St Féichín’s Way is a 3km loop walk around the ancient monastic settlement at Fore. It takes in a selection of the historic sites associated with the monastery, such as the holy well known as St Féichín’s Bath, thought to be the remains of an ancient cist burial; the Columbarium; the Gate House; Gallows Hill, and the Rejected Stone, and a motte and bailey site, as well as areas of natural beauty, like the buzzard habitat, the 300 year old beech tree, the oak plantation, and the daffodil walk.
Fore comes from the Irish Fhobhair, meaning ‘the town of the water springs’. The monastery was founded there by St Féichín in 630AD, where it is said there were as many as three hundred monks and two thousand students in residence at any one time, so it was quite a busy and thriving community in its heyday.
Now, there is little evidence remaining of the early settlement. The ruined church on the hillside to the right of the road as you approach the car park is the oldest structure still standing, and dates to the 900s. This is a very plain and simple little building. Its most significant feature is the huge lintel above the west doorway, weighing about seven tons, which is decorated with a Greek cross. Legend has it that St Féichín raised it into its position purely by the strength of his prayers.
The impressive jaw-dropping building on the valley floor to the left of the road is the remains of the Benedictine Priory established by Anglo-Norman Lord Hugh de Lacey in the 1200s. It must have been something to see! This structure was fortified with defensive towers during the fifteenth century; you will recognise them by the narrow arrow slits in the walls. Reconstruction also took place in various locations across the site during the 1900s.
Fore is most famous, however, for its Seven Wonders. These are:
The Monastery Built upon the Bog
The thirteenth century Benedictine Priory is founded on the boggy valley floor, which shouldn’t have been able to support such a structure.
The Mill Without a Race
St Féichín built his mill on a site without flowing water. When he struck his staff into the ground, water began to bubble up and operate the mill.
The Water that Flows Uphill
Apparently, an optical illusion makes the stream brought forth by the saint’s staff appear to flow uphill.
The Tree that Won’t Burn
This was said of an ancient ash tree which stood beside one of the holy wells. Many visitors over the years had hammered coins into its trunk, which is probably responsible for poisoning the tree, sadly long since gone.
The Water that Doesn’t Boil
There are two holy wells at the site. The water has curative properties, and curiously, is reputed to be impossible to boil. Bad fortune comes to he who tries.
The Anchorite In a Stone
Above the church on the hill of Carrick Balor is a fifteenth century tower which covers the anchorite’s cell. The anchorite was a hermit who never left his cell but spent his days in religious devotion. The last hermit to live there was Patrick Beglin, who fell and broke his neck when he tried to leave his cell.
The Lintel Stone Raised by St. Féichin’s Prayers
I would highly recommend this site and the walking trail, because there is something here for everyone: archaeology, history and mythology for the adults, beautiful scenery, plenty of pic-nic tables along the route, and fun things for children along the way. The path is wide and well constructed, but you’d need an all-terrain buggy or wheelchair, as it varies from hard-packed earth, to mown grass, to gravel, and there are one or two short steep stretches.
You can find the monastic settlement of Fore not far from Mullingar in Co. Westmeath. From Castlepollard take the R195; after five minutes drive you will see Fore signposted on your right.Parking and visits to the site are FREE. 😊
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