Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The 7 Wonders of Fore, Part 2
I knew we'd be heading back from Sligo toward Dublin at the end of our trip. I'd already decided to drive through Leitrim, the county my great great grandfather supposedly called home, just to get a look. That would put us in a straight line for Westmeath - and little Fore's seven wonders.
Fore is a tiny place. A mapping site quoted me a figure of 3000 for the population of the 7 kilometres surrounding the village, though I suspect that would include several neighboring villages. Fore's quiet main street boasts a coffee house and visitor's center, 2 bars (one appropriately named the Seven Wonders Lounge and Bar) and a few more scattered buildings.
The town lies in a lush green valley nestled between two ranges of hills: the Ben of Fore to the north east and the steeply rising Carrick Balor to the south west. The town (Fobhair Féichin) was named after St Fechin's Spring, which bubbles up beside the ancient church.
The Seven Wonders of Fore
The monastery in a bog
The mill without a race
The water that flows uphill
The three branched tree; the tree that won't burn
The water that won't boil
The anchorite in stone
The stone raised by prayer alone
The monastery is Fore Abbey, a lovely if eerie ruin laying out in a field off the main road through town. A Benedictine Priory, Fore's Abbey was built by the de Lacy's (Normans) before 1200, with additions in the 15th century, as it grew in size and importance. The site now boasts the most extensive Benedictine remains in Ireland. The Wonder? Why, that is has survived for centuries, built on a bog, answer the locals. It is peaceful and elegant, and well worth a wander.
The stone raised by prayer alone is across the road from the Abbey (and the handy map and guide sign posted for bus tours and wandering book chasers.) Legend has it the workmen building St Feíchin's church paused for lunch one day, worn out from several missed attempts to lift the large lintel stone over the door, only to return to find the stone perfectly placed, by the prayers of St. Feíchin himself (says the legend of the wonders.)
Fore's anchorite in stone is the imposing black tower on the hill above St. Feichin's church. While I enjoyed my cow-dodging trek to reach the door of the tower, I was disappointed to find the heavy wooden door locked tight. Rumor has it the barman at the Seven Wonders Lounge can easily be talked into producing a key, but I left that for next time. Before being converted into a mausoleum for a local wealthy family in the 17th century, the tower was a hermit's cell - the only one of its kind in Ireland. The monk entering this cell vowed never to come out alive, and so a series of anchorite hermits lived out their lives here, one by one, until death brought the tower a new tenant.
The tree that won't burn has been replaced, and the well of the water the won't boil looked pretty darn dry to me, but they are easily spotted just behind the map and guide post. The original tree consisted of only 3 branches, which some wise Catholic took to represent the Holy Trinity, a wonder duly confirmed when the wood of said tree stubbornly refused to burn. Locals and pilgrims took to forcing coins in to the tree's bark for good luck, killing it. Only a sad little copper-infested trunk survives, tucked under the branches of its replacement. The new tree is covered with cloth - socks and scarves and scraps of cloth - tied to its branches, again for luck, I'll assume? The water from the well below the tree wouldn't boil, so they say, although it did cure illness.
I left the mill without a race (stream), and the water flowing uphill for my next visit, just to be sure I arrive with a reasonable hunt ahead of me.
One last note, I am not in the habit of plugging the places I stay, but I like to think I'll never again fly in or out of Dublin Airport in summer without spending a few nights at Hounslow House. Mrs. Healy serves tea with rich, thick, homemade scones, and cooks up the best Irish breakfast of all of the B & B's I stayed in. Best of all, she slows down, pulls up a chair and asks you where you've been, where you're going and how you came to find her rambling Irish farmhouse. Her tables overflow with stacks of books about the area, and maps and brochures and magazine articles, alongside a signed copy of a book of poems by Fore's own poet, Michael Walsh, known as the bard of Fore. Mention the 7 Wonders and watch her face light up.
Mrs. Healy's home is a working farm, and you're sure to run into Mr. Healy and the farm hands taking lunch in the kitchen or cruising by in a tractor. The horses are just the other side of where you parked your car, behind that screen of trees, and the sheep, well, they graze just across the road from the house, out your bedroom window if you get the room I did. Best of all, Hounslow House is surrounded by monuments - crumbling ruins, Bronze Age burial sites, manor houses, castles and ancient celtic crosses.
So,that's my shameless plug and I'm sticking with it. I'll hope to run into you round Mrs. Healy's breakfast table sometime.
Just thinking -I also hope I got you wondering what miraculous wonders might be lurking in your own back yard. (Did I ever tell you about the time a group of villagers from my home town burned the British ship patrolling our bay, giving a few Bostoners an idea about some crates of tea? Oh, but now it's time to work. That'll be a post for another day.)