The village of Cong straddles the borders of County Galway and County Mayo, in the west of Ireland. Cong (Cúnga Fheichín in Irish, meaning "Saint Feichin's narrows") - Cunga means a narrow strip of land. The village is known for its underground streams that connect Lough Corrib with Lough Mask to the north.
The Augustinian Abbey in Cong was built in 1120 by Turlough O’Connor (High King of Ireland), on the site of a 6th century church associated with St. Feichín. It is a fine example of a ruined medieval abbey, and it was here that Rory O'Connor, the last High King of Ireland, died and was buried in 1198 though his remains were later moved to Clonmacnoise. The abbey continued as a site of worship and learning, until it was suppressed in the reign of King Henry VIII in 1542. It then fell into ruins but was later restored in 1850’s by the direction of Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, former owner of Ashford Castle. Stroll around the monastic cloisters and cast your mind back to the psalm chanting monks following the ornate Cross of Cong which is now in the National Museum.
The Market Cross in the village commemorates two former abbots of the monastery and is the first piece of history you meet as you enter the village. It serves to remind us of the long history and association Cong village has with religion. It was erected to mark the completion of the Royal Abbey of Cong in the 12th century and is made from limestone, the most predominant type of stone in the area. The lettering on the cross is in the old Gaelic language and reads "A prayer for Niahol and Gillibard O'Duffy who were Abbotts of Cong".
In the 1850s the Cong Canal, was built over a five year period, but was a failure due to its inability to hold water. Due to the limestone nature of the terrain, the water disappeared into the ground like water gurgling down the plug hole of a bath. Today it is known as the "Dry Canal", and is used as a drainage channel only with the water level varying between 6 inches and 12 feet depending on the time of year (summer dry, winter full).
Cong is the home of Ashford Castle, a medieval lakeside castle, once the estate of Lord Ardilaun and the Guinness Family. Ashford Castle opened as a luxury hotel in 1939 and continues as a major tourist attraction today.
John Ford's greatest movie "The Quiet Man", set in the beautiful west of Ireland and starring John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara and Barry Fitzgerald, was made in 1951. Cong was the filming location for that Oscar-winning production and much of the movie was filmed on the grounds of Ashford Castle. Cong's connection with the movie make it a tourist attraction and the it is still celebrated by the local "Quiet Man Fan Club".
According to legend, two ancient tribes of Ireland- the Firbolgs and the Tuatha de Danann - fought a mighty and memorable battle on the great plains of Moytura in Cross. They played the first ever hurling match on those plains. The Fir Bolgs were unwilling to share the country with the intruders - believed to have come from Scandinavia - and the battle lasted four days. The Fir Bolg fought and gave their best, but in vain, the battle was won by de Tuatha de Danann. Ballymagibbon Cairn was erected to celebrate the battle.
Ballymacgibbon Cairn is a huge, limestone cairn approx 50 meters in diameter, surrounded by a low mound. The cairn is signposted on the right-hand side of the road as you travel from Cross to Cong. There are ruins of three other cairns within 1km of Ballymacgibbon.
The 7th century ruins of St Fura's church at Ballymagibbon can still be seen. An interesting relic of this old ruin is now placed in the porch of Cross church. It is a carved stone having in relief the figure of a child.
Moytura House, the one time residence of Sir William and Lady Wilde, parents of Oscar Wilde, overlooks one of the most scenic sections of Lough Corrib. It was during his time at Moytura House that Wilde wrote "Wilde's Loch Corrib", considered to be one of the best books ever written on the topography of Ireland. Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin but the young playwright and poet spent much of his early life at Moytura House. Long after the family had left the region, Oscar frequently returned to visit his native home in the west of Ireland.
The small village of The Neale is situated close to the isthmus of Cong and has a wealth of historical and archaeological information virtually unknown.
In 18th century Ireland the great houses and estates of the landlords were built. The Neale estate, approx 400 acres, was surrounded by a high double wall, inside of which the landlord built a number of unusual monuments including 'The Temple'. This is an unfinished temple of carved stone, hexagonal, with 6 plain Doric columns. The arches at the base of the Temple date from an earlier time and the columns were probably replaced on top of the old structure to give it height. The Temple was used by the ladies of the Big House for meetings, knitting and relaxing. Adjacent to The Neale village is the home of the first Englishman to settle in the country - sheriff and map maker - John Browne. His descendant Lord Kilmaine, was responsible for the building of the Temple.
In September 1879, The Neale attracted international attention, and in the process created a new word in the English language, by initiating a rare form of non-violent protest. At that time Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (agent for Lord Erne), who lived at Lough Mask House, near The Neale, served eviction notices against some of his tenants. The local people reacted swiftly, they swarmed the estate, invaded the house and advised the servants to abandon their posts. The cattle herds ceased working, the blacksmith was too busy to shoe the Captain’s horses, the baker ran out of flour and the Captain's crops were ripening with no one to harvest them. The first 'Boycott' has begun in earnest. A 'Boycott Relief Expedition' of 50 northern Orangemen escorted by two thousand soldiers arrived in Mayo to assist Captain Boycott. However, this campaign was quickly rendered ineffective by the continued opposition of the locals and by late November, Boycott realised that all his efforts were in vain, so he was forced to return to England until the agitation had subsided.