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From the Library 

of 
PADRAIG 6 BROIN 



SAINT FECHIN OF FORE 



Our Lady of Perpetual 
Succour and Ireland. 



"This history is a veritable his 
torical romance." 

FR. DINEEN in The Leader. 

"A complete manual of Marian 
devotion." The Tablet. 

" A truly beautiful book." 

Independent. 

"A very valuable book." 

Madonna. 

" A work so redolent of devotion 
should find its way into every 
Irish home and heart." 

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New Edition. Illustrated. Nearly 400 pp. 
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DUBLIN, WATERFORD. 



THE LIFE 



OF 



SAINT FECHIN OF FORE 

Clje jostle of Conncmara 

BY 

REV. JOHN B. COYLE, C.SS.R. 
PREFACE 

BY 

HIS GRACE THE ARCHBISHOP OF TUAM 



Dublin : 

M. H. GILL & SON, LTD. 
50 UPPER O CoNNELL ST. 



PZRMISSU SUPERIOROM 



obstat 




JOSE 



EALLACHAIN, 
Censor Thcol. Deput. 



potest* 



GULIELMUS 

Archiepiscopus Dublinensis 

Hibcrnice Primas. 



Die 21 Decembris, 1914. 



In obedience to the Decree of Urban VIII., the Author 
declares that he has no intention of attributing any other than 
purely human authority to the miracles, revelations, favours, 
and particular cases related in this book. 



PREFACE 



little life of St. Fechin is, in my opinion, 
what it purports to be a simple and trustworthy 
account of the great Apostle of Connemara. I will 
add that it seems to have been written with much care, 
and gives evidence of thorough familiarity with all the 
ancient authorities on the subject. 

We have more materials for a life of St. Fechin than 
is usual in the case of our Irish Saints, and Father 
Coyle has certainly utilised them to the best advantage. 
He has also succeeded in giving the narrative a local 
colouring, which is calculated to arouse in our minds a 
livelier interest in the career of the Saint. 

In one particular I disagree with the author. I 
think it more probable that St. Fechin came to Omey 
immediately from Ballisodare, and evangelised the greater 
part of the West of Connacht, before he went to Fore in 
the centre of Ireland. As a matter of fact the Angel 
under whose inspiration and guidance he is said to have 
acted, is represented as having given him in Ballisodare 
the divine message to proceed to Omey, in order to 
convert that pagan district which had not been effectively 
converted by St. Patrick or his immediate successors. 
This would seem to imply that St. Fechin went direct 
to Omey from Ballisodare, and that it was on his return 
from that remote region he founded the other churches 
and monasteries, including Cong and Fore, which still 
bear his name. 



vi Preface 

A great many will find the Irish version exceedingly 
interesting. Having it side by side with the English 
version will be an additional help to students of our 
ancient language, while at the same time it will tend to 
fix more firmly in their minds many salient points in the 
sacred and profane history of early Ireland. 

I congratulate Father Coyle on producing such an 
interesting Life, so full and accurate, in the midst, as 
I myself know, of very arduous missionary labours. I 
pray God to bless his work, and reward him for what he 
has done to make one of our greatest Irish Saints better 
known and better loved by our Irish people. 

JOHN HEALY, D.D., 

Archbishop of Tuam. 
ST. JARLATH S TUAM, 

New Year s Day, 1915. 



INTRODUCTION. 

IN putting together this little Life of Saint Fechin of 
Fore I have aimed chiefly at giving a simple, popular, 
yet trustworthy account of this great Saint. 

Were it possible for me I would gladly have entered 
more fully into the history of Fechin and his times, and 
given a more extensive account of his apostolic labours 
and monastic foundations. This I confidently leave 
ot more expert Gaelic scholars with more leisure for 
historical and archaeological research. 

I have consulted the various Lives, ancient and 
modern, as far as they are now available. The 
illustrious Colgan published a Life of Fechin 1 and also 
a "Supplement" to that Life. The Life published by 
Colgan is that composed by Augustin Magraidin, a 
Canon Regular of the monastery of Inis na Naomh, 
" Saints Island," in Lough Ree, on the Shannon, who 
died there in 1405. Colgan s " Supplement," the most 
authentic history we have of the Saint, is a compilation 
made by Colgan from the materials of three other very 
ancient Lives he had then before him, but which have 
since been lost. These three Lives were in Irish. One 
of them, he tells us, was from the ancient Codex or Book 
of Imaidh (Omey), originally in Latin, and ascribed to 
Saint Aileran the Wise. Another was in Irish verse, in 
74 elegant couplets ; a third in Irish prose, very ancient 
and trustworthy. 

There still exists an old Irish Life of Fechin which 
was not known to Colgan. It was published with a 
translation for the first time in 1891 by the learned 

1 Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae. Lou vain, 1645. Vide Jan. 20. 



viii Introduction 

Whitley Stokes from the unique copy in the Phillips 
Library, Cheltenham, England, (No. 9,194) and dated 

I32 9 2 . 

This is the only old Irish Life of Fechin now known. 
It was originally composed in Latin (perhaps much 
earlier than the year 1329) for we read : " Nicoll Og 
put this Life of Fechin out of Latin into Gaelic and 
O Duffy wrote it, and this is the year of the age of the 
Lord to-day, 1329." 

On the MS. is the following touching note in the 
handwriting of old Charles O Connor of Ballinagare : 
" Eta sa seilbh Chathail ui Concubhair ata in bheatha 
do Fechin anos an bliadan d ais an Coimde 1731, agus 
athrugad mor sa tshaogul on ann ar scribad an Beata 
so, agus ni fios agam ann ar fheabhus e." " And in the 
possession of Charles O Connor is this Life of Fechin 
now, the year of the age of the Lord, 1731. And great 
is the change, in the world since the time when this 
Life was written, and I do not know whether it is for 
the better." 

The great Irish hagiographer, Father O Hanlon, gives 
the Life of Saint Fechin very fully with copious notes. 8 
There is much valuable information about Saint Fechin 
in Archdeacon O Rorke s " Ballysodare and Kilvarnet, 1 
and in Dean Colgan s " Diocese of Meath." 4 This truly 
learned and patriotic priest appeals to his countrymen, 
particularly his brother priests in Ireland, to collect the 
history of our Irish parishes, each in his own district, 
so that we may have a complete Ecclesiastical History 
worthy of the Irish Church and of our great Catholic 
land. " If this pious and praiseworthy duty be much 
longer deferred," he says, " a time will certainly soon 

2 Bttha Fechin Fabair, The Life of Fechin of Fore. Rev. Ceitique. 
Tome xii., pp. 3 l8 -.353 (1891). 

8 Lives of the Irish Saints. Vide Vol. I. Jan. 20. 

4 The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern. 3 Vol., 1870. Vide 
Vol. I., pp. 64-68 ; III. pp. 561-568. 



