An Enchanting Visit to Cong

Selected Blog from the Returning to Wonder Series – 2012 to 2017

Now for those of you who might not know, (this would include me, before I travelled there); Cong is a small, very picturesque village situated on an isthmus of land that lies between two large inland lakes – Lough Corrib and Lough Mask. The village also straddles the borders of counties Mayo and Galway. Cong has historically been the gateway into the ancient kingdom of Connemara and was the location for John Ford’s Oscar-winning film, ‘The Quiet Man’.

I was on a travel writing assignment, probably as close to the perfect job that this wandering storyteller ever landed! After a weary evening drive from Donegal, through heavy persistent rain and partially flooded roads, I was greatly relieved to reach my cosy accommodation at Hazel Grove B&B, located about 2km outside Cong. I pulled open the bedroom curtains the following morning. The rain had cleared and I gazed out at an enchanting landscape of woodlands, emerald green hills and distant mountains, bathed by soft, golden sunshine.

Although Cong is in the West of Ireland, it has a surprisingly lush appearance, due to its extensive native woodlands and limestone waterways, flanked by overhanging ivy-clad trees. I began my morning stroll on the banks of Lough Corrib and gazed out at a multitude of wooded islands as I walked. The famous pirate queen of the west, Grace O’Malley, once had an island stronghold on Lough Corrib. Saint Patrick is associated with another island on Lough Corrib,Local tradition maintains that a ruined church on Inchagoill island was constructed by St. Patrick and his nephew Lugnad, who was credited with bringing him back to Ireland by boat. Nearby the church stands an enigmatic stone called ‘Lugnad’s Pillar’. It bears the oldest known inscription in Ireland in the Latin alphabet dating back to the 6th century.

After a traditional Irish breakfast (the breakfast of kings), I was back in the village and exploring the atmospheric Royal Abbey of Cong. The last High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, is buried beneath its ancient walls and the Cross of Cong is evidence that the abbey was an important centre for Celtic Christian Art. I had the whole place to myself, which is part of the magic of touring many sites in Ireland. A path led down to the river’s edge and I sat awhile in the ruins of a stone building known as The Monk’s Fishing House. The scene was truly enchanting. The waters of the flood swollen river were somehow crystal clear and I spied a sea trout as its scales flashed momentarily like quick silver in a blink of bright sunlight. For a moment I could imagine myself as one of the monks contently fishing and then excitedly ringing the bell to let the cook know that supper was caught!

When I arrived back to my B&B to collect my travel luggage, my hosts, Anne and Gerry Coakley, had prepared a plate of fresh sandwiches, pastries, and a hot mug of tea for me. We sat and talked together for almost an hour after lunch and Gerry showed my an old traditional spinning wheel, which he had skilfully hand crafted. Later I would find out that they rang B&B Ireland to say that they were seeking no compensation for my stay as I was their guest. The heart of hospitality still beats in many Irish homes to this very day.

Gathering my trekking gear, I thanked my kind hosts, and headed for nearby Mount Gable. An easy access carpark at the foot of the mountain left me with a tough but rewarding forty minute trek to the ridge. A bright, crescent moon was rising over the dusky Mayo Plains as I ascended while a pale yellow winter sun was beginning to set over the wild mountains of Connemara. Cong appeared like a narrow neck of land, stretched between the two vast inland lakes of Lough Mask and Lough Corrib. It was truly one of the most breathtaking views I have ever gazed out upon.

The Returning to Wonder continues…