Fore Abbey is the old Benedictine Abbey ruin, situated to the north of Lough Lene in Co Westmeath. Fore, Fobhar is the anglicised version of the Irish name that signifies “the town of the water-springs” and was given to the area after Saint Féchín’s spring or well, which is next to the old church a short distance from where the ruined monastery still stands. It was Saint Féchín who founded the ancient Fore Abbey around 630. By 665 (the time of the yellow plague) there were 300 monks living in the community.
Founder of the village’s Benedictine monastery during the seventh century, Féchín was a man of faith who influenced the surrounding area in seven miraculous ways, collectively known as the Seven Wonders of Fore. Sources for his life and legend include Irish annals, martyrologies, genealogies and hagiographical works.
Féchín is said to have been born in Bile, probably Billa in what is now the parish of Ballysadare (Kilvarnet), (Co Sligo). The medieval Lives call his mother Lassair, identified in the Irish text (first part) as a member of a royal Munster line. The late Irish Life asserts that the saint’s foundation at Fore in Mide was connected to the Luigne and that Féchín himself belonged to the Luigne of Connacht.
The Seven Wonders
1. The Monastery Built on the Bog: Fore Abbey, is considered one of the wonders. Its ruins constitute the only Benedictine site remaining in the entire country. Their strong presence and fortress-like appearance give the impression that the building, in its time, was more of a castle than a house of prayer. Legend says that it was built on a rock in the centre of a quaking bog. The ruins of the monastery represent only a small portion of St. Féchín’s achievements. Over the centuries, pilgrims have come to visit the sites and see evidence of the other ‘seven wonders’ that still exists today.
2. The Water that Flows Uphill: Saint Féchín was said to have used his staff to coerce water to flow uphill instead of down. The “uphill” flow of water is an optical illusion.
3. The Mill without a Race: Saint Féchín reportedly induced water to flow from the ground and operate a mill that had no visible water supply.
4. The Tree that has Three Branches/The Tree That Won’t Burn: Pilgrims place coins in it, giving it the name “the copper tree.”
5. Water that Does NOT Boil: Near the tree, you’ll see Saint Féchín’s Holy Well, now believed to be the site of a megalithic burial tomb, whose waters were locally reputed to heal the sick and cure various ills. Another legend said the water would never boil, and local tradition warned that misfortune would come to anyone who tried boiling it.
6. The Anchorite in a Cell: On the hill above Saint Féchín’s church, you can also visit a 15th-century tower. Also known as the Hermit’s Cell, the tower, now encased in a 19th century family mausoleum, once housed Patrick Beglin — the last “anchorite hermit” in Ireland. He entered this tiny cell to pray, and withdrew from society for religious reasons, relying on food and water brought to him by local supporters. He died in the cell, and is commemorated in a stone tablet in the cell dated 1616 AD.
7. The Stone Raised by Saint Féchín’s Prayers: Another wonder located nearby is in the ruins of a 12th Century Church, Saint Féchín’s Church, whose centre post, decorated by an ornate Greek cross carved into the stone, was said to rise into place by the power of Saint Féchín’s prayers alone.
Another important aspect of Fore is the Fore Crosses one of which is in the village of Fore. There are 18 crosses; some crosses are plain (most likely due to wind and rain erosion) whilst others still remain carved. These are spread out over 7 miles on roadways and in fields and bore witness to religious persecution during penal times.
Photo: Fore Abbey photo credit: Fiona MacGinty-O’Neill