Introduction ix 

arrive when it will be too late and then a 

terrible responsibility to God and their country will have 
devolved on those who could in times propitious, with 
very little trouble, have preserved the memory of those 
really great men, the true patriots and benefactors of 
their countrymen, who were faithful and true in their 
generation, and whose names in the Book of Life are 
identified with the sufferings, the sacrifices, the glories, 
and the triumph of Catholic Ireland." 5 

With the blessing of God, and His holy Mother 
Mary, this little Life, will, I trust, encourage all of us 
to take more interest in our Irish Saints, to read and 
study their lives, to pray to them in our daily needs 
of soul and body, but above all, to walk in their footsteps 
by the practice of those great virtues of Faith, Hope, 
Charity towards God and our neighbour, Prayer and the 
spirit of Penance, which shone so brightly in the lives 
of our saints, and in none more brightly than in his 
whose story is told in the following pages, Saint Fechin 
of Fore. 

To his Grace the Archbishop of Tuam I am sincerely 
grateful for honouring this little book with a Preface so 
full of kind and gracious words of encouragement and 
blessing. I humbly return him my thanks. 

I thank the learned Ard-Ollamh of the Connacht 
College, Padraig O Domhnallain, for his beautiful Irish 
version of the Life of St. Fechin. 

I sincerely thank those who have helped me in this 
little work, and I trust that Saint Fechin will bless them 
for their kindness. 

ST. PATRICK S, ESKER, ATHENRY. 

Feast of St. Columbanus, 

Nov. 24, 1914. 

8 Introd. Vol. III. 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

1. The Frontispiece to this volume, showing the 
ruins of Fore Abbey from S.E., is from a plate kindly lent 
by the Commissioners of Public Works. It shows the 
Abbey as it now is, ivy removed, etc. See Note p. 58. 

2. The picture of the Abbey on the cover is from a 
block lent by Mr. James Tuite, Mullingar ; and the 
Frontispiece to the Irish version of this life is from a 
block lent also by Mr. Tuite, and shows the cyclopean 
doorway of the ancient Church of St. Fechin at Fore. 

See pages 19 and 57. 

I return the Commissioners of Public Works and 
Mr. Tuite my sincere thanks. 



THE LIFE OF 

SAINT FECHIN OF FORE. 




THE BIRTH OF SAINT FECHIN. 

T. FECHIN was born in Billa or Bile, a village 
in the present County of Sligo, the Barony of 
Leyney and Parish of Ballysadare. The spot 
where he was born, called " Leaba FechiD," 
Fechin s bed, continues to be a place of pil 
grimage to the present day. " A man abstinent, pleasant, 
charitable," says an ancient chronicler, " a man of bright 
summery life, an abbot and an anchorite, Fair-worded 
Fechin of Fore, from the delightful borders of Luighne, from 
the loveable province of Connacht." 1 

His father, Cailcarna was, according to the Leabhar 
Breac and Mac Firbis Genealogies, of the race of Oliol 
Ollum. Some historians, however, reject this genealogy, 
and trace our Saint to Leinster s royal race, to Eochy Finn 
Fothairt, brother ot Conn of the Hundred Battles, and son 
of Felim Rathmar and Una, daughter of the King of 
Denmark. His mother was Lasair, the radiant, of the royal 
race of Munster. There is near Bile the site of an ancient 
church called Killassar said to have been built by Fechin 
and named after his holy mother. According to a Tract on 
the " Mothers of the Irish Saints" in the Book of Lecan, 
Fechin s mother is called Sochla. Colgan reconciles the 
apparent discrepancy by observing that both names mean 
much the same thing. " Sochla" means charitable and 
" Lasair," a flame, so that the mother of our Saint may be 
called by both names because of the " flame of charity" 
which constantly burned in her heart. 

1 " Betha Fechin Fabair," Rev. Celt., Tome xii., p. 321, n.i. 
(II) B 



12 

Fechin was thus allied in blood with several of our most 
celebrated saints and kings. First amongst those royal and 
saintly names on Ireland s roll of fame being Cormac Mac 
Art, 2 King of Ireland, and St. Brigid of Kildare. 

There is much uncertainty about the year of Fechin s 
birth, but most probably it occurred between the years 580 
and 590. The birth of the holy child was foretold by the 
saints, even by the great St. Columcille himself. As this 
Saint was one day going westwards from Saint Finian s 
Monastery, at Clonard, in Meath, he passed through the 
beautiful valley of Fore. There, we are told, he beheld angels 
ministering over the glen and he greatly rejoiced at the 
vision. He would build a moDastery there but understand 
ing that the heaven-favoured spot was destined not for him 
but another, he passed onwards. When the lord of the land> 
whose name was Sellan, heard that Columcille had gone past 
he followed quickly after him and offered a site for a 
monastery. He even begged Columcille on his knees to 
remain. " Offer not this site to me," saith he, "fora son 
of bright eternal life, even Fechin, will come to dwell in this 
neighbourhood and unto him it behoves thee to offer thyself 
and thy place." Thereupon Sellan saw in vision a vast fiery 
pillar standing in the midst of the valley and reaching up 

According to tradition King Cormac died a Christian, in desire at least, 
and confessing the Faith that was soon to free his country from the curse 
of Paganism. Ferguson has some beautiful lines on Cormac s unwilling 
ness that his dust should mingle with that of his pagan sires. 

" Spread not the beds of Brugh for me 
When restless death bed s use is done ; 
But bury me at Rosnaree 
And face me to the rising sun. 
For all the kings that lie at brugh 
Put trust in gods of wood and stone ; 
And twas at Ross that first I knew 
One, unseen, Who is God alone. 
His glory lightens from the East, 
His message soon shall reach our shore ; 
And idol-god and cursing priest 
Shall plague us from Moy Slaught no more ! " 

("Lays of the Western Gael," by Sir Samuel Ferguson "The Buriai 
of King Corrnac.") 



13 

to Heaven, and a multitude of radiant birds filled the glen 
from earth to Heaven. Thus did holy men predict and the 
Lord Himself foreshow the glory of the Saint who was soon 
to appear, by the grace and splendour of whose virtuous 
life all would be illuminated as by a pillar of light, and the 
whole valley peopled with disciples who would shine in 
holiness like the radiant angels tbemselves. 

INFANCY AND BOYHOOD OF FECHIN. 

God and His holy grace were with the child from the 
beginning and there were many signs of his future greatness 
and sanctity. More than once it happened that his mother 
on awaking at night missed the little child from her side. 
What was her astonishment to see her child kneeling on the 
floor, praying with hands outstretched in the form of a 
cross ! This form of prayer was a favourite devotion with 
Fechin all his life long. So great indeed was his mortifica 
tion from his infancy that he never tasted flesh meat. 

As soon as he was of an age to learn, Fechin became a 
pupil of Nathi, a kinsman of his own. This was the great 
Saint Nathi, of Achonry, " a noble distinguished Priest," 
says a chronicler. It is probable that Nathi became 
acquainted with the boy Fechin at his father s house and for 
a time taught him there. 

One day, we are told, the father struck his child in Nathi s 
presence. " Unjustly hast thou struck the head of the great 
king," said Nathi. "Why sayest thou so ?" asked the father. 
" I see angels over his head," said Nathi, " for many a son 
of life will be serving him and all the people of Leyney will 
be subject to him." Few parents realize what treasures 
Heaven confides to them in their children or that a child of 
theirs may be destined to be yet a great saint of God. 

