Cong Abbey was destroyed and restored on several occasions in its long history. Its initial establishment may go back as far as the 6th century. Remains there now date back to the 12th century (an Augustinian monastery reputed to have been founded established in 1120 by Turlough O'Connor, then High King of Ireland) other parts to the 15th, while there has also been some modern restoration. The monastery was finally suppressed in 1542, which heralded the rise of English control in the area.
Its a beautiful spot which leads down to the water and what I have always thought of as the only civilised way to fish, the monks fishing hut. This was built out over the water with a hole in the floor (and a fireplace so the monks could keep warm while fishing!).
What I love about the Abbey is how much of the fine detailing remains and how many different patterns were used. Its also a very peaceful place (until the tour buses arrive). From here you can wander for hours in the grounds of Ashford Castle.
Cong appears to be an incredibly rich archaelogical area. The local Tourist office sells an interesting map listing a couple of dozen sites of interest. Amongst the nicest, imho, are the stone circles between Cong and Neale. But theres something for everyone, with castles, tombs, standing stones, churchs, cairns etc etc.
Get the map and go for a wander or just wander and you are bound to come across something interesting!
In the modern Catholic Church beside the ruined Cong Abbey there is a fine Harry Clarke stained glass window. Harry Clarke was one of the best Irish illustrators and Stained Glass artists of the 20th century. He was a great influence on those who came after him. Sadly he died at a relatively young age (41) in 1931.
The attached picture unfortunately doesn't do the window justice. His style will appeal to anyone who appreciates the arts and crafts movement of the early 20th century and celtic imagery.
Dotted around the village are a number of caves, used in more desparate times as places of refuge and haunts of highwaymen and priests (before Catholic emancipation). A number of these are marked in the map you can get from the Tourist office or you can keep the romance alive by finding them yourself :-)
Whilst in Cong, which is a tiny place, be sure to explore the ruined Abbey and the surrounding park.
It really is (without resorting to flowery hyperbole) one of the most beautiful spots I know on earth.
I especially like this little 'Monk's fishing house' where the monks would sit, protecting themselves from yuccy weather but still able to fish - through a hole in the floor.
Nothing to say really, they're gorgeous and you can explore them to your hearts content. Very useful particularly if you've been stuck in a car for a while. Bear in mind though that the hotel itself is residents only.
Wildlife, flowers and lake conspire to give the place an otherworldly feel and kids will love the underground entrance to the walled garden.
The Lady Ardilaun tours out to Inchagoill Island a couple of times a day and also does an evening cruise. Inchagoill Island has two early Christian churches and a famous decorated stone with both Christian Crosses and an Ogham inscription on it. The boat apparently also crosses to the village of Oughterard.
While falconry was traditionally a great noble sport in Ireland, I hadn't realised that it was possible to take a turn at it yourself. The School is a relatively new venture and allows you to try out this very traditional sport ( over 4000 years old!) in the beautiful surroundings of Ashford Castle. Seemingly you can call on spec but to avoid disappointment you should arrange it in advance. Its not cheap (60 euro for an introductory 45 minute lesson) but I don't think its something you'll get the chance to do anywhere else. For myself though I decided to leave it for my next visit!
Cong has a wonderful, scenic set of monastic ruins with a forest and waterways. These are based on the Cong Abbey, with adjoining forest and a walk along a causeway to the Monks' Fishing House and the Pigeonhole cave, a deep well with stairs.
in Cong, the Quiet Man Cottage museum is a delightful little museum to visit iof you are really interested in the famous 1951 John Wayne Film or not.
There are several other locations in the village as well - you can information about them here.
Another spot to visit is Castletown station - see my tips on Monivea.
Ashford Castle was started in the 13th century and has had several additions over the years. Benjamin Guinness (grandson of Arthur Guinness of stout fame) owned it in the 1850s and did much to to turn the grounds into a garden. Ashford Castle is now a luxury hotel. They don't let tourists in to wander about, but the website below gives you a tour.
This abbey dates from the 12th century. The stone carvings are spectacular. Take some time and check it out properly.