barren west of this county, including the great hills on Achill Island, is formed of “Dalradian” rocks, schists and quartzites, highly folded and metamorphosed, with intrusions of granite near Belmullet. At Blacksod Bay the granite has been quarried as an ornamental stone. Nephin Beg, Nephin and Croagh Patrick are typical quartzite summits, the last named belonging possibly to a Silurian horizon but rising from a metamorphosed area on the south side of Clew Bay. The schists and gneisses of the Ox Mountain axis also enter the county north of Castlebar. The Muilrea and Ben Gorm range, bounding the fine fjord of Killary Harbour, is formed of terraced Silurian rocks, from Bala to Ludlow age. These beds, with intercalated lavas, form the mountainous west shore of Lough Mask, the east, like that of Lough Corrib, being formed of low Carboniferous Limestone ground. Silurian rocks, with Old Red Sandstone over them, come out at the west end of the Curlew range at Ballaghaderreen. Clew Bay, with its islets capped by glacial drift, is a submerged part of a synclinal of Carboniferous strata, and Old Red Sandstone comes out on the north side of this, from near Achill to Lough Conn. The country from Lough Conn northward to the sea is a lowland of Carboniferous Limestone, with L. Carboniferous Sandstone against the Dalradian on the west.
Industries.—There are some very fertile regions in the level portions of the county, but in the mountainous districts the soil is poor, the holdings are subdivided beyond the possibility of affording proper sustenance to their occupiers, and, except where fishing is combined with agricultural operations, the circumstances of the peasantry are among the most wretched of any district of Ireland. The proportion of tillage to pasturage is roughly as 1 to 31. Oats and potatoes are the principal crops. Cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are reared. Coarse linen and woollen cloths are manufactured to a small extent. At Foxford woollen-mills are established at a nunnery, in connexion with a scheme of technical instruction. Keel, Belmullet and Ballycastle are the headquarters of sea and coast fishing districts, and Ballina of a salmon-fishing district, and these fisheries are of some value to the poor inhabitants. A branch of the Midland Great Western railway enters the county from Athlone, in the south-east, and runs north to Ballina and Killala on the coast, branches diverging from Claremorris to Ballinrobe, and from Manulla to Westport and Achill on the west coast. The Limerick and Sligo line of the Great Southern and Western passes from south to north-east by way of Claremorris.
Population and Administration.—The population was 218,698 in 1891, and 199,166 in 1901. The decrease of population and the number of emigrants are slightly below the average of the Irish counties. Of the total population about 97% are rural, and about the same percentage are Roman Catholics. The chief towns are Ballina (pop. 4505), Westport (3892) and Castlebar (3585), the county town. Ballaghaderreen, Claremorris (Clare), Crossmolina and Swineford are lesser market towns; and Newport and Westport are small seaports on Clew Bay. The county includes nine baronies. Assizes are held at Castlebar, and quarter sessions at Ballina, Ballinrobe, Belmullet, Castlebar, Claremorris, Swineford and Westport. In the Irish parliament two members were returned for the county, and two for the borough of Castlebar, but at the union Castlebar was disfranchised. The division since 1885 is into north, south, east and west parliamentary divisions, each returning one member. The county is in the Protestant diocese of Tuam and the Roman Catholic dioceses of Taum, Achonry, Galway and Kilmacduagh, and Killala.
History and Antiquities.—Erris in Mayo was the scene of the landing of the chief colony of the Firbolgs, and the battle which is said to have resulted in the overthrow and almost annihilation of this tribe took place also in this county, at Moytura near Cong. At the close of the 12th century what is now the county of Mayo was granted, with other lands, by king John to William, brother of Hubert de Burgh. After the murder of William de Burgh, 3rd earl of Ulster (1333), the Bourkes (de Burghs) of the collateral male line, rejecting the claim of William’s heiress (the wife of Lionel, son of King Edward III.) to the succession, succeeded in holding the bulk of the De Burgh possessions, what is now Mayo falling to the branch known by the name of “MacWilliam Oughter,” who maintained their virtual independence till the time of Elizabeth. Sir Henry Sydney, during his first viceroyalty, after making efforts to improve communications between Dublin and Connaught in 1566, arranged for the shiring of that province, and Mayo was made shire ground, taking its name from the monastery of Maio or Mageo, which was the seat of a bishop. Even after this period the MacWilliams continued to exercise very great authority, which was regularized in 1603, when “the MacWilliam Oughter,” Theobald Bourke, surrendered his lands and received them back, to hold them by English tenure, with the title of Viscount Mayo (see Burgh, De). Large confiscations of the estates in the county were made in 1586, and on the termination of the wars of 1641; and in 1666 the restoration of his estates to the 4th Viscount Mayo involved another confiscation, at the expense of Cromwell’s settlers. Killala was the scene of the landing of a French squadron in connexion with the rebellion of 1798. In 1879 the village of Knock in the south-east acquired notoriety from a story that the Virgin Mary had appeared in the church, which became the resort of many pilgrims.
There are round towers at Killala, Turlough, Meelick and Balla, and an imperfect one at Aughagower. Killala was formerly a bishopric. The monasteries were numerous, and many of them of considerable importance: the principal being those at Mayo, Ballyhaunis, Cong, Ballinrobe, Ballintober, Burrishoole, Cross or Holycross in the peninsula of Mullet, Moyne, Roserk or Rosserick and Templemore or Strade. Of the old castles the most notable are Carrigahooly near Newport, said to have been built by the celebrated Grace O’Malley, and Deel Castle near Ballina, at one time the residence of the earls of Arran.
See Hubert Thomas Knox, History of the County of Mayo (1908).