FECHIN AT ACHONRY. 

From his father s house Fechin followed St. Nathi to 
Achonry where St. Finian of Clonard and this same St. 
Nathi, his disciple, founded a celebrated monastery that soon 



became a school of saints and learned men. But of all its 
scholars and saints Fechin was the most illustrious. 

One day, we are told, as the holy student was engaged in 
preventing strangers cattle from intruding on the monastic 
meadows, a certain princeling s horses and herds were 
brought in to feed upon them. Fechin protested against this 
unjust trespass on God s consecrated lands, but his protests 
were without avail. Full of righteous indignation he cursed 
the herds and rang his bell against them, so that they died. 
When the prince was informed of what his servants had done 
and of the fate of his cattle, he sent in all haste to beg the 
Saint s forgiveness. Fechin not only pardoned the injustice, 
but even restored to life the cattle and herds. To show his 
gratitude for this favour the prince offered Fechin a gift of 
land in perpetuity. The Saint accepted the offer and handed 
over the land to his holy master, the priest Nathi. 

FECHIN BECOMES A PRIEST. 

An Irish Life says : " After the holy child was perfected in 
age and in wisdom and in holiness, his tutor bade him take 
Holy Orders so as to be able to offer the King of Heaven 
and Earth." It is impossible to say where or at the hands 
of what bishop Saint Fechin received the Order of Priest 
hood. According to some historians it was at Achonry itself 
he was ordained a Priest, though not by Saint Nathi, who 
most probably was never a bishop. It is not at all unlikely 
that he was ordained elsewhere as he visited other schools 
besides Achonry. He seems to have studied at Clonmac- 
noise, and some records say that our Saint was for a time 
under St. Fintan Moeldubh at Clonenagh, in the present 
Queen s County. Certain it is, at all events, that on the 
great day of ordination, Fechin was a most worthy cleric, 
perfect in age, learning and holiness of life, as the chronicler 
says, and filled with the zeal of St. Patrick himself to gain 
souls to Jesus Christ his Master. We shall find in him the 
life of the silent Religious, a life of prayer and penance alter 
nating with the missionary s untiring work for souls. 



15 

ST. FECHIN AT BALLYSADARE. 

"Fechin s first care," says Archdeacon O Rorke, "on 
becoming a priest, was to furnish the territory of Leyney 
with churches, which at that time it greatly needed. 
Ballysadare was our Saint s first foundation." According 
to the best authorities Fechin founded a monastery there as 
well as the church called Tempul Mor Fechin. The Chief 
of Leyney bestowed land upon the church and monastery 
which was called Termon Fechin. In the course of time a 
town rose up around this church and monastery of Fechin 
at Ballysadare. 

One day, we are told, when he was preaching in front of 
the monastery a godly but misshapen man came to the 
sermon and entreated the Saint to deliver him from his 
deformity. For very shame he used to keep at a distance 
from everybody. Now it happened that Fechin cast spittle 
upon the ground ; the deformed man mixed clay with 
the spittle, and with the mixture rubbed his face. Thence 
forward he became so changed that in his time there was no 
one comelier than he ; and God s name and Fechin s were 
magnified by that miracle. 

Besides Ballysadare St. Fechin made other foundations 
about this time in Leyney and in the neighbouring districts. 
The most famous, however, of all our Saint s foundations 
and the one with which his name has been and ever will be 
inseparably connected is that of Fore in the County of 
Westmeatb. 8 



8 According to some authorities Fechin went to Fore immediately 
after his ordination to the Priesthood. This would make Fore his first as 
well as his most famous monastic settlement. The Irish Lift, edited by 
Whitley Stokes, fays: "So Fechin quitted his tutor and after taking 
Orders went, by the angel s command, to Fore." Rev. Celt. xii. p. 325, n. 9. 

Fore, Fobhar or Fabhar, was originally called Gleann Jhobhar, the Glen 
of Fore, (Donovan). From Fechin s time it came to be called more com 
monly Fobhar Fechin or Baile Fobhar. (DAilejrofJAifi Donovan). Fobhar 
or Fobar is the same word as Tobar, a spring or well. Hence Gleann 
Fobhair means " the glen of the well." The place has been ever remark 
able for its springs. 



i6 

ST. FECHIN AT FORE. 

We have already related Saint Columcille s prophecy that 
Fechin would come one day to Fore, that the beautiful 
valley would be his, and that like a pillar of shining light, 
he would guide to God a multitude of souls typified by the 
myriads of spotless white birds that rilled the glen from earth 
to Heaven. 

The hour had now come when the beautiful valley should 
resound with the praises of God and be made in very truth 
God s own by the presence of Jesus there in the Holy Mass 
and in the Blessed Sacrament. At the command of an angel 
Fechin set out from his native place and came with a com 
pany of monks to Fore. He rejoiced at the sight of the 
place, we are told, and in order to know fully God s will he 
fasted and prayed for three days and three nights. Then an 
angel came to him again and said : " Build an abode in this 
place for here shall be thy resurrection, and that of many of 
Ireland s saints along with thee." 

St. Nathi had predicted that Fechin s resurrection would 
take place at Fore and this prophecy God s angel now con 
firmed. 

As soon as Sellan, the lord of the district, had heard of 
Fechin s arrival he made an offering of Fore to the Saint. 
Fechin accepted the gift and blessed his generous benefactor. 
When a little later Sellan died Fechin had him buried on 
the south side of the valley under the shadow of the rocky 
Hill of Fore. On that spot we are told was afterwards built 
the altar of the little monastic church the venerable ruins of 
which are there to our own day. Often in our school-days 
did we go over this spot and through those sacred ruins but 
it was only with the scant interest and reverence of children, 
for alas ! we knew but little of Ireland s saints and the holy 
places of Ireland. Fore s historic past, we need not say, was 
not laid open to us in any book in the school-room. There 
is a great change in Ireland to-day and thanks be to God 
and the saints, it is a change for the better. 



7 

THE MONASTIC SETTLEMENT AT FORE. 

Fechin and his monks began immediately to plan their 
monastic settlement and build their church and cells. Of 
course they did not erect so massive a building as the Abbey 
of later centuries the ruins of which are so conspicuous to-day 
in the valley. Nor was the site even of Fechin s monastery 
there where the ruined Abbey now stands. The cells of Fechin 
and his monks clustered mainly along the south-western slope 
where the Saint s little ruined church now stands and looked 
towards the Ben so bare and treeless to-day, but then so 
beautiful and majestic in its rich dress of oak woods. 4 

The cells were not built at first of stone but of sods or 
well-tempered yellow clay and thatched with rushes or reeds. 
The long line of high wooded hills on both sides of the valley 
sheltered the monastic settlement from storms and cutting 
blasts, and through the open south the sun brightened and 
warmed the whole valley. Well, therefore, as the chronicler 
says, might Fechin and his companions "from the delight 
ful borders of Leyney and the loveable province of Con- 
nacht" though they were, rejoice at the calm and beauty of 
the place God now gave them, which was in truth to be a 
monastic paradise, a hermit s Eden. 

