Saturday, September 13, 2014

An American Connection in Cong

The village of Cong is as charming as its Abbey is beautiful. It's full of quaint cottages and interesting shops. The village name in Gaelic is Cunga Fheichin which means 'St. Feicin's narrows.' The village is built on a narrow limestone strip of land between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask. The village's other claim to fame (besides its lovely Abbey)is that it was the home of Sir William and Lady Wilde, parents of Oscar Wilde. Although Oscar was born in Dublin, he returned frequently to his parental home just outside Cong saying 'it is every way magnificent.'

Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne
Cong, Ireland
But what about Cong's American connection? You'll find it right here on the corner of main street. Cong was the site of John Ford's 1952 film, 'The Quiet Man.' starring John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ward Bond, and Barry Fitzgerald. As you can see, Cong is very proud of that! Not only is there this life-size bronze statue, but you can also visit The Quiet Man museum which is located 'round the corner in the very cottage that was used as Mary-Kate and Sean Thornton's home in the movie. Of course, I had to buy the DVD when I found it in a Galway bookstore. It's your typical boy-meets-girl movie. True love is thwarted by Mary-Kate's nasty brother and a old Irish tradition regarding her dowry. But in the end, Sean beats up the brother, secures the dowry, and they all live happily ever after. You won't be watching this film for its plot! But do watch it for the stunning scenery (filmed on location in and around Cong) and its thrilling horse race.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cong Abbey

Cong Abbey
Co. Mayo, Ireland
Cong Abbey, a 12th century Augustinian abbey, was built on the site of a 6th century church founded by St. Feichin. The last High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor, is believed to have died here. At one time, this Abbey housed 3,000 monks who lived and studied within its walls. During the reign of Henry VIII, it was dissolved and eventually fell into ruin. The Abbey was partially restored in the 1850s by Sir Benjamin Guinness, owner of nearby Ashford Castle. Today it's surrounded by lovely grounds and a walking trail along the River Cong.
Cloister detail
Monks Fishing House
This charming structure which sits over the River Cong is the Monks Fishing House. On cold, wintery days, the monks could fish here through a hole in the floor while keeping warm by the building's small hearth.

There's more to see at Cong Abbey....but that's for next time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Home from the Land of St. Patrick

St. Patrick
Hill of Tara, Ireland
I'm home from my adventures in Ireland. Once I get a bit more organized, I'll be sharing more of this beautiful land of St. Patrick.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Come to the Well

The Burren
The Burren of western Ireland is a little like the Lot region...made of limestone and a land of cliffs and rocks, lots of rocks. The limestone terrain is perfect for caves, wells and springs and the Burren holds all of them. This day our goal was St.Colman's hermitage and his holy well. We began with a silent trek along a rocky path...

After climbing over rock stiles and passing a small herd of curious cows, we came to this sacred hazel tree which stands guard at the entrance to Colman's domain....
Christine explained the tree's significance, and we each blessed it and asked for its blessing in return before continuing into the woods....
Here the path grew a little steeper and muddier. Pilgrims must endure, tho, so on we went....
until we came to the ruins of St. Colman's tiny oratory
and his holy well.
There is often a 'rag tree' standing beside a holy well. This is the one at St. Colman's well. The pilgrim ties a piece of rag or a ribbon on the tree asking in prayer for a special blessing. You can see this tree is well visited!
Then the pilgrim walks around the well three times going in the direction of the sun (clockwise) to complete the prayer. Some of our group also scrambled up a steep trail to have a look at St. Colman's cave in the cliffside.

Again in silence our pilgrim group walked back to our waiting van after another deeply meaningful day on the pilgrimage path in Ireland.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Celia Griffin Memorial Park
Galway, Ireland
Having some extra time in Galway has allowed me to explore the city at a little different level. Galway is bright and vibrant and full of beauty. It also has a darker side in its history. While walking the Prom yesterday, I came to this memorial to Celia Griffin, a six year old child who died of starvation during the Great Famine. The Irish potato famine (1845-1852) was a tragic and complicated chapter in Irish history. Whatever its causes, it is thought that over 1 million people died as a result of it, and a sharp increase in emigration ensued. In one year alone over 250,000 people emigrated with a large percentage of those coming from western Ireland.

If you zoom in on the monument, you will see that it is a newspaper re-print of the official inquest report of Celia Griffin's death. She and her family had come into Galway seeking charitable relief from their starving condition. While Celia and her sister did receive one hot meal a day, it was not enough to improve her already extreme condition and she died. The park was established to honor all the Irish children who succumbed during this tragic time.

As you walk closer to the bay, there is another memorial which commemorates the ships which took the Irish away from their homeland. Sailing out of Galway Bay, many came to America. Settling in Boston, New York and Philadelphia the Irish emigrants hoped to find a life free from starvation. The potato blight, governmental inefficiency and a general lack of concern about the Irish plight changed the landscape of Galway and the rest of Ireland for generations to come.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Saturday Evening: Part II

Galway shop fronts
I'm spending a couple of extra days in Galway. Although unexpected, this is not all bad. Who wouldn't be delighted to spend more time taking in the beautiful shop fronts along the pedestrian mall?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Standing Watch

Graves at Teampall Bhreacain
Inishmore, Aran Islands
The saints stand watch over the sea