Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
The most complete of the four Nymphsfield stone circles near Cong. The circle is not obvious, as it is concealed by a stone wall, and is in fact part of someones back garden.

Moytura Conga

Cong is 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 here.

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 kilometers by boat from Galway to Cong.

Fiach and the fairy racehorse.
The first of the four circles near 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 smallest of the four stone circles at Nymphsfield near Cong.
The smallest of the four stone circles at Nymphsfield near Cong, with its atmospheric grove of thorn trees.

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.

Lhyud's illustrations  of the four circles at Cong.
Lhyud's illustrations of the four circles at Cong.

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 kilometers north from 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.

The largest of the four circles at Cong.
The largest of the four circles at Cong.

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.

The circle nearest the road, within its fence and grove of trees.
The circle nearest the road, within its fence and grove of trees.

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:

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.

The most complete of the four stone circles.
The most complete of the four stone circles.

Sir William Wilde's account of the First Battle of Moytura and the monuments is reproduced here.

Echoy's cairn.
Echoy's cairn, a huge unopened passage-grave some 45 meters in diameter within a massive earthen enclosure some 140 meters in diameter.