Monday, February 25, 2013

Fore Abbey, County Westmeath

As last Monday was such a beautiful clear day we took a trip out to see Fore Abbey. Located in the small village of Fore in rural Westmeath, Fore Abbey is one of the true wonders of Hidden Ireland, a site that should be on every must-see list for those interested in Irish history and archaeology.

Interior of the 10/11th Century St. Féichín's Church
The site was founded by St. Féichín in around AD 630, and the small monastic site quickly grew in size and importance, and received many mentions in the Annals of Ireland. Although there are no visible remains of this initial seventh century monastery (indeed the exact location of the earliest foundation has still not been conclusively proven) there is still a fine 10–11th Century church located on the slopes directly above the main part of Fore Abbey. This is St. Féichín's Church, the main part probably dates to the 10th Century, with a later chancel added in the 13th Century to extend the church. In the background of the photo above you can make out the huge lintel above the doorway, said to be one of the Seven Wonders of Fore (see below).

Most of structures forming the main part of Fore Abbey date to the period following the Norman invasion of Ireland. Hugh De Lacey ruled the Lordship of Meath (roughly speaking it incorporated today's Meath and Westmeath) from his fortress at Trim Castle. De Lacey would have appreciated the value of the monastery and the population growing around it. He had a priory established in around 1180 and gave the site to the Benedictine Order.
The Benedictine movement was extremely popular across the Continent, but there were not many Benedictine monasteries established in Ireland, and I can't think of another example as well preserved as Fore. It was constructed around a central cloister (a beautiful courtyard), with a church to the north, the dormitory for the monks to the east, the refectory to the south with its adjacent kitchen to the south-west.  
The cloister area
By the fifteenth century Fore Abbey had become vulnerable to attack by the Gaelic chieftains as it was located outside of the area of The Pale. It was attacked in 1423 and 1428, and remained vulnerable enough that there were gates and walls built to surround the monastic settlement. I didn't see any remains of the walls, but two stone gates can still be seen near the site.

Despite these raids Fore Abbey was still a wealthy place and new towers and a revamped cloister area was added in the fifteenth century.

Fore is also known for the Seven Wonders of Fore. These are:
The Anchorite in a stone
The water that will not boil
The monastery built on a bog
The mill without a millstream
The water that flows uphill
The tree which will not burn
The stone lintel raised by the saints prayers

Fore Abbey is a wonderful place, the area is steeped in history and stunning ruins that you can easily spend an afternoon wandering around, especially if you are lucky enough to be there on a fine day too. The site is well signposted (see our map for its exact location) and provisioned with a large carpark, I highly recommend a visit!

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