As soon as their church and cells were built Fechin 
" edified a congregation therein and instructed them daily 
in his Rule ; and he chastised himself by fasting for three 
days, and by prayer and by vigils and labour and by great 
cold." In common with many saints, and Celtic saints in 
particular, Fechin was accustomed to pass many hours of 
the night in prayer his body immersed the while in cold 
water. To the present there is a well in the valley, rectan 
gular in shape and lined with flag-stones which is called 

4 It is not improbable that the very first church that Fechin built was 
of oak planks replaced of course in later years by the stone building whose 
crumbling walls still remain. We read that in the year 817 the "Derthech" 
of Fore was burned. A " Derthech" (oak-house) was a small chapel or 
church, constructed, originally at least, of oak trees or planks. 



i8 

Saint Fechin s Bath. Most probably it was in this very batb 
that the miracle took place, which is related by Colgan. 5 On 
one occasion a monk named Pastor desirous of imitating the 
austerity of his master entered the bath with him to pray. 
No sooner, however, had Pastor entered the water than his 
courage failed. The water was so cold that the monk s 
teeth chattered, his limbs began to freeze and he could no 
longer bear the exquisite pain. Saint Fechin understood it 
all and bidding the poor shivering monk come near him 
began to pray along with him. Little by little the water grew 
warmer, each Psalm which they recited acted like a fire of 
burning coals. So much so indeed that ere long Pastor was 
forced to retire on account of the excessive heat of the water 
which but a short time before had all but frozen him, 
Fechin charged him to tell this to no man while he lived. A 
similar miracle is told of Fechin and the same Pastor as 
having happered in a stream at Ballysadare. When he was 
in the stream above Fechin he could not endure the water 
for its extreme coldness and when below Fechin he could 
not bear it for its excessive heat. Then we are told the good 
Fechin tempered the water for him. 

FECHIN S PENANCES AND PRAYERS. 

The Rules of Fechin s great Monastery of Fore were very 
severe, and our Saint was conspicuous not only amongst his 
own monks, but amongst all the saints of Ireland for the 
great austerities he practised and for his love of prayer and 
solitude. In the Martyrology of Donegal he is likened to 
Saint Anthony of the Desert. St. Cuimin of Connor, a con 
temporary of Fechin, in his poem on the Irish saints speaks 
thus of our Saint : 

" The hospitable Fechin of Fore loved 

It was not a false mortification 

To lay his fleshless ribs 

On the hard rocks without clothes." 

5 Colgan uses the word " dolium" for the place where Fechin went 
into the water, (A. S. Hib. : First Life, Ch. 17) and it is called Dabac 
Fechin, Fechin s Tub, to the present day. 



19 

We are told that he scarcely allowed himself any refreshing 
sleep, for to the devotional and spiritual exercises of the day 
he added others during the night. He divided the hours of 
the night into three parts. The first portion he spent in 
reciting Psalms and hymns, in performing stations and 
genuflections. Another portion he spent in silent meditation 
under a great tree near his cell, and again another portion 
he spent immersed in water engaged in long prayers to God. 
In fact in every district where our Saint lived are still 
pointed out some spots made sacred for all time by his prayers 
and penances. There are flags and stone beds worn, the 
legends say, by his fleshless ribs when snatching a little rest, 
but much more so by his bare knees in prayer and genuflec 
tions. Before the close of our narrative we shall find other 
examples of the Saint s wonderful spirit of prayer and 
mortification. 

ST. FECHIN BUILDS HIS CHURCH. 

One day there came to Fechin a man of learning named 
Sillen, bringing with him his little son. Fechin bade them 
welcome. Turning towards the boy he said in the spirit of 
prophecy : " It is this little boy in thy company, O Sillen, 
who will erect the church of my monastery." And so it came 
to pass. The first church was, as we have said, made of oak 
planks cut down from the hills by the monks, but in the 
course of some years Fechin s youthful architect planned the 
little stone church, the walls of which stand to-day after nearly 
thirteen hundred years destined, seemingly, to endure as 
an everlasting monument not only to St. Fechin but to the 
skill and honesty of Ireland s masons in those far off ages. 

The church measures 66 feet by about 24 feet. The 
entrance, a truly cyclopean door-way, faces the west. 
The lintel is six feet in length, two in height and the full 
thickness of the wall which is three feet. Local tradition 
says that this great stone lintel was placed there miracul 
ously by Saint Fechin himself. The workmen prepared the 



20 

stone and rolled it to the foot of the wall but were unable to 
raise it to its place. Fechin bade them go to breakfast and 
refresh themselves for their great task, saying that he would 
tarry till they returned. When they returned they found to 
their astonishment the lintel already in its place. Where 
Fechin laid it miraculously that morning it remains to this 
day. Such is the legend still surviving in Fore. 

THE STORY OF THE LEPER AND THE QUEEN. 

One day, says the chronicler, when Saint Fechin was 
standing in front of his church in Fore, he saw coming 
towards him a leper 6 full of disease from sole to crown. He 
entreated the Saint to give him food and drink and to assist 
him in his many wants. Fechin carried the poor leper on 
his back to the guesthouse. Either because our Saint 
discovered one greater than man in the poor sufferer, or 
because the leper s words and conduct were mysteriously 
forcing him, Fechin hastened away from the monastery 
over the hill to Loch Lene to the island fortress of King 
Diarmaid, son of Aed Slaine, and saluted the queen, 
Themaria. " Come with me, O lady." said Fechin to her, 
" to relieve the misery and want of my leper and thou shalt 
have a reward therefor." " There is nothing on earth," 
answered the queen, "for which I would do that, unless 
indeed thou givest me Heaven as a reward." " That shalt 
thou have," said Fechin. And behold, the queen sets out 
with Fechin across the green hill to Fore. See that noble 
Irish queen hasteniug forward on her mission of tenderest 
charity to a lowly leper ! " How beautiful are thy steps in 
shoes, O prince s daughter ! " It was a sight to enrapture the 

6 In the Irish Life, edited by Whitley Stokes, we read : " From him, 
Cftof in Ctoim The Cross of the Leper is named to day." I do not 
know of any cross at Fore at present called by that name but it is 
remarkable that the ancient arched gate to the west in front of the 
church is known as " the leper s arch." Probably "the leper s cross" 
stood there until the walling of the town in tbe XV. century. 

See Life, Rey. Celtique, xii. p. 343, nn. 37, 38. 



