Cong Abbey

Cong Abbey 2015 by Anna Marie 4574
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cong_-_Cong_Abbey_-_20150512153504.jpg

Cong Abbey also known as the Royal Abbey of Cong was established during the twelfth century on the site of a former seventh century Monastic settlement founded by either the nephew of an Irish King Domnal or St. Feichin who had been an Abbot there in its early period.  During 1134 the Abbey was re – founded for the Canons regular of St. Augustinian by Ireland’s High King Turlough O ‘Connor.  His son, the last of Ireland’s High King’s made additional renovations prior to his demise in 1198.  From the village one may enter the ruins through a Romanesque type of doorway, of which the arch was made from stones formally used in another arch on the northern wall.  The most striking features of the 42. 6 metres long great church are the three lancet east windows plus the tombstone paved floor.  From the Cloister House is another carved doorway with capitals on the Cloister side.  It had been erected during the thirteenth century then reconstructed later.  Several of the capitals in the Cloister also on the doorway were carved in the nineteenth century.  During the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries a Fishing House was erected over the River Cong with a trapdoor on the floor that allowed the Monks protection or comfort while they worked.  This site has several images by Jim Dempsey & Deb Snelson. [i]

The ruins of the Cong Ecclesiastical Complex were recorded in this edition by Wilde as belonging to the twelfth century.  Gratitude was extended to Sir B. L. Guinness for his restoration of the Abbey.  The beautiful doorway was made up from stones removed from another arch in the northern wall.  The great Abbey Church was one hundred & forty feet in length, it was filled with tombstones that faced the east window.  There were three long narrow lights in each side wall of the church with slender windows that faced north / south.  An arched doorway in the southern wall led to a low vaulted apartment, from there to a large open space that contained the principal stairs.  These stairs led up to the second story of the great tower.  To the east & south of this was a graveyard plus the site of the Roman Catholic Chapel.  Several of the gravestones were decorated with crosses, fleur – de – lis, chalices, ornate croziers all with Latin inscriptions.  It was divided by a high screen wall; the western facade formed the present architectural feature (image above on page).  It measured eighty feet in length, it contained a doorway plus two windows with circular arches.  There were two large elaborate ornamented lancet – headed doors with undercut chevrons along the deep molded arches.  These sprang from clustered pillars; the floral capitals presented one of the finest specimens of twelfth century stonework in Ireland.  Several stones were inserted in those carved limestone doorways. (page 113.)  Above the string course were several narrow lights, possibly of dormitories.  To the west of this wall were open cloisters.  In the south wall was a piscina also a recess with a circular arch (possibly the tomb of the founder.)  During 1224 Maurice the Canon, son of Roderick O ‘Conner was interred at Cong.  An inscription stated that ‘A. D. 1226 Nuala, daughter of King Roderick O ‘Conner & Queen of Ulidia died at Cunga Feichin, and was honourably interred in the church of the canons.’  Chieftains, Warriors, Prelates also Abbots were interred within the Abbey up to the time of James Lynch in 1703 where he had a decorated tomb.  Wilde mentioned these following tombs that had inscriptions: ‘A.D. 1150 Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh, Archbishop of Connacht, chief senior of all Ireland in wisdom, in chastity, in the bestowal of jewels and food, died at Cunga on the 16th of the month of May, on the festival of St. Brénainn, in the 75th year of his age.’  His name is inscribed on the great processional “Cross of Cong” made in 1123.  (page 100.)  Also, on the same page this inscription: ‘A.D. 1168, Flannagán Ua Dubhthaigh, bishop and chief doctor of the Irish in literature, history, and poetry, and in every kind of science known to man in his time, died in the bed of Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh, at Cunga.’  During 1872 ‘The Lord Abbot’ Rev. Patrick Prendergast, the last Abbot of the Monestary was interred in the Abbey.  During excavations, a few objects of interest were discovered that included among them a Cross thirteen inches high, the quadrangular fragment of the shaft of an ancient cross. (page 94) Extracts from William R. Wilde’s ‘Loch Corrib – its Shores & Islands.’  This site has several sketches. (22 / 7 / 2020) [ii]

