Thursday, May 14, 2009

Don't Pass Up the Mayo

The Turlough Round Tower

Fitzgerald Manor House, now part of the National Folk Museum

A Lyrachord, only one ever made, part piano, part harpsichord

Hide boat at National Folk Museum

Exhibit, National Folk Museum

May 13 was another great touring day, in County Mayo. From Castlebar we drove the short distance to Turlough and the National Folk Museum there. It is part of the national museum system and has extensive exhibits on Irish folk life and ways and many historical artifacts. The grounds are the former Fitzgerald estate, plus new buildings, and are themselves of interest. Turlough itself dates back to the 5th or 6th century and has a fine round tower.

After lunch, we drove on to Ballycastle, just beyond it, to the Ceide Fields. In the last couple decades, archaeologists have discovered, surveyed, and partly excavated a neolithic system of fields encompassing many hundreds of acres—all bounded by stone fences, structures—that date back to the 4th millennium BC, 6,000 years. It is the largest neolithic site yet discovered, anywhere. Relatively little has been excavated, but there is a good modern museum and brief guided tours. The Ceide Fields lie beneath an enormous blanket peat bog, 1-2 meters deep generally, and thus their preservation. (No decomposition in bogs, where there is little oxygen.) Ireland was heavily forested in neolithic times, pine, hazel and elm. Clearing the forests made herding and grain-growing possible, but it eventually led to super-saturated ground that becomes the bog.

The Ceide Fields run right down to the cliffs and the sea, and not far from them is one of County Mayo's most famous sights, Downpatrick Head, and the sea stack there, Dunbriste. Finding and walking out to Dunbriste, past the enormous blowhole in the middle of the cliffs, was another incredible treat and a fine way to end the day. We camped, under gathering rain clouds, at Ballina.

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