As for the Tuatha Dé Danann, they all arrived in Ireland, and immediately broke and burnt all their ships and boats. Then they proceeded to the Red Hills of Rian in Brefne in the east of Connacht, where they halted and encamped. And at last their hearts and minds were filled with contentment that they had attained to the land of their ancestors.
Cong is a small and extraordinalry beautiful village on the border of Counties Mayo and Galway, between Lough
Mask and Lough Corrib. This is an area with a wealth of ancient monuments and neolithic structures which were better known in Victorian times than they are today. There are two massive cairns in the area, and a third not far to the north, which are probably unopened neolithic passage-graves. Also to be seen are the remains of five or six smaller cairns which may date from the bronze age; the four stone circles at Glebe or Nymphsfield, numerous standing stones, a series of caves, and several kinds of enclosure, including ringforts and large cashels.
In recent years Cong is better known for it's connection with the famous Irish - American movie, the Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, portions of which was filmed in the locality. The whole region is full of sites of antiquarian interest for the visitor, and there are many unusual things to be seen: Ashford castle is close by, and there are a number of follies at Neale; there is a Harry Clarke stained glass window in the local church, and the sacred island of Inchagioll is a short boat trip from Cong. Sir William Wilde built a holiday home on the shores of Lough Corrib which he named Moytura House, and many well-known antiquarians and authors came to visit and consult with him.
The First Battle of Moytura
The Cong area is associated with the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the race of mythological beings responsible for building many of the great ancient sites found in Ireland. The tale of the First Battle of Moytura comes from a manuscript housed in the collections of Trinity College which was translated by Gaelic scholar Eugene O'Curry. The story recounts a great battle for the possession of Ireland between the Firbolg and the invading Tuatha Dé Danann. A second instalment of the myth, which is known as the Second Battle of Moytura, recounts a later struggle between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Formorians is set on the east shore of Lough Arrow in County Sligo. However quite a few additions to the original myth of the First Battle are romantic fabrications and embellishments added by Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar. His writings on the mythology and sites in the area are reproduced here.
However, a lecture published by Henry Morris in the late 1920's makes the very persuasive argument that both battles took place in County Sligo, which certainly has evidence of early neolithic colinisation.The causewayed enclosure at Magheraboy has been dated to around 4,200 BC, and the nearby Carrowmore Megalithic Complex was considered in antiquarian times to be the graveyard of the warriors slain during the First Battle. Morris contends that the First Battle took place on the strand on the south shore of Ballisodare Bay, an area clustered with ancient sites and mythology. Morris believed that the area which was known as Conga between the town of Ballisodare and Beltra was the original site, and a mistranslation in a fifteenth century manuscript resulted in the story being moved to the southern battle site.
It will be conceded right off that since the beginning of the 17th century, if not indeed earlier still, this location has practically all authority behind it. The O'Clery's, both in the Annals and the Leabhar Gabhala, Keating in his History, and O'Flaherty in the Ogygia, all agree in placing it in "Conmacine Chuile Toladh of Connacht." O'Flaherty is even more explicit: he says this decisive battle was "fought at Moytura in Partry, near the lake of Conmacine Cuil Toladh." Furthermore, Michael O'Clery and others call it the battle of "Maigh Tuiread of Cong." To the eastward of the well-known village of Cong lies a plain studded over with cairns and other prehistoric monuments. O'Donovan identified this plain as the battlefield of Moytura South: Sir William Wilde, in 1872, with his facile pen cast over it the glamour of romance, and now some of the inhabitants of this plain name their houses after the battlefield, and it is part of the creed of every school child that the battle of Moytura South was fought near Cong.
There are numerous ancient sites around Cong, and it was obviously an extremely important location during the neolithic and bronze age eras, but the area is relatively unknown today. The colonizing tribes of Irish mythology, who we now know originated in Anatolia at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, and who settled in France before emigrating to Ireland, may well have sailed into Galway Bay, up the River Corrib and onto the great lake. Lough Corrib is the second largest lake in Ireland, and it is some thirty-five kilometers by boat from Galway city at the mouth of the river Corrib to Cong at the northern end of the enormous lake.
There are several large and impressive neolithic stone cairns, probably passage-graves in the area. These are the monuments most associated with the Tuatha Dé Danann in Irish mythology. One of the finest
and most accessible examples of an undisturbed and unopened cairn
can be seen at Ballymacgibbon, just west of the village of Cross.
Two or three more badly damaged cairns can be found in the fields north of Cross and Cong; some of them were opened and exxcavated by antiquarians and they seem to be later bronze age monuments.
For the benefit of those who might not be fully acquainted with Irish topography, it may be stated that the strand called Traigh Eothaile is mentioned very frequently in Irish history, and to all familiar with that history it is as well known as the strand of Malahide or Clontarf. It lay some three miles west of Ballisodare, and at low tide was about a square mile in extent. Up till 70 years ago the regular roads both east and west and north and south crossed this strand; but in 1858 a rampart was constructed which shut out the sea, so that this fine and famous strand is now a "dismal swamp" covered with rushes and other water-loving vegetation. In the construction of the rampart the monuments of King Eochaidh and his assailants were destroyed, the larger stones being used to build the rampart, and only a couple of little stones at present mark these ancient sepulchres.
Another large example is Ecohy's Cairn, built in a spectacular
location on a low hill a few kilometers north of Cong. There is a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape: to
the mountains of Connemara and south Mayo across Lough Mask to the west.
This cairn is fairly intact, though some quarrying has taken place. It
is surrounded by the remains of a large oval enclosure, which may be a
secondary or later feature. The Ordinance Survey Letters for County Galway suggest that
this cairn may have been ringed by standing stones, and five small standing stones can be seen within the enclosure. Further north towards Ballinrobe is the monsterous Daithi's cairn, which looks to have been about the size of Heapstown cairn or Queen Maeve's cairn in County Sligo.
