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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Planning for 2023 –Where to next?

If you want to know where you are heading it is useful to know where you began.

As we entered 2023 wondering, ‘What next?’ I thought back on why I started this blog.

The questioning that got me going began many years ago but if I put a date on the beginning of my most recent phase it would be May 2019. I had seen an article in a newspaper on the ‘The Seven Wonders of Fore’ (in Westmeath) and thought it would be worth a visit if I was in the area.

I had expected a gimmicky tourist attraction – the ‘Seven Wonders’ include a stream that runs uphill, a tree that won’t burn and water that won’t boil. However what I discovered was the spectacular remains of an ancient monastic city in a secluded valley that, for me, comes second only to Glendalough for character and appeal.

Its history is laid out before you in three buildings: the ancient cell of a Celtic monk, a 13th century Norman Benedictine Abbey and an anchorite’s hermitage which connects the two eras.

The founder in 630 was Feichin, a Sligo man who studied under Nathy of Aconory. His influence on 7th century Ireland can be traced across the country from Termonfechin (Feichin’s Sanctuary) in eastern Louth, to Fore in the midlands and to Cong and Omey Island on the west coast.

On the opposite side of the valley from where he and his companions lived in simple huts and taught an uncomplicated spiritual life are the remains of an impressive Benedictine abbey built some 600 years later. It symbolises another age: large, institutional and recently imported.

Beyond the site of the original cell, under Fore Rock, is an anchorite’s enclosure which was occupied by hermits up to the 17th century. Patrick Beglin, ‘the last hermit of Ireland’ died there in 1616. The life lived inside its walls linked the spiritual heritage of Feichin with that of the Benedictines.

The valley also has a holy well and a sacred tree, essential elements for an early Celtic religious site.

So why did my visit there leave a lasting impression? It was not just its curious ruins and sweeping views.

It helped me to understand where I had come from and gave me an idea of when I should be heading. My encounter with Feichin in Fore led me, at a later date, to spend two days walking the soft sod of Omey Island looking for his church buried there. From then on one place led to another as I uncovered more and more traces of our Irish heritage.

My plan for 2023 is to continue those ‘voyages of discovery’ and invite you to share yours. If you haven’t started you won’t have to go far to begin. There are such ‘forgotten places’ all around us.

In my search for the most forgotten and revealing places in Ireland I rate Fore as 9 out of 10 in both categories.

(If you would like to read earlier visits to ‘forgotten places’ see hugh macmahon on Facebook.)


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