Ireland Is For Writers #3: Ashford Castle & Cong

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Writing in Ireland
stone wolfhound chained at the front door

wolfhound chained at front door

We went on to Ashford Castle, which you’ve probably seen without knowing it. Ashford was founded in 1228 as the principle stronghold for the de Burgo family, and throughout the centuries the new owners (Bingham, Browne, Guinness) extended in contemporary style. In 1939 it was purchased and converted to a classy hotel. How classy, you ask? Well, there’s a heliport beside the front drive, and the rooms are the kind that start at about $350 US per night and continue to the range where you have to have your people call for a quote. It’s a favorite site for society and celebrity weddings, as well as for television and film locations (I hear Reign is shot there now).

Here’s another glimpse of Ashford, from their own site:

Nearby is the village of Cong (Conga). The expansive Ashford estate and Cong were the filming locations for The Quiet Man, a 1952 John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara film.

roofless building over water

monastery fishing hut

The Cong Abbey ruins date back to the 13th century, though a church was on this site as early as the 7th. It was an Augustinian monastery. A fishing hut remains over part of the stream, with a fireplace to warm the fishing monks and a trap door for fishing in winter.

We walked past a string of yew trees, traditionally sacred to the druids and important in Irish Christian tradition as well, and past the remains of a house which once belonged to the highwayman of Cong. George McNamara was either a vicious thief or a good-hearted Robin Hood type, depending on whom you might believe, but he was definitely a highwayman. He used to host parties and then, while his peers were eating and drinking, he would go to burgle their houses. He had one or two companions who rode out with him, but his most famous associate was his horse Venus, who is reported to have viciously defended McNamara from pursuers — though not often, as McNamara supposedly shod Venus backwards, so that those following the tracks of the highwayman would go the wrong direction. McNamara died in 1760.

Laura emerging from a low cave hole

gaping hole in roots of large tree

leprechaun hole

We walked on through the Ard Na Gaoithe Forest. I carry a flashlight, so I was prepared to explore what might have been a priest’s cave to hide during the Catholic suppression, but I opted to leave the leprechaun hole alone.

Eventually we came to Captain Webb’s cave, or “swallow hole.” It’s a steep chasm and the site of a nasty legend. Captain Webb (or possibly Captain Fitzgerald with a nickname due to a physical abnormality) had the unpleasant habit of raping and murdering women, bringing them into the woods and then discarding them into this hole to die when he was done. He got away with this a dozen times, because who could hear his victims calling for help even if they survived the fall?

According to legend, the thirteenth woman, however, begged the murderous captain to turn his back when he ordered her to undress, as she was too terrified and modest to have him watch her disrobe. He did, and she shoved him hard enough to knock him into the pit.

You go, girl.

We stopped to look out upon Lake Corrib, and then we went on to a great cairn

calf in grass

curious local

I walked back that night to Ross Errily Abbey (see #2 in the series) for more photos and a geocache, making friends with a couple of local critters along the way, and there was some writing going on, really, I promise.

Susan Spann speaking

Susan Spann speaking

In fact, the next day was a full day of discussion with Susan Spann and Heather Webb. Series plotting, mysteries, romance, historical research, and more!

Tune in next time for perfume and the oldest tombs of Ireland.

stone cottage and stone fence


(I’m talking about my 2015 trip with Ireland Writer Tours. Want to join in 2016? And I’ll be teaching a craft & self-publishing course in the Irish Dingle Penninsula in 2017.)

Series Navigation<< Ireland Is For Writers #4: Perfume & Portal TombIreland Is For Writers #2: Headford & Stone Circle >>
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  1. Hello,

    I am looking for a book that I thought I saw advertised somewhere recently called George McNamara, folklore & facts
    .kindly let me know if I am dreaming and how I can acquire it

    Stay Safe

    John Martin

    • I’m sorry, I haven’t heard of it, and a quick Google does not turn up that exact title. It might have been a local publication which wasn’t entered in mainstream databases. I’m sorry!

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