GUINNESS TOWER

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If you are looking for a unique and hidden gem in Galway you might want to check out the Guinness Tower, also known as Leonard’s Tower. This impressive structure was built by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness on the grounds of Ashford Castle in 1864 and stands over 20 metres in height. It is located in a secluded woodland area near Cong village in County Mayo, surrounded by tall trees and lush vegetation. 

Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness was a prominent Irish businessman, politician and philanthropist who inherited the Guinness Brewery from his father Arthur Guinness II. He was also interested in architecture and heritage preservation, and he bought Ashford Castle in 1852 as a country residence. He renovated and expanded the castle, adding new wings, towers and gardens. He also acquired large tracts of land around the castle, including the Cong Forest.

One of his projects was to build a tower on a hill overlooking the forest and the castle. He named it Leonard’s Tower after his grandson, who died at a young age. The tower was designed in a Gothic Revival style, with a crenellated parapet, lancet windows and a spiral staircase. It was intended as a folly, a decorative structure that served no practical purpose but added to the aesthetic appeal of the landscape.

The tower was completed in 1864, but Sir Benjamin did not live to see it. He died in London that same year, leaving his estate to his son Arthur Edward Guinness, who later became the first Baron Ardilaun. The tower remained in the Guinness family until 1939, when Ashford Castle was sold to the Irish government. The castle was later converted into a luxury hotel, while the tower and the forest became part of the Cong Abbey Trust, a charitable organisation that manages the heritage and natural resources of the area.

The Guinness Tower is not open to the public, but visitors can access it through a short walk from Ashford Castle or Cong village. The walk is about 1.7 miles long and takes about 40 minutes to complete. It is an easy route that follows well-maintained trails through the beautiful Cong Forest. The forest is home to a variety of trees, plants and wildlife, including oak, beech, ash, holly, ferns, mosses, lichens, fungi, deer, squirrels, foxes and birds.

The tower itself is hidden by the trees until you reach its base. It is a striking sight that contrasts with the natural surroundings. The tower has four floors and a roof terrace that offers panoramic views over the forest, the castle and the nearby Lough Corrib. To reach the top, you have to climb 85 steep steps on a narrow spiral staircase. The staircase is dark and damp, so if you are lucky to find the tower open, be careful and bring a torch if you can.

The tower is not only a visual attraction but also a historical one. It is a reminder of the legacy of Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness and his family, who contributed to the development and preservation of Cong and its surroundings. It is also a symbol of the Gothic Revival movement that influenced many buildings in Ireland and Britain in the 19th century. The tower has been featured in several books and films, such as The Quiet Man (1952), which was partly filmed in Cong.

The Guinness Tower is a hidden gem and a fascinating structure that combines history, architecture and nature in one place. It is also a great starting point for exploring Cong Forest and its many attractions. If you are looking for a fun and educational day out, you should definitely add the Guinness Tower to your itinerary.

LOCATION

53.537155, -9.295245

Guinness Tower

GALLERY

REVIEWS

Fairy Tale Tower

October 13, 2022

Easy accessible from the Abbey, situated in woods with most remarkable ancient trees.

Ingo

Accessible via foot from Cong village

August 15, 2022

No parking immediately nearby, but easily walked in 20 minutes through lush forest from Cong. While there are no views beyond treetops, it’s a nicely constructed tower & worth a climb.

Dana Wurtz
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