Growing up in Westmeath, I have known about the seven wonders of Fore since my school days. I have to admit (rather embarrassingly) that up until very recently I had never actually visited Fore and witnessed the wonders for myself. A few weeks ago I righted that wrong and enjoyed a very nice walk in the north Westmeath village.
Nowadays Fore is a quiet country village with 2 pubs, a church and a nice little coffee shop. Back in the 7th century, Fore was a bustling monastic community. Saint Fechin founded the original church. At the time of his death in 664, over 300 monks and a further 2,000 students resided in the Fore monastery. So quite a lot of history in this area.
Getting to Fore
My mother was my companion for this trip and I met up with her in Mullingar on an overcast Saturday morning. The last time we went on a walk together was to the amazing Mullaghmeen Forest. So we are getting to chalk off quite a number of great Westmeath walks together.
We left Mullingar and headed for Castlepollard. Fore is another 5 minutes or so drive past the town of Castlepollard. Here’s a link to the google maps location. We had no issue in finding a car parking space in the roadside car park that marks the start of St. Fechin’s Way.
St. Fechin’s Way is a 3km looped trail that takes in all of the seven wonders of Fore. Plus a whole lot more. It really is a walk with something of interest around every turn.
So What Are The Seven Wonders of Fore
Seven wonders of Fore exist with each one more amazing than the last…here’s the full list:
- The tree that will not burn
- Mill without a mill race
- Water which flows uphill
- Water which will not boil
- Monastery built on a bog
- A stone lintel raised by St. Fechin’s prayers
- Anchorite in a Stone
OK, so at first glance, you sense some definite Father Ted vibes off the list. There is history behind all of them though and St. Fechin’s Walk gives you a good bit of insight into each of the wonders. Once you complete the walk, you can decide how much you believe in it all.
We certainly learned more about each wonder as we progressed with our walk. I’ve created a map of the route on alltrails but to be honest, a map isn’t really necessary. You will never be too far away from the village over the course of the 3km looped walk.
I would however, recommend taking note of the map located at the information board in the car park. This map gives an overview of all the attractions on the walk. Handy to know what to be looking out for.
The Tree That Won’t Burn
We left the car park and started off on the walk. Straightaway we encountered our first of the seven wonders of Fore. The tree that won’t burn. Ok, first off, the original tree is actually now dead. So even though it can’t be burned, it doesn’t make it invincible.
A custom for visitors to drive coins into the bark of the tree for good luck and good fortune is said to be the cause. A root from the tree has branched up though. You can still see coins in the trunk so who knows how long it will last. The more recent pilgrimage custom is to hang rags or mementoes on the tree. While this new custom might be more beneficial to the tree it can look a little unsightly. Especially with the face masks that were hanging there when we visited.
Initially when I think of a tree that won’t burn, I imagine wood being placed in a fire that simply won’t light. However, the origin of this wonder might be the legend that burning this tree will lead to the death of the person that does burn it. So maybe the wonder is actually the tree that shouldn’t be burned. Either way, you would be brave to try it.
Mill Without a Mill Race
Next up is the mill without a millrace. A millrace is the current of water that turns a mill wheel. Here the wonder is directly linked to St. Fechin. The Saint built his mill here when no water existed. Obviously locals at the time were a bit sceptical about the venerable Saint’s plans. Nonetheless the locals built the mill for St. Fechin. He performed a miracle to draw water from the nearby Lough Lene. A wonder was born. A mill remained in use here up to 1875. Ruins of the mill building can still be seen. The water is now quite slow moving. But there is water. Presumably as a result of St. Fechin.
Water Which Flows Uphill
Directly on from the summoned mill water is the miracle of water that flows uphill. Walking along St. Fechin’s Way, it’s very difficult to say whether the water is moving uphill or not. Some people say it does, others say it’s an optical illusion. More say, given the water comes from Lough Lene and springs up at the Mill, that it flows underground from a lower level. All I can truly determine is that it provides a lovely picture of the blue water and verdant green fields with the ruins of the monastery in the background.
Water Which Will Not Boil
Before we reached the monastery we encountered the next wonder. Water which will not boil. The water comes from the Doaghfechin Well which translates as St. Fechin’s Bath. In times gone past, sick children were immersed in the well to receive a cure from St. Fechin. Similar to the tree that won’t burn, local folklore says that misfortune and bad luck will arrive at the door of anyone who tests the merit of this wonder. With the risk of such ill omens, the legend of the wonder was born.
Monastery Built on a Bog
Fair enough with this one. The ruins of the Monastery still remain. Rather than argue the merits of whether the local land here constitutes a bog, we wondered at the remains of this fabulous building.
