on the north coast of County Mayo, the Ceide Fields is a fascinating glimpse
of the life of early neolithc farmers in Ireland. The site consists of
a massive set of early field systems, hut sites and court cairns which
are thought to date from about the time people switched from hunting to
farming in Ireland. Judging from the remains here, cattle were very important
to these early farmers.
main concentration of fields are found at Céide, as well as a scattering
of other neolithic monuments, they may stretch for several miles east
and west. More walls and monuments have been found on the hill of Rathlackan
some 12 kilometers east of Céide, while monuments, fields and dwelling
sites have been found at Belderg a few miles west of Céide.
today is that people farmed the land there, possibly planting crops such
as corn, and kept and kept cattle and possibly sheep as their livestock.
Archeologically this indicates a settled, established community. The main
type of monument found in the area are court cairns. Several are scattered
across the Céide Fields, in a rather similar fashion to more recent
churches. For several years, these were considered to be the oldest type
of megalithic monument, but more recent research in Sligo has shown that
the courts may be contempory with the passage cairns. This makes an interesting
picture when compared to the mythology of the region, which deals with
two tribes, the established Formorians and the invading Túatha
that brought the Céide Fields to light were preserved by the growth
of bog across the prehistoric landscape. As the climate changed, about
3,500 years ago the land became wetter and harder to farm, until the bog
took hold and began to grow. Over the intervening span of time, plant
and moss fibers decomposing built up the layers of peat, smothering the
stone walls. The fields were rediscovered by modern farmers cutting turf,
the traditional fuel in the west of Ireland. For years they had been coming
across tumbled stone walls and sometimes quernstones. Archeologists in
the area developed a technique of probing the bogs with sharp sticks,
which enabeled them to map the wall systems without excavating them.
visitor centre was built at Ceide in 1994, which provides a good base
from which to visit the windswept landscape. It is perched on the cliffs,
located outside the north edge of a field. The centre is built in the
form of a pyramid, with bog growing up the sides, and a glass viewing
top, so is easy enough to find.
There are many, many monuments in the area, mostly court cairns. In Behy, just 300
meters up the bog behind the visitor centre, is a partally covered court
cairn, the chamber of which you can enter. Watch out for the viscious
Céide midges, though! This is a transceptal (cross-shaped) chamber,
one of only 8 found so far in Irish court cairns.
Another famous monument - at least to archaeologists - is the Ballyglass court
cairn. When this monument was excavated, the site of a rectangular house
was discovered under the monument. A reconstruction of this dwelling can
be viewed in the visitor centre.