Cong is a small village in County Mayo in the west of Ireland, with a population in 2016 of only 145. It has a ruined abbey and a plush castle hotel, but is best known as the film location for The Quiet Man. "Conga" means narrows and it stands on an isthmus between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, which stretches south to the outskirts of Galway. The west side of the isthmus is Clonbur (An Fhairchein) in County Galway, an even smaller village also described here. The natural place to draw the county boundary would be the river connecting the loughs, but this inconveniently flows underground "through caverns measureless to man" - they're only partly traced let alone explored. The boundary thus wanders all over the place and is ignored on this page.
In the dreamtime, two branches of the tribes of Nemed fought to rule Ireland: the Fir Bolg were challenged by the Tuatha Dé Danann led by Nuada. The key Battle of Moytura Cong lasted for four days on Mount Gable, and Nuada's right hand was chopped off but his side won. The defeated Fir Bolg were awarded Connacht as a peace offering, and Nuada was fitted with a silver hand, but this made him ineligible to be king. They picked Bres instead, who ruled for 7 years then took a drink too many and was killed hunting; Nuada had meanwhile acquired a flesh and blood new hand so he got to be king. There was a second battle on Moytura Ridge (east of Ballymote in County Sligo) where Bres turned out to be alive all along, and now it was Nuada's turn to get killed though again his side won. Still following all this?
These legends were first written down from the 9th to 12th centuries, a period in which the Ua Conchobair (O'Connor) dynasty rose to be High Kings of Ireland. But in the reign of Rory O'Connor, the Anglo-Normans grabbed more and more of Ireland; in 1186 he retired from Tuam to Cong Abbey though he had two later spells of rule.
Thus Cong's position at the centre of Irish affairs was brief and disputed, and a movie called Cong King has somehow never been made. Little else happened for almost 800 years, and the place was not developed, so its traditional village was preserved. That made it a good film location in 1952 for The Quiet Man, a romcom drama set in a lush idyllic rural Ireland. And Cong has traded upon this for almost 70 years - yes count them, almost 70! It's still an attractive (slightly ersatz) place, firmly on the tourist circuit, and the film will always have its admirers, but what future for Cong? Perhaps Mary Kate's dowry money will finally come in handy . . .
Bus Éireann 422 runs three times a day from Castlebar, Mayo to Balintubber, Balinrobe, Neale, Cong, Cross, Glencorrib and Headford. This connects with Burkes Bus between Headford and Galway. No buses reach Clonbur.
From Cong to Ashford Castle is 1 km and to Clonbur is 6 km. Local taxis are O'Meara in Clonbur (+353 872 604352) and Michael Walsh at the Castle (+353 863 953965).
- Ashford Castle and its grounds are now a very upmarket hotel, see "Sleep". You can also dine or sign up for their various sporting activities, but they don't do sightseeing tours. What is not resolved (as of June 2020) is public access to the grounds along the right-of-way footpath, which the hotel has blocked. Legal action and protests continue.
- Quiet Man Museum, Abbey St, Cong. April-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. In The Quiet Man, White O’Morn cottage is the home of newly-weds Sean Thornton (John Wayne) and Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara). The exteriors were filmed at a cottage in County Galway, now ruined; there's occasional talk of restoration but it would involve a total rebuild. This museum in Cong is already its replica. The cottage interior (filmed on set in Republic Studios, LA) is also replicated here as if in the 1920s. They also conduct walking tours of the village and show the movie; you'd never guess it but there's a gift shop. Adult €5.
- 1 Cong Abbey, Abbey St, Cong. Ruins of an Augustinian abbey mostly from 13th C, but built over a church dating back to 7th C. Remains include the abbey church and cloister, and the monks' fishing house over the river. Its magnificent Cross of Cong, a 12th C processional cross of oak, gold and silver, is now in the National Museum in Dublin.
- Cong Canal was not one of the 19th century's construction triumphs. Water flows south from Lough Mask to Lough Corrib through underground channels in the limestone. The 5 km canal was cut to enable boats from Galway to get up into Lough Mask, and to manage the flow for mills and drainage. But except in winter spate, the water still preferred to flow underground, so the canal and its stout locks and bridges are mostly dry.
- 2 Pigeon Hole Cave is where they should have looked for their missing water. It's a scenic woodland walk then you descend steps down a chasm to the underground stream. Nearby Dog's Cave is closed off. There are many caves in the area for suitably trained and equipped cavers. They're often flooded so cave-diving is needed to explore them.
- 3 Ballykine Castle is a medieval fortress, long-ruined and unsafe to enter.
- 4 Glebe Stone Circles are four circles off R345, 1.5 km northeast of Cong. The largest has 23 stones about a metre tall with cup and ring marks.
- 5 Ballymacgibbon Cairn is off R346, 3 km east of Cong. It's Neolithic and probably contains a passage grave but has never been excavated.