The Monastery is fantastic. We wandered through the significant remnants. It’s great that it remains so open to the public. It really felt like a portal to the past. This is a Benedictine Abbey built in the 13th century. So about 600 years after the fabled St. Fechin. Walter De Lacy funded the building of the Monastery. Born in 1172 and living until 1241, Walter also built Trim Castle and was the Lord of Meath. Like similar Lords of the time, Walter’s family had seized the land sound Fore from locals in c. 1180. The Monastery proved to be a bustling community and the town of Fore established itself around the Abbey. You can still see parts of the gates of the walls surrounding the then town today.
My favourite part of this section of St. Fechin’s Way was the circular stone structure to the north east of the Monastery. I wondered as to what exactly this could have been used for. My Mam, being much more intelligent than me suggested that it might have been a pigeon coop. As is usual in these circumstances, my mother was 100% correct. It’s amazing to think that people kept pigeons here almost 1,000 years ago.
A Break From The Wonders
We left the Monastery and continued along St. Fechin’s Way. This time through the ruins of the Gate House.
Then via a bridge over the River Gore.
Next up was the Nancy to Nellie section of the walk. Nancy and Nellie used this woodland path to visit each other’s childhood homes. The forested section of St. Fechin’s Way contains an oak plantation, a 300 year old beech tree as well as a cute little Fairy Village.
Turning right, we encountered another nice section where a range of native tree species were planted. All sponsored by local families.
As we made our way back towards the village, there was an impressive wood carving of St. Fechin. Only fitting that the walk named in his honour should include a likeness of the Saint.
The Ploughman of Ben-of-Fore
Turning right on to the main road again, there is a small monument to remember local poet Michael Walsh. Known as the Bard of Fore, Michael took inspiration from the local countryside and was quite famous in the early 20th century.
We walked along the footpath through the village. We passed the current village church. Unsurpisingly dedicated to St. Fechin. Across the road from the church are the remains of the old town walls.
Again unsurprisingly for an Irish village, the next local attractions were two pubs. The Seven Wonders and The Abbey House standing next door to each other.
Soon we were back to our starting point. However, we still had two wonders left to see. For this we needed to cross the road and head up the hill.
The Lintel Stone Raised by St. Fechin’s Prayers
The original St. Fechin’s Church from the 7th century still stands. Amazing. The wonder here is that St. Fechin raised the horizontal support stone that lies over the doorway through his prayers alone. The huge stone, with a marking of a cross within a circle is still there to be seen. For me, it was almost surreal to touch the cross carved into this stone 1,400 years ago.
The Anchorite in a Stone
Up the hill from St. Fehin’s church is a stone tower. In order to gain access, we needed to climb a little stile in the churchyard walls. Patience was needed as we waited for a herd of cows to pass by before we were able to move up the hill and inspect the tower. We needed to be careful going up to the tower as the ascent is quite steep.
The tower itself dates back to the 15th century. More recently, it was used as a Mausoleum for the Nugent-Grenville family. I have to admit, before travelling to Fore, I had no idea what an anchorite was. Again, my Mother was on hand to inform me. An anchorite is another word for a recluse.
On further research, I found out that an anchorite is someone who withdraws from society for religious reasons in order to live a life of prayer and to be closer to God. The monks of Skellig Michael being a good example. The anchorite cell in Fore was occupied by Hermits up until the 17th century.
The last anchorite being a man by the name of Pat Beglan who lived in the cell until 1616. Pat’s stay in the stone tower came to an unfortunate end however. Despite being very obviously a religious man, Pat was also very fond of hunting. Upon hearing a hunt pass by, Pat couldn’t resist the call of the hunting horn and tried to scale down the tower to join in. In his attempt to climb out the window, he is said to have fallen and broken his neck. And so, that was the end of the last Hermit in Ireland.
Completing St. Fechin’s Way
After completing a circuit of the stone tower, we made our way back to the car park. This last part of the walk gave us some lovely views of the monastery in the distance.
We spent about an hour and a half in total completing St. Fechin’s Way. While this may seem a lot of time to walk 3km, there was just so much to see along the way. I think you need to give yourself this amount of time to really take in all of the seven wonders of Fore.
Other Attractions in the Area – Lough Lene
I’ve mentioned Lough Lene a couple of times in the above article about the seven wonders of Fore. Situated about a mile from Fore, this blue flag lake is popular for fishing, swimming and other water sports. What I find very interesting about the lake is the Lough Lene bell.
In 1881, a local boy was fishing and discovered the bell on Castle Island on the lake. The bell is believed to date as far back as the 7th century and as such the story that it was St. Fechin’s ceremonial bell makes a lot of sense.
At least 12 times between the 8th and 12th centuries, the monastery at Fore experienced attacks. Most often by Vikings but sometimes local Gaelic chiefs got in on the act too. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination that in one these attacks they carried off St. Fechin’s bell. The original bell is now stored in the National Museum of Ireland. Interestingly, a half-sized replica of the Lough Lene bell is now used by the Ceann Comhairle (chairperson) to bring order to the Dáil.
Another final nugget of information to add to the famed history of this lovely area in north County Westmeath. Most definitely worth a visit!