Map of Modern Counties
Ancient History; and Early Irish Ecclesiastical History
This old map, 1998, shows the counties of the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland remains a constituent part of the United Kingdom. See the history of Northern Ireland and "the Troubles" at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/recent/troubles/
1. Ancient history in Mayo
The far west of Ireland is away from the fancies of Dublin, across moonlike rock scapes. Mayo is a county with vestiges of Mesolithic prehistory (people arrived in Ireland about 7000 BCE). Hunters. See archeological sites, and an overview at http://www.mayo-ireland.ie/Mayo/History/FullHist.htm/.
Fast forward to 4000 BCE, the Neolithic. A mere 3000 years. An agricultural people. Potters. Weavers. Burying their dead in large tombs. Then the Bronze Age, 200-400 BCE. It still is there.
2. Common sight. Celtic cross on the graves.
There are so many. How do people bury their dead. Go back to the prehistory. Tombs in the Bronze Age came in four forms. Find them pictured and discussed at http://www.irishmegaliths.org.uk/seanchlocha1.htm#court
- court-tombs: standing stones around an uncovered kind of plaza or central area,
- passage-tombs: a gallery
- portal tombs: a doorway perhaps into a hill area
- wedge-tombs --
Those forms eventually, as religions evolved and cultures melded, into a Celtic Cross. A look at the mapping and outlines shows the elements.
"In the literature on archaeology, Irish megalithic tombs are divided in four classes: court-tombs, portal tombs, passage-tomb and wedge-tombs, each style named after its chief diagnostic feature. Each class of tomb probably represents a new major colonisation of the country by different groups of tomb-builders. The remains of some megalithic tombs are so badly damaged that they can not be accurately identified by type and are consequently recorded as unclassified megalithic tombs. Examples of all types decorate the Mayo landscape."Fair use from a fine site, http://www.mayo-ireland.ie/Mayo/History/FullHist.htm/
Westport, County Mayo, Ireland, church ruins
On the back roads are many ruins of old churches with Celtic crosses, and rooms, and even artifacts. Celtic design is still used, see http://www.celtarts.com/symbolism.htm.
The earliest Irish Christian Church was independent until the emerging Roman branch asserted supremacy in 664 at the Council of Whitby (the dispute was the "correct" date of Easter, a kind of artificial precision the early Irish Christians could have cared less about). The real incursion of the Roman branch came much later, in the 1100's after the Roman Christian church had split with the Eastern Orthodox in 1054, see http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Great_Schism. This newly on-its-own institution had to firm up its identity, get converts, establish power, get money, etc. It aimed at Ireland after substantial success on the Continent with papal armies, Charlemagne, and starting the motivational crusades.
This site is wrong: http://www.netplaces.com/irish-history/roman-catholic-church-in-ireland/before-the-reformation.htm. All was not uniformly under the jurisdiction of Rome since the start. The Irish Christians were largely independent of Rome until Rome moved in with rules, monastic orders from the continent, established dioceses and archbishops for control, and barred many of the practices of the older Irish churches and monasteries. See, e.g., http://homepage.eircom.net/~cashelemly/acesaint.htm
Saint Patrick's cult blooms, 680 or so. See timelines at http://goireland.about.com/od/historyculture/qt/Irish-History-The-Middle-Ages-From-The-Synod-Of-Whitby-To-Dermot-Mcmurrough.htm.
With Charlemagne's slaughter of the Saxons at Sachsenhain in about 782, and forced conversions with papal armies in tow, the Norse began attacking Christian institutions, monasteries. See timelines for a vast range of history at http://goireland.about.com/od/historyculture/qt/Irish-History-A-Short-Timeline.htm.
The Vikings were not the first to do so, however. Others had long found easy pickings at the monasteries: monasteries had been raiding monasteries, indigenous Irish had been raiding monasteries, warring was not uncommon among abbots, etc. for at least a hundred years before the Vikings, see http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/articles/fitzpatrick.htm
3. Ruins, ruins.
So the causes of specific ruins being ruined is not clear. Vikings, other religious unrest, Cromwell, disinterest, famine years, the uprooting of the peasants, the clearances. Many possibilities. As you wander through, take care. There are no barriers to just going in. And no protections once there. Watch your step, no railings, see your own crumbles before you step.
4. The area thrives on St. Patrick. See the life of this patron saint, and acknowledgement of cultural exaggerations, at http://www.history.com/topics/who-was-saint-patrick. See more on St. Patrick at http://irish.spike-jamie.com/stpatricksday.html. This site also has music.
St. Patrick is said to have climbed the mountain known as Croach Patrick there. It is a place of pilgrimage - St. Patrick in 441 is said to have been there for 40 days. We did not climb up, but it is only two hours. Many do it barefoot. See Mt. Croach at http://www.sacredsites.com/europe/ireland/mt_croach.html/