21 

angels of Heaven, and gladden the Heart of Jesus Christ 
Himself to see the saintly Irish queen passing from the 
brightness of a Court into the nauseous presence of a leper 
to nurse him with her own hands. But did not our Lord 
whisper to her as she went by Fechin s little church where 
He was present in the Tabernacle : " So long as you do it to 
one of these the least of My brethren, you do it unto Me ! " 

Then the queen went with Fechin to the guesthouse 
where the leper was biding and there the Saint left her to 
nurse the poor leper as " the dear Saint Elizabeth" did in 
later times. Her brave heart did not shrink and through 
the long night with her own two queenly hands, unaided 
she tended and nursed the sufferer as she would Jesus 
Christ Himself in His sufferings. The saintly and heroic 
queen had her reward. For on the morrow when Fechin 
was going to the guesthouse where the leper stayed he beheld 
a fiery globe rising from the roof of the house till it reached 
even to Heaven. Then Fechin understood that it was Jesus 
who had come in leper s form to test his charity and that of 
the queen. For when Fechin asked her for tidings of the 
leper, who was not to be found, the queen told him that it 
was Jesus who had been there and that He had left His 
blessing with Fechin aad his community. Our Lord too 
had left to the queen herself, besides promises and blessings, 
a staff and a lump of purest gold. The staff became the 
famous " Bachall Fechin" with which the Saint worked so 
many miracles, and which was so greatly reverenced after 
his death. The gold he spent in the cause of God and the 
poor. 

It is related also that another poor leper came to the 
hospitable Saint for help and a cure. Fechin took him into 
his monastery and put him into his own bed "for God s 
sake, and when they rose on the morrow the leper was whole 
every whit and he believed fervently in God and in Fechin." 



22 

GROWTH OF FECHIN S COMMUNITY. 

Very soon the reputation for sanctity of Fechin and his 
monks attracted a large number of postulants. The sweet 
odour of the virtues of young and old spreading abroad 
through the land, Fore was recognised as a very home of 
saints. The angel s word to Fechin was being verified : 
" Here shall thy resurrection be and that of many of Ireland s 
saints along with thee." 

It is stated in one of the hymns for the Office of the 
Saint s Feast that there were three hundred monks in Fore, 
all instructed by him in the way of the spiritual life. He was 
their father and guide, and like a wall of defence, he kept 
out the vanities and vices of the world from his dear 
monastic paradise. 

" Dehinc fuit monachorum 
Dux et pater trecentorum, 
Quos instruxit lege morum, 
Murus contra vitia. Amen." 

He was skilled, as Saint Aileran the Wise said, " in every 
science and especially in the Rules of the saints." 

Fechin and his three hundred monks had of course no 
separate or personal property. " They sold nothing and they 
bought nothing. They all partook of their meals together 
and none of them ever went out of his cell save to the church 
for prayer or for doing service for God and the neighbour 
hood." 7 

FECHIN RAISES THE DEAD. 

Very soon, as I said, our Saint became far-famed for his 
sanctity and spiritual wisdom. So likewise did he become 
famous for miracles. 

A monk of Fore, the old chronicler tells us, had been for 
a long time in ill-health and afterwards died. When this 
was told to Fechin, he went near the head of the dead body 
and threw himself on his knees on the floor and earnestly 

7 Rev. Celt., xii., p. 341, n. 33. 



23 

entreated God to restore the monk to life. He then arose 
from his cross-vigil*, lifted up the cloth that lay on the face 
of the dead man, and said to him : " In the Name of the 
Trinity, arise ! " And the monk arose at once at Fechin s 
word, and Fechin took his hand and he was long alive after 
that. 

This fame for miracles reached even to other lands. We 
are told that a cleric named Ronan, son of Guaire, had been 
suffering from a disease in his head, and had visited many 
countries and was no whit the better. He could find no 
cure. In Britain he met a holy hermit who said to him : 
" In a glen in the midst of Ireland is a man who will cure 
thee, and his monastery is on the northern side of the lake 
which lies in that place." 

When Ronan heard that, he came to Ireland and he 
understood that it was Fechin who would heal him. Ronan 
came to the place where Fechin dwelt, received from him 
forgiveness of his sins and was cured from that day. So 
writes the chronicler. 

This miracle reminds one of the miracles of our Lord 
Himself. Jesus, says the Evangelist, said to the man sick 
of the palsy : * Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven 
thee." And behold, the poor palsied cripple was cured. 
The cure of his soul became the healing of his body. It was 
by sin that sickness and sufferings of the body and death itself 
came into the world. If the world gave up sin and obeyed 
God and if all men led a sinless, spotless life, who knows but 
that the good God would take away all sorrows and diseases, 
all the thistles and thorns, that trouble and afflict the world. 

GREAT MIRACLES TO BE EXPECTED. 

In the history of God s Church and in the lives of His 
servants great miracles are to be expected. Did not our 
Divine Saviour say to His Twelve Apostles who, though 

8 " Croisfigill" or cross- vigil, was a prayer or vipil made on one s knees 
with the arms outstretched in the form of a cross. Vide supra p. 7. 



2 4 

Apostles, were men like ourselves : " Preach, saying : < The 
Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the 
dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils ; freely have you 
received, freely give " (Matt. x.). And we know what hap 
pened. " And going out they went through the towns, 
preaching the Gospel, and healing everywhere" (Luke ix.). 

Besides we know that our Lord foretold that in His Church, 
which would last for ever, greater miracles would yet be 
wrought than those which He Himself had worked. 

But it must ever be remembered that of themselves the 
Saints do not, and cannot, work a single miracle. They 
are the channels simply the mere instruments by which 
God works. And it is thus indeed the old Irish chronicler 
speaks: "God wrought other wondeiful miracles for 
Fechin. Among them was the healing of the man who had 
suffered from palsy and deafness from the hour he was born, 
even as Jesus helped the man who was suffering from a 
mortal palsy and could not be healed by a human leech." 

It was never expected, of course, or believed in any age 
of the Church, in Ireland or elsewhere, that anyone but a 
holy person would be a likely instrument of God s wondere. 
There are now-a-days, and there always have been, silly men 
and women, who believe or pretend to believe, in the miracles 
of " Christian Science" while they scoff and laugh at miracles 
in the Life of a saint. Wise men do not look for grapes on 
thorns or figs on thistles, and no deceiver ever yet cured a 
leper or raised the dead. 

Very beautifully does the Irish chronicler speak: " It is 
not strange," he says, " that many miracles and marvels 
were wrought by that godly man, even Fechin ; for he was 
chaste in body, and diligent in mind and eloquent in speech. 
He was rich in wisdom ; a shining example of temperance ; 
he was sure in belief ; he was firm in correcting sinners ; he 
was clement in humility ; he was an unwearied chastiser of 
his own body ; he was beneficent in charity ; he was loving 
to guests ; he was vigorous in helping the feeble ones of 



25 

God ; he was poor and lowly to himself, rich to everyone 
else." 9 It is no wonder such men are the instruments of 
great miracles and wonders. 

"THE MILL WITHOUT A STREAM." 

The records of some of Saint Fechin s miracles are as 
fresh to-day in Fore as they were a thousand years ago. 
They have been written in books ; but they are on the lips 
of the people too, as they have been handed down from father 
to son. And over and above this, some of his miracles are seen 
still written in the very rocks and the landscape. Who has 
not heard of Saint Fechin s Mill without a stream ? 

