One of the most interesting and enjoyable activities at Ashford Castle was a boat tour of Lough Corrib aboard the 80-passenger Isle of Inisfree. The vessel’s exceptionally articulate and knowledgeable captain told us that the lake contains a trove of underwater archaeological sites, including several vessels from the Viking days, among them the well-preserved Carrowmoreknock boat. (Bronze spearheads and a rare wooden spear have been recovered for conservation by the National Museum of Ireland.) The most famous of Lough Corrib’s 1,327 islands is Inchagoill Island, midway between Cong and Oughterard.
As we approached, we enjoyed spectacular views of the Maumturks range, Joyce Country and the mountains of Connemara. Having landed to explore its ancient monastic settlements, we strolled among the ruins of the church of St. Patrick — which is thought to date from either the sixth or the seventh century — and the 12th-century Hiberno-Romanesque Temple of the Saints, where the arched entryway is ringed by still-discernible faces of holy men. One of the tombs in the adjacent cemetery is believed to be that of Muirgheas O’Nioc, archbishop of Tuam, who died in 1128.
A small robin watched us with great curiosity and would not leave, even when we approached. It was, our captain insisted, a soul returning to the site of its grave. Certainly, the whole atmosphere was otherworldly. On the way back to Ashford, we were entertained by a singer from Cong, an elderly man with a fine voice, who 64 years earlier had enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame as an extra in John Ford’s The Quiet Man.