The little town of Cong, Ireland is set on an island surrounded by streams on all sides. The village is on the border of County Galway and County Mayo and is claimed by both, depending on what side of the river you happen to be standing.
The tiny, charming village boasts an official population of fewer than 200 people but there is a surprising number of things to do when you visit. Cong is home to the lovely Ashford Castle, which is now a luxury hotel, as well as numerous walking trails and quiet natural corners.
The town has also long been an inspiration for artists. It was the setting for the award-winning film "The Quiet Man," and was once the idealized vacation retreat for the writer Oscar Wilde.
Find all the hidden gems of this tucked-away village with our complete guide to things to do in Cong.
Stay at Ashford Castle
The Guinness Family has long been wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. After creating Ireland’s favorite pint, the family went on to build hunting lodges and country homes modeled on Victorian castles. The best example is Ashford Castle in Cong. The castle was first built in medieval times but was extensively remodeled and expanded by the Guinness family in the 1850s and 1860s. Today, the stunning stone home is a luxury hotel where guests can spend the night within the stately walls, or simply stop for a fancy cup of tea.
Visit Cong Abbey
Cong Abbey stands in ruins today but it is still regarded as one of the most important examples of medieval ecclesiastical architecture in Ireland. The first church was built in this spot in the 7th century. Over the years, it was raided, destroyed, and rebuilt (sometimes with the help of the High Kings of Ireland). The structure that remains dates back to the 12th or 13th century. While the roof is gone, the walls attest to the expert masonry of the time and give a sense of early gothic influence in Ireland. The grounds of the abbey are also home to the tranquil Monk’s Fishing House.
Find Peace at the Monk’s Fishing House
The saying goes that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. The monks of Cong Abbey were primarily concerned with souls, but they also set up an ingenious system for catching fish and staving off hunger. Wander along the grounds of Cong Abbey to admire the ruins of the Monk’s Fishing House that still stand over the river. The structure was built on a platform over the water and came complete with a trapdoor, through which the monks could drop their nets. A line linked the net to the kitchen, and alerted the cook whenever a fresh fish had been caught. The space may also have been used for quiet meditation and the remains of a chimney are still visible.
Explore the Caves of Cong
Perhaps thanks to the extensive waterways, the area around Cong is full of caves. You can hike and explore many of the local caves, including Kelly’s Cave, Teach Aille, and Captain Webb’s Cave. The best-known cave is Pigeon Hole Cave which may have been used by the monks at Cong Abbey like a natural refrigerator to keep food cool. However, keep in mind that these areas can flood without any notice so it is best to find a local guide. Guides can also share the folklore and fairy stories that surround Irish caves.
Follow in the Footsteps of The Quiet Man
When boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne) accidentally kills his opponent in the ring, he flees America to seek out a quiet life in Ireland. Making his way to Cong, he soon falls in love with Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara), the sister of the man who seems set on thwarting any of his attempts at a happy life on the Emerald Isle. This is the plot of the 1952 film "The Quiet Man," which went on to win Oscars for Best Director and Best Cinematography. However, one of the true stars of the movie is Cong itself, where you can still find the thatched roof cottage that becomes a plot point in the film. These days, a replica of the cottage has been turned into a museum dedicated to the beloved classic film.
The whitewashed walls of The Quiet Man Museum are recreated exactly as White O’Morn cottage appears in the movie, right down to the green half door. Inside you will find authentic reproductions of furniture and costumes that were once on the silver screen. The museum is a great stop for movie buffs, though true enthusiasts should also stay for the walking tours, which leave hourly from the museum during April through October, and stop at many of the most recognizable filming locations in Cong village.
Walk the Cong Forest Nature Trail
It might be an understatement to say that the village of Cong is small. With only about 150 full-time residents, the town itself is itty-bitty. However, what Cong lacks in size it makes up for in natural wonders. The area around the village is full of walking trails and lakes for boating. After exploring the Abbey, follow the signs for the Cong walking trail, a 1.5-mile loop through the woodlands near Ashford Castle. The easy trail passes by many of the area's famous caves as well as special areas of conservation. For a longer walk, you can follow the trail to Clonbur instead of circling back through the woods.
Channel Oscar Wilde at Moytura House
Oscar Wilde was born and educated in Dublin but spent many of his childhood summers in Cong. The Wilde family owned Moytura House, a country estate overlooking Lough Corrib. The six-bedroom home was built by Oscar’s father and the Irish writer went on to look back at his time with family in Cong as one of the happiest periods of his life. Cong is also the final resting place of Isola, Oscar’s beloved sister.
Fish for Trout on the Lakes
Being surrounded by water on all sides has an obvious advantage for those who love fresh fish. Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, which flow on either side of Cong, are two of the best wild trout fishing spots in Ireland. There are also salmon to be caught in peak season, which makes Cong a major destination for anglers from all over Europe.
Want to feel truly at home in Ashford Castle? The best way to settle into luxurious Irish country life might be to adopt the same habits as the gentry who once frolicked in the same manicured gardens. For a taste of times gone by, you can enroll in Ireland's oldest falconry school and fly your very own Harris hawk across the grounds. Don a leather glove and a commanding attitude and you will be ready to rub elbows with the Guinness's in no time.