Cong Abbey, Mayo, Ireland

The remains of the Augustinian Abbey at Cong are widely accepted as some of the finest examples of early architecture and masonry in Ireland, and with the beautiful Gothic windows, Romanesque doors, clustered pillars and floral capitals its easy to see why. The original monastery was founded by St Feichin in the early 7th century but was destroyed by fire in the 12th century. High King Turlough Mor O’Connor refounded and rebuilt the abbey then known as the ‘Royal Abbey’, however its construction was interrupted by raiders from Munster who destroyed the buildings in 1137. Turlough’s son Rory O’ Connor constructed new buildings around 1198 and lived the last 15 years of his life at the abbey. Rory O’Connor was the last High King of Ireland prior to the Norman invasion and was buried at the abbey before being exhumed many years later and re-interred at Clonmacnoise.

The Norman night William de Burgh attacked Cong in 1203 and destroyed the abbey, yet again the abbey was reconstructed and dedicated to ‘Our Lady of the Rosary’. At the height of its power up to three thousand cenobitic Monks resided within its walls and Cong became known as a great centre of learning, sculpture, illumination of books and metal work. The monastery was suppressed in 1542 under the reign of Henry VII and although some monks continued to use the abbey, it later fell into ruins. As the abbey lay mostly in ruins it served many purposes such as a hospital for the sick, a shelter for the destitute and a hide out for the O’ Connors.

The lands of Cong Abbey passed into the hands of the Kings, and later the Binghams, the O’Donnells and finally the Brownes before being bought by Benjamin Guinness who carried out the first restoration of the abbey in 1855, soon after he bought the nearby Ashford Castle. The grounds of Cong Abbey are now attached to a woodland and park, and within its grounds stands the ‘Monk’s Fishing House’. This unusual structure was built on a platform over the River Cong, and a trapdoor provided easy access to the fish that swam in the waters that flowed under the house. According to local tradition the a line was connected from the fishing house to the monastery to alert the cook that fresh fish had been caught.

GPS: 53.5402, -9.2868

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