The Nymphsfield stone circles
The Nymphsfield circles were first noted by Edward
Lhwyd on his tour of Ireland in 1699. Lhwyd measured and made sketches of the four circles, and noted smaller inner circles or settings within two of them. William Stukeley, the great English antiquarian later reproduced Lhwyd's unpublished drawings.
Only one of the Cong circles has public access and is easy to visit. The other three circles are on private prioperty, and the owners permission is needed to visit. The circles are located at on the former grounds of an estate known as Nymphsfield or Glebe, about two kilometers north from the entrance to Ashford Castle, and are signposted from the Cong to Neale road.
Access to the first circle is relatively easy, as a stile provides an entrance from the road; although visitors should note there is no easy or a safe place to park. It is a short walk across a field to the first circle, which is within an iron fence. The circle has several large beech trees growing around it. This circle is in quite good condition, with twenty-three of the stones in place, though several are broken off at ground level. The circle stones are hoary slabs of local limestone, and are quite weathered; some such as the example to the left, have 'dimples' or pockmarks on the inner face. The circle is about fourteen meters in diameter, and there is a small mound or cairn of stones within the east side. Lhuyd's illustration shows a smaller inner ring within the circle.
On crest of a rise in pasture, enclosed by modern Victorian iron railing, with three more stone circles to east and south. The circle is incomplete, comprising thirty stones, some of which are broken. They are 0.17 meters to 1.28 meters long, 0.07 meters to 0.34 m thick, 0.2 meters to 1.25 meters high. The internal diameter of the circle is 16.2 meters north to south; 15.9 meters east to west. A low mound, which may be a field clearance cairn (H 0.3m; Wth 4m) is located in the centre of this circle. Some of the stones are disturbed by tree growth.
The second circle is in the back garden of the nearby Glebe house, the Old Rectory,
surrounded by a garden wall. It is the most complete of the four stone circles. Again there are several interesting naturally pocked and weathered stones within the ring. The limestone slabs are rectangular and generally about a meter tall.
On a rise in the garden at the back of the Old Rectory, now a dwelling house to west. The other three stone circles are located to the north and east. Enclosed west to east by modern iron railing and east to west, by stone field fence. The circle is incomplete, comprising twenty-one stones. Thirteen stones set into inner base of earthen bank (H 0.5m), levelled east to west. Orthostats are 0.38 meters to 1.4 meters in length, 0.14 meters to 0.4 meters in thickness, and 0.2 meters to 1.2 meters high. The internal diameter of this circle is 17.4 meters north to south; 17.6 meters east to west.
The smallest of the Cong stone circles, located across a field wall to the north, is largely intact, but is covered with thorn bushes and scrub. This atmospheric monument truly looks like a dwelling from the otherworld.
This, the smallest of the four circles is located in level field to the east of the other three stone circles at Glebe. This circle is incomplete, consisting of ten upright stones set on a low mound, with six stones lying prostrate. The stones are 0.38 meters to 1 meter in length, 0.35 meters to 0.6 meters thick, and 0.25 meters to 1 meter in height. The internal diameter 14.6 meter north to south; 19.9 meters east to west.
The largest of the four Nymphsfield stone circles is found in the field furthest from the Cong to Neale road. Only about one third of this circle survives, the monument probably used as a source for stones to build field walls. This circle is on privare land, and permission should be sought from the owner to visit. The circle stones are on the inner side of a stony bank, a feature which is also found at Lough Gur in County Limerick. The circle was about thirty-three meters in diameter and the tallest stones are less that 1.5 meters tall. As with the other Nymphsfield monuments, there are several very sculptural weathered stones within this circle.
In level pasture, with the other three stone circles located to the west and and north is the largest circle. This monument is incomplete, levelled, possibly due to ploughing southeast to southwest. Eighteen upright stones, representing the remains of two concentric circles, set on inner and outer face of earthen bank about 0.5 meters high. Ten stones lie prostrate on the bank, which has been levelled southeast to southwest. The remaining orthostats within the circle are are 0.3 meters to 1.3 meters in length, 0.34 meters to 0.66 mmeters in thickness, and 0.3 meters to 1.42 meters tall. The internal diameter of this circle is 32.6 meters east to west.
William Wilde, father of Oscar, built a holiday home at Cong, called Moytura House. Wilde often stayed there during the last thirteen years of his life, and wrote extensively about the area; he had this to say about the Nymphsfield stone circles:
Before proceeding with the narrative, we must here conduct our readers to the
existing Danann monuments that accumulate in the fields opposite the glebe
of Nymphsfield, to a portion of which local tradition has assigned the
name of Cath na bPunndn, "the battle of the sheaves."
There are here five very remarkable stone circles still remaining within the
compass of a quarter of a square mile, and there are traces of others.
The following examples are highly illustrative of these remarkable monuments.
That figured above consists of nineteen flat flagstones placed in a circle,
each inclining outwards, perfectly smooth on the outside, but grooved
and hollowed on their internal faces, which were evident]y those originally
exposed to the action of air or water.
A considerable portion of this circle has been removed and its interior, which is now planted, is fifty-four
feet in diameter. Some of these stones are five feet over ground, are
four feet wide, and eight or ten inches thick.
At the south-west corner of the same field, opposite the glebe there is another circle, of which
the subjoined is a graphic representation. It consists of a series of
standing stones, and is one hundred and fifty-two feet in diameter. Within
and around this and the adjoining fields, to the south and east, several
perfect cirdes still exist, and the sites of others can still be traced
within the confines of Cath na bPunnan; so that here was evidently the
stronghold of one of the contending armies.
Sir William Wilde's full account of the First Battle of Moytura and the monuments is reproduced here.