MAYO

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

MAYO (County of), a maritime county of the province of CONNAUGHT, bounded on the east by the counties of Sligo and Roscommon, on the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south by the county of Galway. It extends from 53° 28' to 54° 21' (N. Lat.), and from 8° 25' to 10° 5' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 1,355,048 statute acres, of which 871,984 are cultivated land, 425,124 are unprofitable mountain and bog, and 57,940 are under water. The population, in 1821, amounted to 293,112; and in 1831, to 367,956.

At the period when Ptolemy wrote, the Nagnatae were the inhabitants of the whole of the county, with the exception of a small portion of its southern extremity, into which the Auterii, who were settled in the northwest of Galway, had penetrated. The city of Nagnatae, together with the rivers Ravius and Libnius, is supposed by some to have been in this county, but others fix its site in the adjoining county of Sligo. M. Vaugondy's map of ancient Connaught, published by Mac Geoghegan, furnishes the following names of the territories which composed it, and of their respective baronies; Irrosdomnion, being the barony of Erris; Calrigiamuighe-murisk-in-Amalgaid, and Hy-Fiachra-Aidhne, Tyrawley; Coranne, Gallen; Con-macne-Quiltola, Clanmorris and Kilmain; Kierrige de Lough Nairn, Costello; Hymalia or Umaille, Murrisk.

In Speed's Theatre of Great Britain, published in 1676, the names of the territories, which appear to be taken from those of the ruling septs, commencing from the most northern, are Arras Dondenell, O'Dondey, O' Mac Philben, Mac William Burck, Carew Mac Ville Uterhday, O'Males, Mac Jordan, baron of Exeter, near which territory is noted the forest of Kellelon, and the barony of Akill, being the only baronial division mentioned. In the brief description annexed to the map it is stated "that Mayo, in the Roman Provincial called Magee, is replenished both with pleasure and fertility, abundantly rich in cattle, deer, hawks, and plenty of honey." O'Conor's map of Ireland, which professes to give the names and locations of the settlers at the commencement of the 17th century, mentions only the names of Mac William Burke, Jordan, Mac Philip, Mac Costello or Nangle, Dillon, and Fitz-morris.

The ancient chronicles state that at the commencement of the 4th century the whole of Connaught was taken from the Firdomnians, a branch of the Firbolgs, who had held it till that time under the Milesians. The remote situation of the county has prevented it from being much noticed in the annals of the different revolutions which have since occurred. Shortly after the English invasion, De Courcy entered the province; but it does not appear that he penetrated far westward, having been driven out after a severe defeat by Cornelius Mommoigi and Donald O'Brien, king of Limerick. Roderic O'Conor, the last of the independent sovereigns of Ireland, died in the monastery of Cong, on the verge of this county, in 1198; after which its history presents a blank until, in consequence of the assassination of William de Burgo, third Earl of Ulster, to whose ancestor, Hubert de Burgo, the greater part of the province, including this county, had been granted by King John, Edmond de Albanach or the Scot, one of his kinsmen, ancestor to the earls of Mayo, renounced his allegiance to the English government, threw off the English dress, adopted the language and apparel of the native Irish, and assumed the title of Mac William Oughter, or "the further" to distinguish himself from another member of the family who had acted in the same manner in the more southern regions of the province, and had called himself Mac William Eighter, or "the nearer."

The county remained in an unsettled state, nearly independent of British rule, until the time of Elizabeth, in the eleventh year of whose reign the whole province, which had hitherto been divided into the two counties of Connaught and Roscommon, was made shire ground, and the boundaries and subdivisions of this portion of it were defined, at which time it took its present name from the village and monastery of Maio, situated on a river which falls into Lough Carra. The Mac Williams still continued to exert a powerful control, for the annals of the town of Galway inform us that, in consequence of the disturbed state of the country in the neighbourhood of that town, numbers of Galway people took refuge with Mac William Oughter in Mayo, and were the founders of the several respectable families of Galway name which still hold large estates there. When Sir Henry Sidney, lord-deputy, visited Galway in 1575, several of the Galway exiles returned and applied to him for protection; and Mac William Oughter himself submitted by oath and indenture.

