a small and beautiful village on the border of Mayo and Galway, between Loughs
Mask and Corrib. This area has a wealth of monumental structures from
ancient times: two massive cairns and the remains of 5 or 6 more, four
stone circles, standing stones, caves, and several kinds of enclosure,
including forts and large cashels.
In recent years Cong is better known for it's connection with the Quiet Man, some
of which was filmed there. It is an interesting area and there are many unusual
things to be seen, such as the follies at Neale. The area is associated with the arrival of the
Túatha Dé Danann and the First Battle of Moytura, though
others think this a romantic tale fabricated by Sir William Wilde, father
of Oscar. His writings on the mythology and sites in the area are reproduced
There are enough ancient sites around Cong to make it obvious
that a lot went on there in stone age times, but the area is relatively unknown archaeologically. The invading tribes 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 35
km by boat from Galway to Cong.
There are several huge neolithic stone cairns in the area. These are the kind of monument most
associated with the Túatha 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 badly damaged cairns can be found in the fields north of
Cross and Cong.
Another large example is Ecohy's Cairn, built in a spectacular
location on a low hill a few km north of Cong. There is a magnificent view to
the mountains of Connemara and south Mayo across Lough Mask to the west.
The 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. Further north towards Ballinrobe is the monsterous Daithi's cairn, which looks to be 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 Stukley, the great English antiquarian later reproduced Lhwyd's unpublished drawings.
The circles are easy to visit. They are located at on the former grounds of an estate known as Nymphsfield or Glebe, about 1.5 km north of the entrance to Ashford Castle, signposted from
the road. Access to the first circle is easy over a stile from the road. It is a short walk across a field to the first circle, which is within an iron fence. The circle has several beech trees growing around it. This circle is in quite good condition, with 23 of the stones in place, though several are broken off at ground level. The stones are hoary limestone, and quite weathered; some such as the example to the left, have 'dimples' or pockmarks on the inner face. The circle is about 14 meters in diameter, and there is a small mound or cairn of stones within the east side.
Across the stone wall in the next field, about one third of the largest circle survives.
The circle stones are on the inner side of a stony bank, a feature also found at Lough Gur in County Limerick. The circle is about 33 meters in diameter and the tallest stones are less that 1.5 meters tall. Again there are several very sculptural weathered stones within this circle.
The smallest circle, just over another shaky fieldwall 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.
The fourth circle, is in the back garden of the nearby bungalow,
surrounded by a wall, and is the most complete of the four. Again there are several interesting pocked stones in the ring. The limestone slabs are rectangular and generally about a meter tall.
William Wilde, father of Oscar, built a holiday home at Cong, called Moytura House. Wilde often stayed there during the last 13 years of his life, and write extensively about the area; he had this to say about the circles:
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."
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.
Wilde's account of the First Battle of Moytura and the monuments is reproduced here.