Student travel: exploring Cong, Co Mayo
Interested in exploring Ireland while studying? Take Moria–our US and Maynooth University Ambassador’s advice and pay a visit to beautiful Cong in Co Mayo. A quaint village with a fascinating history and so much to offer…
Getting to some parts of Ireland require a bit of effort to reach – by plane, train, and automobile as the saying goes. My favourite spots need at least one change over, and Cong, Co Mayo is no exception.
A brief history of Cong, Co. Mayo
Cong is a small town near the Mayo-Galway border deep in the Connacht region. It is very rural, with a population just over two thousand and quiet, even in the summer months. The town of Cong has remained quite the same. Main Street is the centre of town which turns into a series of choices; take the route towards the trout pond to see more of the town or the path towards the castle past the abbey and into the woods. Wherever you end up is easy walking and beautifully preserved.
The largest building is an attractive castle called the Ashford. Prior to its conversion the residence was owned by the Guinness family. The very same popular beer makers out of Dublin! The family bought the property in 1852 and added a number of extensions in Victorian and neo-gothic styles; these additions were not exactly in keeping with the original style of the place but there would be even greater changes made in the 20th century. It is now an elaborate five star hotel with a full golf course, boating facilities, and a falconry school.
Getting to Cong
Cong it a bit out of the way for most travellers who don’t have access to a car. The best way, then, is to make your way to Galway. It’s a lovely place to spend a few hours and a walk down the Salthill Promenade is gorgeous, no matter the season. From Eyre Square, Galway Bus Station hop on the 456 to Cong. The trip takes about an hour, following the bank of Lough Corrib. It’s best to plan for a couple of days in the area. There is every type of lodging to satisfy every type of traveller – from the aforementioned Ashford Castle to Michaeleen’s Manor B&B.
The Americans come to town
Cong is perhaps one of the most picturesque places in all of Ireland. In winter or summer the land is lush, the lakes still and shining, the whitewashed houses cheerful under thatched roofs. Under one particular roof is preserved quite a story – when Hollywood came to the West!
In 1951 director John Ford brought over quite a collection to film The Quiet Man – western film star John Wayne, beauty Maureen O’Hara, and even electricity. Cong was a very small place but what set it apart for filming was Ashford Castle, deemed suitable for such notable American movie stars. Ford determined that everything else could be brought in, including a telephone!
The story gets even stranger. Despite weeks of planned shooting there were only six days without a cloud in the sky. Due to the fact the exterior filming covered a fair amount of the land in and around Cong going on a walking tour of the filming locations is a fantastic way to see this town – which is just what I have done with a few members of my family. The Quiet Man is still popular in American culture, being a staple of St. Partick’s Day celebrations and preserved in National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. This idealised vision of Ireland was embraced by the citizens of Cong; the film showed a personable relationship between a Catholic priest and Protestant reverend, a toast to “…peace and freedom”, and the only film with the Irish language represented to win an Oscar.
Taking a walk through Cong Forest lets you really appreciate the nature that is hard to get in the cities. The grounds of the forest are actually part of an old abbey where the last High King of Ireland, Rory O Connor, resided in his final years. Here you can see a fishing hut built by and for monks to test their rods and patience. In fact, the water is so clear that you can sometimes spot the fish as they swim past! The bridge brings you right into the old growth forest and within are yew trees hundreds of years old, and strangely, a Giant Sequoia transplanted from California. This forest belongs to the Celtic Rainforests, known for rainy/misty days, equable temperature, and quite the place for mosses and lichen growth. Due to this, the forest has a dampening effect on noise making the trails cosy and very green!
There is enough in Cong to keep you for days on end. If you’re into sport or nature or even crafts there is something to keep you entertained. Be prepared to take some of the best photos in Ireland from this little town. In every season it is bursting with colour. Even the rain doesn’t seem as harsh or cold in Cong. While the time of the “Quiet Man Crazies” may have begun to wane, the charm and good nature of the film came from Cong itself and has not faded in the slightest.