The story of the mill is a very beautiful one. The work 
of the monks in grinding corn for so large a community was 
laborious. It was becoming more so day by day. While 
Fechin gave his monks no time for idleness, he yet was not 
a hard master. He was a father. So because of the great 
labour in grinding with a quern Fechin proceeded to build a 
water-mill. Though Fore had streams and wells, yet there 
was no suitable waterpower to turn a mill-wheel. Fechin 
however went on with the mill under the Rock, only a stone s 
throw from his little church, where the ruins of a modern 
mill are still to be seen. The mason monks finished the 
walls and the roof, and the mill-wright set the wheel. But 
where was the water ? The mill-wright who had been sent 
by his master to make the wheel for Fechin and his monks 
considered them all very foolish to say the least. He said 
he would deem his life long enough if he lived till water came 
to set that mill-wheel a-going ! 

" God is able to cause water to come to it," says Fechin. 
Then rising up and taking some of his monks with him, the 
Saint proceeded across the green hill and down to Loch Lene, 
chanting hymns and psalms. Some say Saint Mochua was 
with Fechin that day. Having arrived at the brink of the 
beautiful Loch Lene, Fechin struck the rocks and they divided 

9 Rrv. CW/.,xii. ( p. 335, n. 26. 



26 

and a river began to flow from that side of the hill under- 
ground to the other side. A torrent of water rushed through 
the hill and, dashing out not far from where the mill-wheel 
was, set the wheel a-going. The mill-wright, it is said, had 
gone to rest somewhere below or beside the wheel and was 
drowned or killed by the sudden turning of the wheel and 
the rushing torrent of water. Then came Caeman, the 
wright s master, to expostulate with Fechin about the death 
of his servant. The Saint was much touched with what had 
happened and restored the man to life. Fechin then gave 
the mill-wright a choice of staying at Fore or going with his 
master. He immediately declared that he would stay, 
" For," said he, " if the world s men were chosen out of Fore, 
Heaven would be given to them all." What grander testi 
mony could be given to the holiness of the place and to the 
piety of its people ! 

This is the story of the " Mill without the stream." The 
waters are flowing still and could turn a mill to-day as they 
did in Fechin s time. But there is no mill-wheel going round 
in Fore now. Where once stood the mill there is now only 
a ruin. The waters are sweet and abundant for the village, 
but they pass idly down where once the old wheel went 
round and fall into Loch Glore and the River Inney. 

Saint Fechin s mill was always looked upon as a very 
holy spot. According to Philip O Sullivan Beare it was 
reverenced as a place of inviolable sanctuary. Gerald Barry 
tells us that in his own time the vengeance of Heaven over 
took three of Hugh de Lacy s soldiers for having profaned 
the holy place. This writer, Geraldus Cambrensis, Gerald 
the Welshman, as he was called, is generally untrustworthy 
when he writes of anything Irish, and even when he treats 
of his own native Wales, but we may give him some credit 
when he relates anything against the Anglo-Norman in 
vaders, whose ardent defender he ever was. 



2 7 

FECHIN RETURNS TO CONNACHT. 

God had visibly blessed Fechin and his work. The great 
monastic establishment had come into being and was 
flourishing. The vision was realised. Fechin was the great 
fiery pillar of light in the middle of Ireland that illuminated 
the land, and his hundreds of holy disciples were the white 
radiant birds of the vision that filled the valley of Fore from 
earth to heaven. 

There is no doubt but that by this time the monastic 
colony had extended its borders across towards the north 
side and the Ben, and occupied the beautiful, gently rising 
eminence in the centre of the valley where the ruins of " The 
Abbey" now stand. All the Abbey land, so rich and green 
to-day, was once, as the old Legend tells us, a " shaking 
sod," but Fechin blessed it, and immediately it became solid 
and fruitful. 

God had many other great works for His servant Fechin 
to do. Having appointed a superior to rule over Fore in his 
absence, Fechin returned into Connacht and came to his 
native territory. The Life says he visited Nathi s Church at 
Achonry. His old saintly master was long dead, and it was 
no doubt to visit his holy grave that Fechin went there. 
When he went into the church, we are told, the shrine in the 
church shone forth with great brightness, so that the people 
that were without saw light over the door and through the 
windows of the temple. 

At what period of his life Fechin founded, or lived in 
the monasteries and churches connected with him in the 
territory of Leyney, I am unable to say. Some authorities 
say that the church and monastery at Ballysadare, or at 
least the church there, was his first foundation ; while others 
maintain that Fore was his first, as it was his most famous, 
foundation. Then there were foundations by Fechin at Bile, 
Kilnamanach, Drumrath, Kilgarvan or Kilnagarvan (now 
Kilgarvy) and Ecclesroog or Edarguidhe. 



28 

APOSTLE OF CONNEMARA. 

It was while St. Fechin was visiting his native territory 
and at the monastery of Ballysadare that God sent him to 
be the Apostle of Connemara in the West of Galway. 

We are told that Saint Patrick passed West from Cong 
between the two great lakes, Corrib and Mask, until be came 
to the wild gap in the hills beyond Maam where Patrick s 
Bed and Patrick s Well may still be seen. " Further pro. 
gress through the Twelve Bens," says Archbishop Healy, 
" was then impossible, and even at the present day, the 
traveller who ventures to follow Patrick on foot into the wilds 
of Ross will find his task a difficult one. He blessed the 
wild hills to the west and the wilder people who dwelt 
amongst them ; but it was reserved for St. Fechin and 
others, two centuries later, to bring them to the Faith." 10 

An angel now appeared to Fechin in his sleep and said i 
"The inhabitants of the island named Imaith, and the rest 
of the people of that country, are in darkness as to the divine 
Law and get thee to preach to them. For God hath granted 
to thee to receive tribute from them and it is thou who shalt 
be unto them a lord and counsellor, a tree of protection and 
a judge of doom." 

OMEY-FECHIN. 

At the angel s command, we are told, Fechin then went into 
West Connacht to Omey to gain those souls for Jesus Christ. 
He was accompanied by some disciples. He seems to have 
gone very soon to the island 11 which gave the name Omey to 
that whole district. He blessed the little island and began 
to build cells to house himself and his disciples while they 
were engaged in preaching in the island and district. But 



10 The Life and Writings of Saint Patrick. By the Most Rev. Dr. 
Healy, Archbishop of Tuam, p. 224. 

11 Omey is an island seven miles West of Clifden. At low tide one 
can walk into it. About a dozen families now live there. There existed 
in Colgan s time the " Book of Imaidh" containing an Irish Life of St. 
Fechin. The "Second Life" is compiled from that Irish Life and two 
other Irish Lives now lost. 



2 9 

the inhabitants, who were still pagans, endeavoured at the 
devil s suggestion to exclude Fechin aod his monks and to 
drive them away. Several times at night the peop!e flung 
into the sea the spades, axes and other instruments which 
the monks used in their work of clearing and building, but 
as often as the tools were cast into the sea so often were 
they cast up again on the shore and there found in the 
morning. Fechin and his disciples persevered in spite of 
all opposition. Then their enemies seemed to grow more 
hardened and would not give the monks food or even sell it 
to them. Two of them died of starvation. But Fechin 
poured forth a prayer to God for the dead, who were martyrs 
for His holy Faith, and they were restored to life. 

We are told that when King Guaire 12 the Hospitable, 
heard of their distress he sent a large supply of food to 
Fechin and his disciples. He sent also to Fechin a royal 
gift of a cup or chalice which was preserved for centuries 
after and known as " Cuach Fechin." 