This Mac William was father to the celebrated Grace O'Malley, better known in the romantic history of the times by the name of Grana Uile: she, however, was so far from being led to submission by her father's example, that it was deemed necessary to send a body of troops to storm her castle of Carrick a-Uile, near Newport; but so spirited was the defence made by this singular woman, that the assailants, instead of accomplishing the object of their expedition, narrowly escaped being taken prisoners, which would have been inevitably attended with loss of life. In 1586, the province was again visited, for the purpose of confirming it in the habits of English law, by Sir Richard Bingham, who held a session at Donemony, in this county. One only of the de Burgos, Thomas Roe, held out on this occasion against the royal authority, in a castle in one of the islands in Lough Mask, within sight of the governor.

The under-sheriff, who was sent to reduce him to obedience, was wounded in the attempt, as was Thomas Roe himself, who died of his wounds. Two others of the de Burgos were afterwards executed for sedition and for conspiring against Bingham's life. The composition then agreed upon by the people was 10s. per annum for every quarter of land containing 120 acres. According to the return of a jury on this occasion, the county comprised 1448 quarters, whereof 248 were exempted; the rest paid £600 per annum and contributed 200 foot and 40 horse for general hostings within the province, at their own expense, when required, and 50 foot and 15 horse for general service throughout Ireland.

Before Sir Richard quitted the country, he had taken all the de Burgos into protection by an order from the government, but, on his going to Dublin, they were instigated, through the promise of assistance from the Scotch, to revolt again, on which he proceeded to Ballinrobe, where, having uselessly spent several days in endeavouring to bring them back to their duty, he hanged their hostages, marched to Ballintubber, and sent out his kerne and foot-soldiers into the woods and mountains with such success, that he forced them all to submit in a few weeks, and drove away a booty of between 4000 and 5000 head of cattle, after which he defeated a body of 2000 Scots that had landed near Sligo to give them assistance. A third journey was made into Connaught in 15S9, by Sir William Fitzwilliams, lord-deputy, who then received the submissions of O'Flaherty, William the blind Abbot, and others of Mayo and Tyrconnell.

Although the county was visited with a large share of the confiscations consequent on the termination of the war of 1641, and on the restoration of the Stuart family, no remarkable event connected with that period occurred within its limits; neither was it internally agitated by the military movements in the subsequent war between the rival kings in 1688, and its political aspect presents a perfect blank until the year 1798, when its tranquillity, which had remained undisturbed during the dreadful internal struggle that convulsed the north-eastern and south-eastern extremities of the island in the earlier part of that year, was broken by the unexpected appearance of a small French squadron on its northern coast, which landed near Killala a force of about 1100 men under General Humbert.

The town, which was nearly defenceless, was taken after a trifling resistance; the bishop of Killala, with his family, was made prisoner; arms were distributed to all the country people who chose to accept them; and the invading army, thus reinforced by a numerous but disorderly body of auxiliaries, proceeded to Ballina, whence the garrison fled on its approach. It thence advanced to Castlebar through mountain defiles deemed impassable, and therefore left unguarded: here it was opposed by General Lake with 6000 men, but, after a very short resistance, the British army gave way on all sides, and left the enemy completely masters of the country. Thence the French general proceeded by Foxford and Collooney, where his advance was checked for a short time by the gallantry of a small detachment under Colonel Vereker, and marched by Dromahaire and Manor-Hamilton in Leitrim, till, having crossed the Shannon at Ballintra, his further progress was prevented by the main army of the British under the Marquess Cornwallis, to whom he surrendered, after a short resistance, at Ballinamuck. Castlebar, when evacuated by the French, was re-occupied by the British troops, who defended it successfully against an attack of a body of 2000 insurgents.

Killala, which was still possessed by the latter under the command of a few French officers, was then attacked and taken by storm, with the loss of between 400 and 500 of its defenders, after having been 30 days in their possession. This scene of blood terminated by a court-martial, by which several of those most forward in having had recourse to French assistance were consigned to military execution. The year 1820 was marked by very serious disturbances in this and the neighbouring county of Galway, arising from abuses in the levying of taxes, and county and parish rates: the insurgents took the name of Ribbonmen, and kept the country in alarm for some time by their nocturnal depredations, but were finally suppressed by the power of the law. Two years afterwards it suffered from famine, owing to a failure of the potatoe crop; but the horrors of so dreadful a visitation were much relieved by the prompt and liberal contributions which were forwarded on the first intimation of the extent of the calamity from every part of England, through a committee sitting in London.

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