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The Neolithic Fields of County Mayo

Updated: Jun 12, 2022

I was excited when we anchored off Kilcummin in County Mayo because it is the birth home of my friend Padraig. He has lived in California quite some time, but still cheers for County Mayo in the Irish football tournaments. I wanted to see if this small county was worth all the cheering. It is! (Image: Kilcummin from the wharf.)

We took a long ride through small towns, bucolic countrysides, and peat bogs before arriving at the Céide Fields visitor center. Overlooking the wild Atlantic, the new center hadn't opened to the public yet, but had agreed to let our group of two dozen take a special pre-opening tour. There, we learned that the Céide Fields site is the oldest known stone-walled field system in the world. That means that almost 6,000 years ago people were collecting rocks from the fields, assembling them to create walls that partition the land into parcels.

The fields have been covered with peat for years, so it is no surprise that they weren't discovered until th 1930's when the local schoolmaster (Patrick Caulfield) kept running into stones whenever he cut peat from the bog. He had suspicions that there was some sort of archaeological ruins in the bog. Years later, his son Seamus, who studied archeology, discovered evidence of cultivated fields, houses and tombs. (Image: Panorama of the fields taken from the top of the visitor center.)

The ruins remain covered but have been mapped by meticulously using metal probes to locate the stone walls. I got to try out a probe while we were walking on the fields. It's fairly easy to poke the 5 foot metal rod into the ground and it is obvious when one hits stone. It is painstaking work though because it is slow and the weather can be nasty. It was sunny when I was there, but extremely windy.

It was so windy that by the time our skiff reached the ship, the waves were whipped up and it was a challenge to get back on the boat. Due to the danger posed by the wind, Céide Fields would be the only thing we saw in County Mayo this day.

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