- 6 Ross Hill Abbey, Clonbur. These ruins, also known as Teampall Brendain, are within Roshill Cemetery, in an oval enclosure or cashel. Some 30 m west is an Ogham Stone, carved with early Irish script.
- 7 Mount Gable (417 m / 1370 ft) can be climbed from the car park 2 km west of Clonbur. Lough Coolin at its foot has the cottages of an abandoned village. The lough was renowned for white trout until the 1960s, when someone had the bright idea of introducing pike. A short time later, the lough was renowned for its well-fed pike.
- Moytura House just west of Cong was built by the notable surgeon Sir William Wilde. His even more notable son Oscar Wilde often spent summer here until his twenties. It's now a private dwelling and you can't really see anything of it from the lane.
- 8 Lough Mask House 10 km northeast is likewise private. This was the home 1873-1880 of Captain Charles Boycott, who found trouble wherever he went, and came into conflict with his tenants. Plenty of them were ready for violence, but Parnell the leader of the Land League argued for non-violent methods: ostracism and refusal to work, trade or deal with the oppressor in any way. An expedition had to be mounted to harvest the crops at Lough Mask, and then he and his family were escorted by Hussars to Dublin where they sailed for England. It was reckoned that the government had spent £10,000 in saving his £500 worth of turnips, and the term "to boycott" entered the language. Cecil Parker played the Captain in the film of 1947.
- 9 Ross Errily Friary is south near Headford, just across the boundary into County Galway. It may have been founded in 1351, but was certainly active from 1460. Its monks were Franciscan, on the wrong side of the conflict with Henry VIII, and the place was destroyed in 1538. It then became the most serially-suppressed monastery in Ireland, as time after time the monks snuck back and re-built, were covertly supported by local landowners, then again dispersed by fire and the sword. In spite of Cromwell, the Williamite Wars and the Penal Laws, the last monks clung on till 1832. The Friary is now a substantial ruin, with a church, bell tower, two cloisters, kitchens and living quarters. It was still used for burials into the 20th century. The site is free to wander any time.
- 1 Petersburg Outdoor Education Centre, Kilbeg Lower, Clonbur, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. On the shores of Lough Mask, the OEC offers activities for youth, adult and corporate groups, water-based or landside. They have a self catering hostel and camp.
- Ashford Equestrian Centre is based on the castle estate, as is the golf course.
- See Fishing in Ireland for catch rules on Lough Mask.
- R300 is the scenic drive along the west shore of Lough Mask. Tourmakeady has a distillery (see below) and waterfall.
- 2 Ballinrobe Racecourse is 1 km north of Ballinrobe village on N84 Castlebar Rd. It hosts ten meetings April-Sept, both flat-racing and National Hunt.
- Clonbur has a Centra convenience store open M-Sa 08:00-21:00, Su 08:00-19:00.
- Cong has lots of Quiet Man and similar tourist merchandise.
- Cong pubs and hotels serve food, eg Fennel Seed within Ryan's Hotel is open daily 12:30-22:00.
- Cong cafes are Puddleducks and Butler & Byrne.
- Ashford Castle dining options are George V Room, The Connaught Room for afternoon tea, The Dungeon, and Cullen's at the Cottage.
- Cong pubs are Pat Cohan's Gastropub, Danagher's and Crowes Nest within Ryan's Hotel.
- Clonbur pubs are Eddie's (within Fairhill House), Brendan Lynch's and Burke's.
- Lough Mask Distillery produces gin, vodka and whiskey, and offers tours. It's on R300 the west lakeshore road towards Tourmakeady.
- 1 Cong Camping, Caravan & Glamping Park, Quay Rd, Cooslughoga, Cong F31 XD56, ☏ . Camping and caravan site open Mar-Oct, dogs welcome. Tent or caravan pitch €30, glamping €38.
- Ryan's Hotel, Main St, Cong, ☏ . Clean and comfy small hotel in village centre. B&B double €110.
- Other places in Cong village include Ryan's River Lodge and Lydons Lodge.
- 2 Ashford Castle, Cong F31 CA48, ☏ . Splurgy, top-class place, gets rave reviews for comfort, service and cuisine. The hotel is mostly Victorian but there's been a millennium of re-furbs, mostly lately in 2015, and a stellar list of guests. Much of The Quiet Man was filmed in and around its grounds. Many country pursuits are available here: fishing, falconry, golf, shooting etc. B&B double from €500.
- The Lodge is the castle's mid-range annexe, B&B double from €180, contact details as above.
- 3 Fairhill House Hotel (Eddie's Bar), Clonbur, ☏ . Friendly modern mid-range place, often does weddings. B&B double from €120.
As of Feb 2021, you'll get a passable mobile signal from Eir and Vodafone but not Three, and there isn't 4G.
- East is pastoral East Galway, and the religious centre of Tuam.
- West is Connemara. The stone arch bridge of The Quiet Man is on N59 between Oughterard and Maam Cross.
- South is the lively city of Galway.