Early Ordovician volcanic rocks exposed in the South Mayo region of western Ireland document the history of a volcanic arc complex, produced following the initiation of south-dipping subduction within the Iapetus Ocean in the Late Cambrian or Early Ordovician. Lavas of the Lough Nafooey Group (Tremadoc-Arenig) show an eruption history marked by an initial period of tholeiitic basaltic volcanism, followed by a shift to increasing silica compositions of calc-alkaline affinity. Subsequent volcanism of the Tourmakeady Group (Arenig) shows a mixture of rhyolitic and andesitic compositions, which are in turn succeeded by tuffs of the Rosroe and Mweelrea Formations of the Murrisk Group (Llanvirn). These are also rhyolitic and andesitic but are generally more siliceous. The overall increase in silica contents may reflect increasing fractional crystallization due to crustal thickening.
Trace element studies of the basaltic members of the Lough Nafooey Group show a strong subduction zone influence. While absolute levels of immobile trace and rare earth elements decrease upsection, relative depletion of the most incompatible elements decreases over the same time period. These trends suggest decreasing degrees of partial melting of a progressively more depleted source mantle upsection.
The basaltic Bohaun Volcanic Formation (Tremadoc-Arenig ?) shows greater depletion in its incompatible trace elements than the Lough Nafooey Group, so indicating a more depleted mantle source. Comparison with modern arc systems suggests that the Bohaun Volcanic Formation was probably generated shortly after the initiation of subduction and was erupted in a more trenchward position than the Lough Nafooey Group (i.e. in the forearc). This confirms a south-dipping polarity to the subduction zone, and suggests an age of initiation during the Late Cambrian or earliest Ordovician.