The picturesque village of Cong was the first stop on my recent road trip around Mayo with my brother. Neither of us had been before so we were keen to check it out. We spent a few hours exploring this beautiful scenic spot, which was pretty easy, as most of the attractions are located within a short walking distance of each other.
Here’s a cruisy little walk we took around some of the main highlights during our much too short visit:
Cong Abbey – start out at the ruins of the abbey, which is located just across the road from the tourist information centre on the very aptly named Abbey Street! The ruins of this former Augustinian abbey mainly date back to the 13th century when it underwent a significant rebuilt. Other parts remain from earlier. Take time to have a good look around at what is said to be some of the finest examples of early gothic architecture and stonework in Ireland.
Monk’s Fishing House – this little gem is found in an idyllic location on the grounds of the abbey, so you won’t have to walk far. From the Abbey, just follow the trails that head to the water! The fishing house dates from somewhere between the 15th and 16th century and was built to make thing a little easier for the monks. It was built on a platform of stones over the River Cong, allowing the water to flow through under the floor. A trapdoor in the floor then allowed the monks to fish while staying nice and dry inside, by the fire. It’s said that there was even a line connected from the fishing house to a bell in the kitchen of the monastery so they could let the cook know there would be fresh fish available for dinner. Genius!
Guinness Tower – this 20m high tower is only about a 10 minute walk from the Fishing House. Cross the bridge taking you over the river towards the forest recreation area. At the other side take a left turn and walk along by the river. You’ll come to a gate leading into the Ashford Estate but instead just continue to the right along the trail for another few minutes. You’ll pass another gate on your left and then a big cave on your right. Continue until you come to a fork in the trail then and take the track leading to the left. You’ll soon spot the tower, though it is pretty well hidden between the trees. It’s a proper fairytale tower (think Rapunzel!) and you can even climb the staircase to the top but don’t expect amazing views. The trees have now outgrown the tower so you can no longer enjoy the surrounding views, as you could have in the past. Still, the tower is definitely worth checking out and the extra steps to get to the top mean you can spoil yourself with dessert later, right?!
Ashford Castle and Estate – returning along the same track we took, we returned to that first gate down by the river which leads to the Ashford Estate. You can follow the trail all the way along the river and will soon see this impressive castle appearing in front of you! The castle and grounds used to belong to the Guinness family, having been purchased in 1852 by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, grandson of Arthur Guinness. He did a lot of work renovating and adding extensions. He also built the Guinness Tower on the estate. Ashford Castle is now a five star luxury hotel and spa. If the budget doesn’t stretch to staying the night you can still wander the grounds and the gardens for a small fee. I think it was €10 for adults and €5 for children. We met a lovely couple who had come to see the castle 40 years ago and had a photo taken out front but didn’t get inside. Now they had returned to finally stay in the castle for a few nights and asked us to take the same photo. Too cute!
Follow in the footstep of Hollywood stars – After our peek at the Castle, we returned to the village for a little wander. Cong is perhaps best known as the filming location of the 1952 Oscar-winning film, The Quiet Man. It may have been some time ago now but the movie is still a drawcard for many visitors. You can’t miss the life-size statue of the films main characters, portrayed by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, which is just across the road from the abbey. Just around the corner you’ll find The Quiet Man Museum, an exact replica of the cottage in the movie. They offer walking tours and chauffeur driven tours of different locations in the movie too.
The museum was not open when we visited (it was just out of season) but opens daily from April 1st to 31 October. However, if visiting outside this time you can contact them by email to arrange entry or tours. I should confess at this point that I have never watched the movie. I’ll definitely be watching it before my next trip to Cong though!
After our little exploration we headed to The Hungry Monk for sustenance and to escape the bitterly cold spring day! Their delicious soup and homemade brown bread with a big pot of tea hit the spot. The owners, Jonathan and Aisling were so friendly, chatting to everyone and offering tips on things to do in the area. I was seriously tempted by the yummy looking cakes too but next time!
If you have more time here, enjoy some of the walks in the forest recreation area or at nearby Ard na Gaoithe Forest Park where you can do a scenic loop walk with views of Lough Corrib and its islands. There’s also a swimming area which is safe for bathing in the summer months. Other options include boat trips on the lake and an equestrian centre and school of falconry on the grounds of Ashford Castle, which can be enjoyed by non-residents.
Check out a more extensive list of things to do in Cong here on the Tourism Ireland website.