What to see in Cong Ireland
Cong Ireland is found in County Mayo about an hour’s drive from Westport in the southwest region of Ireland. It’s a small village that is known worldwide as the place where the John Wayne classic The Quiet Man was filmed.
Nestled right on the border of Galway, Cong is located close to the village of Moytura, which is home to some of Ireland’s most ancient stone monuments and circles dating back to the Neolithic era.
Legend has it that the Battle of Moytura took place here between the ruling Fir bolgs and the invading Tuatha De Danann.
Moytura was also Oscar Wilde’s summer home as he spent his boyhood years at his father’s country residence.
Cong is also famous for the discovery of the Cong Cross a lavish gold and silver cross dating from 1123. The village is a few miles down the road from the lavishly indulgent Ashford Castle, a monastery and it is linked to Oscar Wilde.
How to visit Cong Ireland
Cong is about a 2.5-hour drive from Dublin in a pretty easy drive. To get to Cong by public transportation is a little trickier as you will have to take a train from Heuston Station to Galway and from there a taxi to the Village. This means that it could be quite costly
The other alternative is to take a tour but you could spend 9 hours a bus tour just to be rushed from pillar to post. I would recommend staying in Galway and then taking a tour from there. That way you get the best of all Irish worlds. You can roam around Galway City and enjoy the mighty craic and trad music in this lovely city. Then you can take a tour of the Connemara Loop including Cong and Kylemore Abbey.
Get Your Guide has a fabulous Dublin to Cong tour. It’s a full-day tour but it includes visiting Ross Errily Abbey, Cong Village and Kylemore Abbey. The price starts at around €45 Euros from Dublin.
You can also take the same tour if you are staying in Galway City from around €30 per person. If you click on either link, it will take you to the booking page to find the tours you want.
In Irish Gaelic, the name for Cong is Cúnga Fheichin, which translated means Saint Feichin’s narrows. This is a nod to the geography of the area as Cong is built on a narrow spit of land between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask. In the 7th Century, Santin Feichin built a monastery, but unfortunately, no trace of it remains.
The Cong Abbey ruins are right in the centre of the village and they date back to the 12th Century. The Cong Abbey was burnt down in the early 13th century and rebuilt between the 13th and 16th centuries.
On the main street of Cong, you will see the Market Cross. This decorated limestone cross is said to have been put in place to mark the opening of the Royal Abbey of Cong in the 12th Century.
The Cross of Cong
The Cross of Cong which now lies in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin was discovered in Cong around 1929. The Cross is called the “Bacall Bui” (yellow crozier) and it was commissioned by the king, Turlach O’ Connor and was made in Roscommon in 1123. It is a magnificent piece of work that is said to have held a piece of the true cross.
The Cong cross is made from oak and stands 30 inches high with the crosses arms reaching 19 inches from the centre. It is covered with brass and silver plates washed with gold. The edges of the cross are studded with precious stones and there is a large crystal in the centre of the cross. The carvings and delicate designs on the body of the cross include intricate knotwork and animal heads. Much of the work is similar to Scandinavian designs probably inherited via the Viking raids.
The Cong Cross features several inscriptions including a Latin one, which reads, “The Cross on which the Creator of the world suffered was enshrined in the Bacall Bui”. The Irish Gaelic inscriptions ask for prayers for Turlach O’ Connor, King of Eirinn, for two church dignitaries of the family of O’ Duffy and for the Irish artist who created the cross, Maoiliosa O’ Echan.
Augustinians guarded the cross and only brought it out on special occasions. In the 16th century, the persecutions of the Reformation caused the monks to leave Cong and one Abbot stayed to take care of the Abbey and guard its treasures. It was in 1829 that the last Abbot died and the treasures were found. The Cong Cross was sold but the people of Cong were not happy about it.
Father Pat Lavelle, a Fenian sympathizer became the Parish Priest of Cong and when he travelled to Dublin to view the Cross he stone it and returned it to Cong. Since that time it has been returned to the National Museum in Dublin.
Cong Love Tokens
Many years ago when I first visited Cong I bought an interesting item called the Cong Love Token. It is a small bronze-coated piece around 4 inches tall that has a paper with it stating:
“A symbol from Mayo of love always watching, ever caring. Whoever carries it has a promise of love in their arms.”
“Not of I love you because I need you, but I need you because I love you.”
According to the Wild Goose Studio who design and make the Cong Love Token its design was inspired by the details on the Cross of Cong. These Cong Love tokens can now be purchased from the studio and various retailers across Ireland – it’s even on eBay.
Cong and John Wayne the Quiet Man
The film The Quiet Man starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne is the film that inspires many a visitor to Ireland. Cong Village is obviously, where the movie was filmed.
The Quiet Man Museum in the heart of Cong is just down the road from the iconic statue of O’Hara and Wayne that greets you in Cong. The Museum is an exact replica of the Cottage used in the film and has been replicated down to the last detail including all the furnishing, costumes and artefacts are exact replicas of the original.
