Fore Abbey, Westmeath, Ireland

The 13th century Benedictine Fore Abbey was built by Hugh de Lacy on the site of an earlier monastery established by St Féichín around 630AD. The name Fore is the Anglicised version of the Irish name Fobhar that signifies ‘the town of the water springs’ and was named after St Féichín’s spring that stands beside the 9th  century church a short distance from the abbey. The original monastery was a centre for learning, so much so that Fore became known as Baile Leabhair ‘The Town Of Books’, by 635 AD Fore was home to 300 monks and 2,000 students prior to the arrival of the yellow plague in 664. Fore was also burnt at least a dozen times between 771 and 1169, at least once by the Viking chief Turgesius who died in 845AD.

The abbey that remains today was built in the early part of the 13th century as a Benedictine Abbey of SS Taurin and Féichín It was established as the property of the French Abbey of St Taurin at Evreux, in Normandy, which led to the abbey being targeted as an ‘alien-property’ during the Anglo-French wars of the 14th century. In the 15th century the fortified tower was constructed and much of the abbey was enlarged and adapted to a more defensive design. The town of Fore grew up around the abbey and the area around Fore is dotted with archway gates and roadside crosses. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the abbey at Fore was granted to ‘The Black Baron’ also known as Christopher Baron Devlin, on 30th  September 1588 , whose soldiers ransacked the property and torched the abbey. The abbey was never rebuilt and remains the beautiful ruins that we see today.

One of the more unusual aspects to Fore is that it is home to the Seven Wonders of Fore, these are.

1.The Monastery built upon the Bog – The earlier monastery was on the hill near the Anchorites cell but the later abbey was built on boggy ground surrounding the tributaries of Lough Lene.
2. The Mill Without a Race – When St Féichín built his mill at Fore there was no water to run it, his carpenter was dismayed by the saint’s idea but must have been more than shocked when the saint thrust his crosier into the ground and waters from Lough Lene began to flow! The rising waters drowned the carpenter who was asleep in the mill, however St Féichín subsequently brought him back to life.
3.The Water that Flows Uphill – The stream that St Féichín brought into existence is an optical illusion that appears to flow uphill. This water flows underground from Lough Lene a mile away and under a mountain before it surfaces beside the ancient 9th century church.
4. The Tree that Won’t Burn – This was an ancient ash tree at the Tobernacogany well, also named ‘The Money Tree’ as people used to insert copper coins into its bark, sadly eventually poisoning and killing the tree, it was replaced by a sapling from the old tree.
5. The Water that Doesn’t Boil – The water from the wells at Fore is said to have curative properties and the well were important sites of pilgrimage. The belief that the water didn’t boil may have been established as a way to prevent blaspheming parishioners taking the water and using it to cook and clean!
6. The Anchorite in a Stone – This relates to the Anchorite’s Cell (previously featured here) that sits above the valley where the hermit Patrick Beglin lived, died, and was buried within the walls of the cell.
7. The Lintel Stone Raised by St Féichín’s Prayers – This is in relation to the 9th  century church beside the Anchorites’ cell whose west doorway lintel was meant to have been raised by the power of prayer by St Féichín after workmen were unable to lift it.

Fore Abbey is a wonderful and very much overlooked heritage site, the tiny village of Fore seems so quiet and empty and does little to help us understand the sheer size and bustle of the town during the 13th-16th centuries, a remarkable place.

GPS: 53.68388, -7.22729

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