MAYO TOPOGRAPHY

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The surface of the county varies extremely, from the bleak and rugged mountain to the fertile plain. The baronies to the east of the lakes, and part of Tyrawley, are champaign and productive. In the flat country bordering on Loughs Mask and Carra there are many miles of rocky ground which at a distance appears like an immense sheet of white stone, but on a nearer approach is found to consist of layers of projecting rock in parallel lines, rising from one to three feet above the surface, like flag-stones pitched in the ground upon their edges, and all, however varying in shape, size, or relative distance, having the same direction: fissures of great depth are found in some of their narrowest interstices.

The northern part of Tyrawley barony is level and adorned with numerous villas and country seats. In travelling south from Kilcummin head the land by degrees swells into hills, the tops of which are covered with heath, while the sides and valleys are green and remarkably fertile: these hills gradually change their character to that of the bleak and barren mountain which stretches in a continuous tract sixty miles long and seven miles broad, from Erris in the west to the Ox mountains of Sligo, in the contrary direction. In this range no variety meets the eye from Nephin to Westport, except in the glen of Bohedon and the extensive woods that sweep along the windings of the Colnabinna river, the banks of which are fringed with verdure of exquisite hue.

The western part of the county is overspread with an immense mass of mountain and bog, very difficult of access: the central parts of this wild country are occupied by a range of lofty mountains, commencing at Nephin and extending in a north-western direction to Knocklettercuss, and in a western to Achill island: this great mountain chain divides the country into two parts ; that between its western base and the sea is covered with bog, as is also the greater part of the eastern division; besides which all the gentle acclivities and mountain summits are covered with a thin stratum of black bog. No arable ground occurs in these districts except in the narrow valleys of the rivers and in irregular patches along the shore.

There is another range of mountain commencing at Dunfeeny bay and stretching along the northern coast to Broad haven, beyond which the peninsula of the Mullet is flat and capable of cultivation, except where covered with sand. The northern coast is particularly wild, and the rocky cliffs which extend along its whole length are generally perpendicular, and in some parts the surface of the land at top overhangs the sea; their average height is 400 feet. In many places the edge of the cliff is the highest point of the land, so that the water which falls from the surface within 20 yards from the brow flows southerly from the sea. Along the high bold coast to the west, as far as the Stags of Broadhaven, are caverns extending a great way under the surface, and vaulted overhead with immense flags.

One of the most remarkable of these is nearly opposite the Stags, near Dunkechan; it extends several hundred yards under the land, is roofed with stone, and wide enough to admit several boats to enter abreast, which may be done in calm weather. But the greatest natural curiosities of this county are the caves of Cong, on the confines of the county of Galway, through which the superfluous waters of Lough Mask take their subterraneous course to Lough Corrib. Nephin, 2640 feet in height, is, in magnitude and form, extremely grand, its summit being generally enveloped in clouds: it is situated at the extremity of an immense bog, in the centre of which is Lough Conn, and is separated from the rest of the great chain by the deep glen of Kilnabreena. Its form, when viewed from the south or east, is conical, the sides steep, frequently rocky and rugged, but the summit rounded and covered with alpine plants. The regularity of its northern face is interrupted by a deep ravine, the precipitous sides of which disclose the internal structure of the mountain. From the western side of the glen of Kilnabreena rises the mountain of Berreencurragh, 2290 feet high, similar to Nephin, but more irregular and rugged. Nephin Beg, another mountain in the same range, and of similar formation, is but 1846 feet high.

The mountains which form the western part of the great chain are also more rugged and have peaked summits, particularly Maam, Thomoish, and Croughletta. The ridge of the Barnagee mountains lies south of Nephin: their northern side is extremely steep and abrupt. Three passes, about two miles distant from each other, lead through them to the plain country in the south; the central and most important of these is called the pass of Barnagee. Through it the French force penetrated unexpectedly in 1798, in its march from Ballina, in consequence of which the king's troops were taken by surprise at Castlebar and routed. The other passes are that of Mosbrook, near Lough Conn, and Glan Island on the side of Westport. The summit of the central pass, which is a very long and steep hill, commands a fine view of Castlebar and the adjoining plain, with Croagh Patrick rising in the distance. The whole of the district south of the valley from Lough Conn to Newport, except the space occupied by the mountains of Barnagee, is thickly interspersed with hills of different forms; those lying between Lough Conn and Loughs Carra and Mask stretching in accordance with the line between the former and latter lakes; those proceeding to Clew bay taking their direction to the sea.

The remarkable peak of Croagh Patrick, or the Reek, rises from the southern shore of Clew bay to an elevation of 2530 feet, embracing from its summit a magnificent prospect of the neighbouring bays and islands, with the amphitheatre of Erris, Burrishoole and Connemara: this mountain may be divided into two parts; the base, composed of a group of undulating flat-topped hills rising to a considerable height; and the Reek, which towers above them in the form of a cone. The romantic fables of the country have fixed on this as the spot from which St. Patrick drove all the venomous reptiles of the island into the sea: it is still a favourite place for devotional rites. The southern part of the barony of Murrisk rises into steep mountains, of which Muilrea, the highest in Connaught, has an elevation of 2733 feet.

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