The prayers and preaching, the continual austerities and 
the patience of the Saint and his companions prevailed at 
last and softened the hearts of all. The inhabitants of the 
whole island and district of Omey were converted and 
baptized, and from being enemies became Fechin s most 
ardent and faithful children. A well sprang from the ground 
and Fechin baptised the people there. For a thousand years 
the waters of this holy well were known to have proved 
" very miraculous for restoring people to health." 18 

It was, probably, in Omey that the event occurred which 
is related of the religious who was wilfully distracted in his 

"Guaire famous in Irish history for hospitality, was King of Aidhne, 
South-west Galway, corresponding to the present Diocese of Kilmac- 
duagh. He had estates elsewhere as well. According to some authors 
Fechin baptised Guaire and used this very same cup in pouring the 
baptismal waters on his royal convert. (Irish Life. Rev. Celt xii 
p. 342, n. 36). Many beautiful legends are still told of "Guaire the 
Hospitable. His name is preserved in such words as Dungory Castle 
at Kmvarra (T)un Suaifte) and Gort, (5o r c ln r e 

u lar-Connacht. O Flaherty, p. 113 



3 o 

prayers. His mind not being in his prayer, we are told that 
therefore Satan entered into him and tempted him. Fechin 
was made aware of how grievously his poor child was tempted 
and sent for him. The Saint then blessed his mouth with 
the sign of the cross and he was immediately freed from the 
temptation and molestation of the devil. 

There are the remains of an old church on Omey yet 
visible, called Tempulfeehin, and close by is his holy well, 
Tobarfechin. 

Saint Fechin has been looked upon as the Apostle not only 
of Omey island but also of that large tract of country from 
Maam and the Twelve Bens, by Letterfrack and Clifden, and 
as far south as Galway Bay. Hence he may truly be regarded 
as the Apostle of all Connemara. A Latinised form of 
Fechin s name " Festus," or its English equivalent, " Festy," 
is quite common amongst the people in Connemara. 

ST. FECHIN ON ARD-OILEAN (HIGH ISLAND.) 

One of the most interesting spots consecrated to our Saint 
in the West is an island four miles north-west of Omey 
called Ard-Oilean or High Island. According to some his 
torians Fechin after founding his church on Omey went to 
Ard-Oilean and founded there a monastic settlement. 

The island is indeed high, being 200 feet over sea level, 
and almost inaccessible save in calm weather. It is about a 
quarter of a mile long, with an area of 82 statute acres, and 
is covered with a beautiful sward of short green grass. There 
is a small lake on the island, and a stream which in the ancient 
days turned their little mill-wheel for the holy anchorites. 
Beside the lake to the north Fechin built his oratory and 
cells for the anchorites, all sheltered from the cold north-east 
winds by a rising ground. 

How long Fechin remained in Ard-Oilean we do no. 
know. It certainly would be hard to find a place more likely 
to attract an anchorite saint like Fechin, who was called the 
Anthony of the Irish Church. 



The ruins of the church and cells are still to be seen. 
The cells were of the bee-hive shape, built of stone, and called 
"cloghans." The whole is defended by a very thick wall 
called a "cashel," though in such a place little defence was 
needed, for Nature s rampart was round about. 14 

There is a holy well on Ard-Oilean called " Tobar Brian 
Murrogh," or as others name it, * St. Brian Boru s Well." 
This fact may correctly explain the words of an Irish poem 
on the death of King Brian which concludes with the follow 
ing stanza : 

" There were found at Fechin s frigid bed, 
Wells of overflowing blood, 
The sign of kingly Brian s death, 
In the western border-land of Erin." 15 
This extraordinary legend was intended to show how the 
patriotic heart of the dead Saint bled, as it were, with sorrow 
in sympathy with Erin when in her very hour of victory the 
awful tragedy of Brian s death plunged the nation in grief. 
This year, the ninth centenary of King Brian s victory at 

14 Of these eremitical monasteries Mr. P. W. Joyce says : "Each man 
built a cell for himself; and these cells, with a little church in the midst, 
all surrounded by a low cashel, rath, or wall, formed an eremitical monas 
tery ; a monastic group like those is known in the East by the name of 
" Laura." Each monk passed the greater part of his life in his own cell, 
holding little or no communication with his fellows, except only at stated 
times in the day or night, when all assembled in the Church for common 
worship, or in the refectory for meals. Their food consisted of iruits, 
nuts, roots, and other vegetables which they cultivated in a kitchen- 
garden ; and it must often have gone hard with them to support life. 
Remains of these monasteries are still to be found not only on Ard-Oilean 
but also at Gougane Barra, and in the Great Skellig off the Kerry coast. 
Many of the cells were bee-hive shaped stone houses, and were called 
"cloghans." A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland. Part II., 
chap, vi., p. 153. 

**Bom by Mac Coise, poet and historian to King Malachy II. 
(O Curry Lectures on the Manners and Customs, etc. Vol. II., p. 119), 
O Curry thinks these wells of blood were at Cong; O Rorke, at Bile. 
Their ground of argument being that at Cong and Bile in the West, there 
was a "leaba Fechin," a " Fechin s bed." But it seems to me that the 
well, which may indeed have often been " Fechin s frigid bed" on Ard- 
Oilean in the furthest border of Erin and called after King Brian, is the 
identical well that turned to blood when the saintly warrior was killed at 
Clontarf on Good Friday, 1014. 



32 

Clontarf, is a year of triumph for the Fatherland, full of 
hopes and joys, and we may well believe that the great heart 
of Fechin has been gladdened by new joys in Heaven. Let 
us not now forget our saints in our joys, as they did not 
forget us in our sorrows. 

Ard-Oilean long continued to be a place of hermits and 
saints. Saint Gormhgal, Chief Anam-cara of Erin, died there 
in 1017 ; u a very spiritual person," says O Flaherty, "of 
renowned sanctity who made this island his hermitical 
retirement." In our own day there is an abundance of 
rabbits and a hardy flock of sheep. That is all. 

" Will the day ever come again when holy men, flying 
from the vanities and deceits of the world, will people once 
more the holy islands of the West ? Will the sound of the 
Angelus Bell be ever heard again over those wild seas and 
the chant of sacred Psalmody once more awake the echoes 
of the ocean caves? Who can tell ? This we know that if 
we had to make the choice we should prefer a cloghaun on 
this lonely but beautiful island to a cell in some dark attic 
over a dirty street where the sights and sounds and smells 
by day and by night are a perfect abomination." 16 

SAINT FECHIN AT CONG. 

Our Saint is said to have founded a monastery and church 
at Cong, on the " neck" of land between Lough Mask and 
Lough Corrib. At what period Fechin made his foundation 
here or resided at this place is not known. According to 
some writers it was Domhnall II., High King of Ireland, 
who founded the monastery in 624, and Fechin presided 
over it for some years. Whether the Saint be the actual 
founder or not, Cong has been called from immemorial times 
" Conga Fechin," Cong of Fechin, and there are many holy 
spots there called after him to the present day, as well as 

16 An Island Shrine in the West. By Archbishop Healy. I ide Papers 
and Addresses, p. 231. 



33 

numerous local traditions connected with his name and with 
the miracles which he wrought. 17 

There is a fragment of a Life of Fechin in the Yellow 
Book of Lecan and some hymns, and verses in Irish and in 
Latin in honour of the Saint. In this Tract the genealogy 
of Fechin, son of Caelcarmand, is traced back step by step 
through over seventy ancestors to " Canen, son of Enos, son 
of Seth, son of Adam, son of the Living God." 

