I visited the Céide Fields Visitor Centre near Ballycastle last week for the first time since it opened in 1994 and was delighted to rekindle my interest in North Mayo’s fascinating history of human settlement – one of the earliest settlements by humans on the island of Ireland.
The pyramid-shaped Céide Fields Visitors’ Centre now has extended opening days to include the busy October bank holiday weekend and Halloween.
More ancient than the Egyptian pyramids
So anyone planning a Mayo holiday should not miss out on an opportunity to visit the interesting heritage centre which draws back a curtain on the human and geological history of Mayo.
The Ceide Fields Visitor Centre tells the story of how an advanced civilization lived and worked in North Mayo 5,000 years ago.
The Céide Fields is a Neolithic Field system which encompasses 12km² of the North Mayo coastline.
The stone walls have been dated to 3,500 BC – even more ancient than the Egyptian pyramids. These early Neolithic, enclosed fields, are extensive, and systematic. The fields pre-date anything which has been found in Europe and Britain from the Neolithic period
The enclosed field stonewall system is a mosaic of ancient settlement which lies intact, smothered beneath blanket bog.
These field systems have been studied over the last fifty years which have led to many discoveries about the organisation and structure, as well as economy of a Neolithic society.
The scale of the field system has not been mirrored elsewhere in Europe or internationally.
The Céide Fields also shows the continuity of farming as the main economic activity in North Mayo, stretching all the way back to Neolithic times.
The Céide Fields project owes its existence to local Belderrig man, Dr. Seamus Caulfield, formerly of the Department of Archaeology UCD and Martin Downes, of the Department of Biology Maynooth, who also played a pivotal role in bringing the Céide Fields project to fruition.
The story behind the Céide Fields
The original idea to build an interpretative centre with a formal teaching facility disappointed many when it failed to materialise due to national bureaucratic priorities which took precedence over more local needs that aimed to capitalise on the economic and tourism possibilities that the development of the centre promised
However, all has not been lost in that regard and the Céide Fields’ Centre has helped raise the profile of tourism in North Mayo since its opening in 1993 and was the inspiration behind the Mayo 5000 initiative in 1998 which helped spread the word far and wide about the unspoiled, scenic beauty of North Mayo.
The visitor centre tells the story behind the Céide Fields, revealing in exhibitions and a video presentation how our ancestors built stone-walled fields, extending over thousands of acres that are now covered by a natural blanket bog.
There are guided tours through the bog which explains how the fields were laid out by an advanced civilisation who made Belderrig their home.
We don’t know where these people originated from – but what we do know is that they kept herds of cattle, lived peaceful lives and built large wooden homes to rear their families at a time when North Mayo’s climate was much drier and warmer than it is today.
From the elevated viewing platform, the centre’s fascinating geology exhibitions come to life as you take in the spectacular views of breathtaking cliffs and endless sea in all directions. Dun Briste and the Stags of Broadhaven show how the results of erosion and geological upheavals that continue to shape this beautiful part of Ireland.