Mayo is the third biggest county in Ireland, with a wild and rocky Atlantic coastline studded with inlets and islands. Inland are numerous lakes and rivers and, in the north-west, a vast tract of bogland, the largest single expanse in the country. In agricultural terms, the land is poor, but there is a wild magnificence to the landscape which is unique.
The region was granted to the Norman William de Burgh (Burke) in the twelfth century, but the tenacity of the Gaelic chieftains and the fact that the Burkes were rapidly absorbed and soon became Gaelic chieftains themselves meant that the county retained its original character well into the seventeenth century. The county's loose allegiance to the northern O'Donnells remained, and it was only after the mass confiscations of the mid-seventeenth century that English families such as the Binghams, (later earls of Lucan), Altamonts and Brownes came to prominence. Also at this time, attempts were made to transplant settlers from Ulster to Mayo.