The actual name of Cong was Cúnga Fheichin that means St. Feichin’s narrow.  However, no trace remains of this Abbey from the seventh century.  The ruins of Cong Abbey date from the twelfth or early thirteenth centuries.  A footpath passes over the river at the Monk’s Fishing House, built either in fifteenth or sixteenth century.  A trapdoor in the floor allowed a net to be cast into the river to fish. There was a fireplace inside that provided heat to the Monks.  It was reported that a line to the Abbey kitchen would have alerted the Monks that there was fish to be cooked. [iii]

During 623 St. Feichin founded a Monastery in the area that became known as Cúnga Feichin (Feichin’s neck).  In 1106 Ireland’s High King Turlough O ‘Connor established a Monastery as a major Learning Centre for its 3,000 scholars on the site.  The last High King of Ireland Rory O ‘Connor spent twelve years at the Abbey.  During 1860 Sir Benjamin Guinness re – built the Abbey.  The Cong Foy’s master stonemasons completed the masonry of three carved doorways that consisted of Gothic arches, carved capitals also columns.  Part of the Abbey grounds were used for local burials with a tombstone in the nave of the church that has an inscription in Latin with a request to ‘pray for the soul of James Lynch of Conge, who died A D 1709.’ (Berni O ‘Malley) [iv]

Founded by Ireland’s High King Turlough O ‘Conner as early as the twelfth century.  Cong Abbey was built on the original site of a sixth century church associated with St. Feichin.  It is one of the finest examples of early Archaeological buildings.  During its tenure it acted as a hospital for the ill, a shelter for starving poor, but of more importance as a learning centre for scholars.  There is a Fishing House in the grounds built over the River Cong where a trapdoor in the floor allowed Monks to fish safely while a fire provided comfort during the long hours. [v]

The ruins of a twelfth century Augustinian Abbey in Cong Village founded by the High King of Ireland during the twelfth century are the finest example of ecclesiastical foundations.  It was built on the site of a former church associated with St. Feichin during the sixth century.  The Abbey once housed 3,000 inhabitants of excellent scholars plus skilled craftsmen.  It was the site where the last High King of Ireland passed away. [vi]

Cong Abbey was established on the site of an earlier Monastery built during the seventh century by St. Feichin.  The Monastic Complex was built by the King of Connaught Turlough O ‘Connor plus dedicated to St. Augustine.  Following extensive refurbishment over the years it was renowned as an excellent Learning Centre.  Several buildings remain this century including the following: Chapter House remains of the Cloister plus a Monks Fishing House.  This site has a video of the Abbey. [vii]

Circa 1010 Cong was the Seat of a Bishopric.  Ruins of the Monastic Complex survive today of a twelfth century Abbey of St. Augustine.  The building suffered severely over years but endured to become a wealthy treasured trove building: once such artifact The Cross of Cong is described on page 44.  The Annals of the Four Masters recorded the demise of Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh.  The last High King of Ireland died at the Abbey during 1198.  Information from ‘Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen & Pencil’ 1888 Chapter V11: Connemara by Richard Lovell. [viii]

Cong Abbey was established during1135 by King Turlough O ‘Connor on a site previously occupied by St. Feichin’s Monastery.  3,000 resident Cenobic Monks studied Poetry, Music, History, Sculpture also Illumination of manuscripts or books.  The Monks were skilled craftsmen in Metalwork, Engraving with the manufacture of Harps.  Several architectural artifacts at the Abbey survive i.e Clustered Pillars, Standing Columns, Floral Capitals, Arches plus Romanesque Doors.  The Abbey was attacked then rebuilt several times in its history.  The building was a shelter for the destitute also a hospital for the ill at times. (9th February 2021) [ix]

This early Monastery at Cong was founded by Domnal, son of Aodh during 624.  The building became a Diocesan Cathedral in 1111 however the building burnt down during 1114.  It was re – founded during 1134 (?) as an Augustinian Canons Regular by Turlough O ‘Conor.  The building burnt again in 1137.  Circa 1140 a new Monastery was built by Turlough’s son Rory as Augustinian Canons Regular – Arroisian adopted.  Dissolvement occurred during possibly 1568.  The building was granted during 1571 to William Collier, then in 1597 to the town of Athenry. [x]

