Here on the island of Ireland we like to keep things a bit mysterious, which is why we love our “wonders”. In County Waterford, there’s a magic road, where your car strangely rolls backwards uphill instead of down; there’s a “mad well” in County Kerry, which is said to cure you of, um, madness; and don’t even get us started on the fairy forts. But Fore in County Westmeath takes the prize when it comes to wonders – with not just one, but seven!
Fore Abbey, County Westmeath
A place of peace
Beautifully situated in a quiet green valley in the village of Fore, Fore Abbey sits on the spot where St Feichin founded a Christian monastery in the 7th century. Back in the day, it was a thriving place with around 300 monks living here and over 2,000 students. But the monastery was not without its drama. St Feichin is said to have died of yellow plague, and the monastery was set on fire a total of 12 times between the 8th and 12th centuries.
The anchorite's cell at Fore, County Westmeath
Experiencing the wonders
Fore might look like a series of impressive ruins, but it’s a lot more than that. These gracefully crumbling structures and the landscape they sit in have become the stuff of legend, with a host of “wonders” that draw curious visitors from all over the world.
The Seven Wonders of Fore include the monastery in the bog, the water that flows uphill, the tree that won’t burn, the water that won’t boil, the anchorite in a stone, the mill without a race and the lintel raised by St Feichin’s prayers.
Stroll around and you will come face to face with these phenomena – just don’t get any smart ideas about trying to disprove any of them. It’s said that if you attempt to boil the water that does not boil, bad luck will befall you. And we can assure you that the locals won’t thank you for trying to burn the tree that does not burn.
But use your imagination, let yourself believe a little and you’ll find that Fore’s mix of miracles, legend and history really does add to the experience of visiting this beautiful spot.
St Feichin's Way looped walk at Fore, County Westmeath
The monastery built on a bog is definitely the most impressive of the wonders here. Fore Abbey is the largest Benedictine ruin on the island of Ireland and dates back to the 13th century. The medieval monastic complex boasts several interesting features including a graceful section of cloister, towers and the remains of a dovecote.
To get inside the anchorite’s cell – a hermitage that dates back to the 15th century – you’ll need to get a key from the Seven Wonders pub in the village. Just don’t linger too long at the bar, or you might start inventing wonders of your own…
To get the most out of your visit to Fore, our advice is to walk St Feichin’s Way – a looped trail that gives you some of the best vantage points of the valley. It’s a wonder in itself.