The Céide Fields, the largest Neolithic (Stone-Age) monument in the world, with field systems, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs almost 6,000 years old.
Covered in blanket bog, with its unique vegetation and wildlife, the area has been selectively and sensitively excavated since its discovery in the 1930’s by a local schoolteacher while cutting turf for fuel. It is the oldest known Stone Age field system in the world, and is 7.9km (4.9 miles) west of Ballycastle in North Mayo on the R314.
The remains of stone field walls, houses and megalithic tombs are preserved beneath a blanket of peat over several square miles. Ongoing research involves locating and mapping the buried walls by simply probing with iron rods, to avoid destroying any of the remains. Then habitation sites and tombs are carefully excavated to yield a unique picture of the way of life of our ancestors 200 generations ago.
We now know that they were a highly organised large peaceful community of farmers who worked together on clearing hundreds of acres of forestry and dividing the land into regular field systems. Their main economy was cattle rearing but they were skilled craftspeople and builders in both wood and stone and also had strong spiritual beliefs.
The visitor centre
The Visitor Centre at the access-point to the fields has won several awards, including Ireland’s prestigious Gold Medal for architecture. It has exhibitions, an audio-visual show and tearooms for refreshment. In the centre of the building is a magnificent 4,300 year old Scots Pine tree, excavated from the fields. A viewing platform both inside and outside of the pyramid-shaped building gives dramatic views of nearby sea and land.
Guided tours from the centre, lasting about an hour, tell the fascinating story of not only the history and structure of the ancient field system and its inhabitants, but also the local ecology and how it has changed over the past 5,000-plus years.
The Visitor Centre is open daily from around Easter to the beginning of November each year. During the winter months, groups can book tours specially.
Additional information is available on the Heritage Ireland website.
Across the road from the Visitor Centre is a viewing platform where you can see the spectacular 110m cliffs on the wild coastline.
Because the weather can vary widely and the terrain is uneven, visitors are advised to wear sturdy walking shoes, and have a raincoat just in case!