This National Monument of Cong Abbey was also known as the Royal Abbey of Cong.  The ruins of the former Abbey have several fine Architectural features that date back to the thirteenth century.  St. Feichin built a church at the site during the seventh century.  A building erected on the site was burnt down during 1114.  An Abbey was established by Turlough Mor O ‘Conner, it was further destroyed in 1137 but rebuilt by him.  During 1138the Abbey was re founded as an Augustinian settlement.  Turlough Mor O ‘Conner’s son also Ireland’s last High King Ruaidri Ua Conchobair constructed new buildings on the site.  The ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ recorded that the Archbishop of Connaught Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh died at Cong aged seventy – five in 1151: his name was inscribed in the Cross of Cong.  The Abbey was rebuilt following an attack by William de Burgh during 1203.  Cong Abbey was reconstructed & dedicated in 1307 to St. Mary.   Further suppression occurred during 1542, several years later the building fell into ruins.  Fr. Patrick Prendergast P. P. Cong was the last Abbot of the Abbey.  He was custodian of the Cross of Cong: following his demise it was sold to the Royal Irish Academy by James Mc Cullagh. [xi]

Footnotes

This site contains a reference to the Monks Fishing House at Cong: (https://curiousireland.ie/monks-fishing-house-cong-co-mayo-15th-or-16th-century) [assessed 12th February 2021]

A PDF is available at Mayo County Library of the ‘Irish Tourist Association Survey 1945’ at this link:  https://www.mayo.ie/library

References to Cong Abbey are in the following publications: the ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ at Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT) at UCC (22 April 2014), ‘Early Church Art in Ireland’ Part 1 1887 – 1894 Stokes, Margaret Chapman & Hall Ltd, Scott, Robert 2017 ‘Around & about Cong’ Kinlough Press (page 11) also Wilde, Sir W. ‘Lough Corrib’ (page 181) [xii]

Information of the Cross of Cong may be viewed at this site: https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Collections-Research/Irish-Antiquities-Division-Collections/Collections-List-(1)/Early-Medieval/The-Cross-of-Cong

A further reference to the Cross of Cong reports on the wonderful tale of The Patriot Priest Fr. Pat Lavelle’s unsuccessful attempt to rescue the Cross of Cong from Dublin for his parishioners.  It may be viewed at this link: https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Collections-Research/Irish-Antiquities-Division-Collections/Collections-List-(1)/Early-Medieval/The-Cross-of-Cong/Cong-and-the-Cross

As one climbs the steps at the entrance then enters the Monastic Complex there is a recess on right of the door to Cloister that once housed the original Cross of Cong under the Abbot’s protection. (NBC)

Bibliography

[i] Cong Abbey, Mayo (http://www.megalithicireland.com/Cong%20Abbey,%20Mayo.html) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[ii] Cong Abbey (http://www.galway.net/galwayguide/history/wrwilde/chapter7/abbey.html) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[iii] Cong (https://www.destinationwestport.com/places-to-visit/towns-and-villages/cong) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[iv] https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/cong/history/cong-abbey.html) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[v] Cong Abbey (https://guidetoconnemara.com/item/cong-abbey/) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[vi] Visit Cong Abbey (https://www.discoverireland.ie/mayo/cong-abbey) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[vii] Cong Abbey Co Mayo (https://irelandxo.com/ireland-xo/history-and-genealogy/buildings-database/cong-abbey) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[viii] Cong Abbey (https://www.libraryireland.com/IrishPictures/VII-Cong.php) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[ix] Cong Abbey (https://curiousireland.ie/cong-abbey-cong-co-mayo-founded-1135/) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[x] List of Monastic Houses( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_monastic_houses_in_Ireland#County_Mayo) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[xi] Cong Abbey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cong_Abbey) [assessed 12th February 2021]

[xii] Cong Abbey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cong_Abbey) [assessed 12th February 2021]

 

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