The real cottage used in the film, which sits at Teernakill North unfortunately due to some disputes over the years with owners leaving the cottage to rot sits in the rural heart of Galway. However, the powers that be in Galway have taken no measures to save the cottage and so some groups have sprung up hoping to restore the cottage to its original appearance. In 2015, the Cottage was given protected status.
There has been a steady stream of tourists visiting the original cottage site, particularly since Maureen O’Hara’s death but not much of the cottage is left standing. I hope that future efforts will ensure the cottage remains, but perhaps not restored, as a horde of tourists will ruin the peaceful countryside in which the cottage sits.
If you’d like to know, more about the efforts to save the cottage check out the Friends of the Quiet Man cottage on Facebook.
The Abbey in Cong is an Augustinian one, first founded by St. Feichin in 623 and then rebuilt in the 12th century by the O’Connor family, Turlough O’Connor the was the High King of Ireland and Turlough’s son Rory O’Connor was buried here in the late 12th century, although his body was removed and buried at Clonmacnoise.
In the 1960’s Sir Benjamin Guinness who was the owner of Ashford Castle began to rebuild the abbey. Guinness brought in the Foys from Cong who were renowned countryside for their artistic expertise with stonework.
The parish burial grounds are within the Abbey and one of the earliest graves dates from 1709 and reads “pray for the soul of James Lynch, Abbot of Conge”…
At the back of the Abbey, leading from the grounds you will see a pathway leading to a small footbridge, which crosses the river. We were there in October and we could hear the fish jumping in the river and seem them leaping up from the water. As you reach the bridge and walk across you will see a small house to your left with no roof. This is the monks fishing house.
The fishing house was more than likely built in the 15th or 16th century as fish would have been a major part of the monk’s diet. The house is built on a platform of stones, which form a small arch the leaves room for the water to flow under the floor. A trapdoor in the floor might have been used by the monks to let down their nets or cast into the river. There are also the remains of a fireplace, which would have kept them warm in the colder months.
As you walk over the footbridge, you come to the Cong Forest Nature Trail. This is a beautiful walk along the dry canal, which was a famine relief project that turned out to be pretty useless. When the canal was completed, it was discovered that the limestone ground allowed water to disappear into the ground. The surrounding trees and the sense of being completely immersed in the natural surroundings is immensely peaceful and very spiritual.
On a small hill within the walk a short distance from the bridge, there is a modern-day Spirit of Place design celebrating the Fishers of Men designed and built by “30 architect students from the Catholic University, 5 mosaic artists (Rachel Sager, Meghan Walsh, Julie Sperling, Deb Englebaugh, and Lee-Ann Taylor) under the stewardship of Travis Price, Professor of Architecture. The design concept is deeply embedded in Celtic history in the Cong area of Mayo and Galway.” [from Architecture at the edge website] 390 mosaic panels were completed and installed in the Sanctuary in 9 days”.
What to see near Cong
Well, you can’t miss Ashford Castle which you will drive right by on your way to Cong, and did you know Reign the TV series was filmed here? The de Burgo family built the Castle in the 1200s, after a few centuries the Castle was passed into the hands of Sir Richard Bingham after a fierce battle with the de Burgos. In the 1700s the Ashford Estate had a makeover and a fabulous French Chateau style building was added by the Browns. It was in the 1800s that Arthur Guinness bought the Castle.
It was Lord Ardilaun (Arthur Guinness) who devoted much of his immense wealth to the development of the Castle and its ground. It was Guinness who added the walks, local historic artefacts, the forest and gardens. Ashford Castle is now one of the premier Castle hotels in Ireland and it has hosted many celebrities and world politicians.
As a member of the public you can visit the grounds of the Castle for a fee of €10 Euros, just ask the gatekeeper for a map. The public is also welcome at Cullen’s at the Cottage, a casual eating-place set in a thatched cottage with views of the castle. An Afternoon Tea runs from around €40 Euros in the castle itself, again you will need reservations.
You can also take part in activities, which include spa treatments, fishing on Lough Corrib and a guided hawk walks with the School of Falconry. You can indulge in your golf habit, horseback riding and zip-lining.
Moytura House, about two miles east of Cong, overlooks one of the most scenic areas of Lough Corrib. Sir William and Lady Wilde were the parents of the great Oscar Wilde who spent his summers at Moytura House. Oscar was of course born in Dublin and even after the family had left Ireland Oscar regularly visited. On one trip, he wrote to a friend “I am sure you will like this wild mountainous country, close to the Atlantic and teeming with the sport of all kinds. It is every way magnificent and makes me years younger than actual history records”.
In your journeys around Ireland did you forget to pick up that perfect gift to take home, or walk away from that piece of Irish art that you wanted? Well, I have a great gift guide for you so you can grab those Irish presents even when back home. Have a read of My Irish Gift Guide and see what you can find.
If you want to stay in style near Cong you can get near to Ashford Castle by staying in the Lodge, not quite the Castle dream but at over €300 a night still damned luxurious. Check the booking map for places more affordable nearby.
Have you been to Cong? What did you love about it? Were you lucky enough to stay at Ashford Castle? That’s my dream home lol
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