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Article Published February 12, 2002



County Mayo (Ireland): An Outline History
By: Bernard O'Hara and Nollaig ÓMuraíle,
Copyright: Mayo Ireland Ltd.



'Mayo of the Saxons'

One of the most interesting monastic sites in Co. Mayo was that from which the county derives its name - Maigh Eo. Colmán of Lindisfarne, having been defeated by the 'Romanist' party at the synod of Whitby (in Northumbria, in the north-east of England) in 663, withdrew with his followers, via Iona, to Inishbofin off the west coast of Galway. As a result of disagreement between the Irish and the English monks in the little community, the latter moved to the 'plain of yews', about sixteen kilometres south-east of the present town of Castlebar. The monastery they established there, known as Mag nÉo na Sachsan ('of the Saxons'), became renowned as a centre of learning, and continued to attract monks of English birth for a century and more after its foundation.

It is an indication of Mayo's importance in the middle ages that, when, in 1152, the synod of Kells introduced a system of diocesan organisation to the Irish church, one of the dioceses established west of the Shannon was that of Mayo. In the aftermath of the Reformation, the Established Church united the see to Tuam. The Catholic diocese was finally absorbed by Tuam, by papal decree, some time after 1631. The monastery at Mayo became a collegiate church sometime early in the 13th century, and about 1370 it became an abbey (St. Michael's) of Augustinian Canons. It survived until the dissolution of the monasteries after the Reformation. It will be clear from the foregoing that 'Mayo' as the name of the abbey and, more importantly, of the diocese, was very much in circulation around 1570, when it came to naming the new county established by Sir Henry Sidney.

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