The poet says : 

" The monastic jurisdiction of Fechin is of wide extent ; 
He is a Saint who utters no evil judgment. . . . 
His church shall be the habitation of a multitude and 

of honour 

And the common abode of righteousness. 
Happy whether on sea or on land, 
Every home that Fechin has blessed : 
Darmagh 18 , Ceall Caigi 19 , Abuil 80 , 
Each place of these did he bless : 
Imaidh 21 and Esdara 22 too. 
Two chief houses of clean roads 
Residences of Tabhar 23 , his country, 
Cong also and Fabhar-FechinJ" 
Two Ruaidhris and the powerful Turlough, 
Three who took the hostages of Erin, 
Had their stronghold residence in Cong." 



" " We find his Holy Well, Toberfechin, near Maum, and there is 
another Toberfechin and Leac na Fechin near Doon which mark the 
Saint s journey eastward until he came to Cong. He at once perceived 
the incomparable beauty of the spot and its suitability at the head of the 
lake and at the gate of the West for a great monastery, and, as expressly 
stated, in the old Rental of Cong, he got a grant of place with considerable 
lands, not from King Guaire of Connacht, but fronn Domnal, son of 
Aedh MacAinmire, King of Irrland, in the year 628. This information I 
owe to Mr. Martin Blake, who extracted it from a MS. in the British 
Museum." Archbishop Healy. Tivo Royal Abbey* on the Western Lakes. 

18 Durrow, ^Kilkee.^Bile, 21 Omey, "Ballysadare, " Tabhar" is uncer 
tain, "Fabhar Fechin, Fore of Fechin. 



34 

In this poem we are told how " Fechin of Cong" raised 
a man to life. Says the poet : 

" There was once a hag of awful acts and cursing, 
Because she did not get a husband to her liking : 
A woman she was who lived in solitude. 
She brought great ruin upon her son 
Whom she allowed to live without society. 
No people, however fond, dare go 
Into the glen in sight of their family. 
This woman s only son 
Was above all others a prodigy 
A match for a hundred. Though rough his hand. 
Her only son did death now slay. 
One day did meet this woman wild 
Fechin of Cong in company with his clerics. 
Each man of them did terror seize : 
No hate the cause produced in Fechin. 
She professed Faith as was her due 
For the sake of serving her son. 
It was a bond of ready tribute 
According to Jesus and to Fechin. 
Through the prayer of Fechin she obtained 
From the King her only son to be restored 
Into his body buried in the grave. 
He brought back life so that he arose. 
The third dead person this joyful grace \ 
Miraculously restored to life by Fechin." 

FECHIN RETURNS TO FORE. 

We may be sure that the Saint did not forget his 
beloved children at Fore, even while he laboured so hard in 
the West. Fore had charms for him that were not to be 
found even in his own " loveable province of Connacht." 
Besides, it was to be the place of his resurrection, as the 
angel had told him. 



35 

Mis return from the far West to Fore was very wonder 
ful. It seems it was from Omey he returned. One Sunday 
evening, a little before Vespers, as Fechin was with his 
monks in Omey, he was seized with a desire to go to Fore, 
and earnestly entreated God to help him in his difficulty. 
An angel of God came to him and told him to enter the 
chariot that was ready at hand. St. Fechin and his monks 
entered the chariot, and behold they came to Fore in time 
for Vespers. In the Yellow Book of Lecan, Fechin alone is 
mentioned as being carried by angels, as was " the faithful 
prophet Habacuc." 

This is like what happened to Elias also, when God took 
him up into Heaven. For we are told that when Elias and 
his disciple, Eliseus, were on the banks of the Jordan and 
walked and talked together, behold a fiery chariot and fiery 
horses appeared and parted them both asunder, and Elias 
went up in the glorious chariot to Heaven. And Eliseus 
cried out : " My Father ! My Father ! " So, too, must 
Fechin s disciples have cried out in astonishment and rapture 
when he was taken by God s shining angels from Omey to 
Fore in this truly wonderful way. 

FECHIN LIBERATES A NOBLE CAPTIVE. 

Like all the saints of God, Fechin hated injustice. In 
Ireland in his days injustice was often to be met with and 
many other crimes as well, for there is no race, no age 
without them. 

We are told that the princes of the Southern Ui Neill, 
Diarmaid and Blathmac, sons of Aedh Slaine, held in custody 
a warrior of noble blood named Aidan. It is probable that 
Diarmaid then resided in the island now called Castle Island, 
in Loch Lene, at the north end of which the monastery of Fore 
is situated. Thither Fechin and a band of monks went to 
beg freedom for the captive. As soon as the Saint was seen 
approaching, Diarmaid lest he should be asked to liberate the 
prisoner, ordered the gates to be closed, but the bolts and 



36 

locks and gates opened before the Saint, and he entered and 
stood before Diarmaid and Blathmac. He interceded for 
Aidan, and all around were moved, and joined with Fechin 
in pleading for the liberation of the captive. Only one man 
gave counsel against the Saint and advised that Aidan should 
be held a prisoner. The evil counsellor forthwith died. 
Then Diarmaid and Blathmac besought Fechin to restore 
the man to life, promising that if he did, the captive would 
be set free. So it was done, and Aidan was given to Fechin, 
and the Saint and the monks and the people brought Aidan 
with great rejoicing to Fore. Then Aidan asked his holy 
benefactor to give him leave to study, and so it was done. 
God, through the prayer of Fechin, bestowed on Aidan the 
grace of wisdom, and he afterwards lovingly took Holy 
Orders. 

The old chronicler quaintly tells us that Aidan was a 
warrior of enormous size and strength, stronger and stouter 
than any man of his time, and the measure of his girdle 
was very great. Hence it was not strange that Aidan should 
consume very big dinners. Through Fechin s prayer, we 
are told, God lessened Aidan s appetite, so that he was 
satisfied with one Brother s dinner now, whereas previously 
he used to consume a dinner for seven. 

FEGHIN MAKES PEACE BETWEEN THE UI NEILL 
OF THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH. 

If Diarmaid and Blathmac obliged Fechin by liberating 
a captive, the Saint repaid the favour by helping them in an 
affair of national importance, when as their friend and, 
ambassador he made peace between them and the Ard Ri 
Domhnall II. (624-642) of the Northern Ui Neill. Both 
branches of the Ui Neill were from the illustrious stock of 
Niall the Great, of the Nine Hostages. His dominions 
having been divided amongst his many sons the Northern 
portion went chiefly to Owen and Connell from whose names 
the territories come to be called Tir-owen and Tir-connell 



37 

and who became the ancestors of the O Neills and O Don- 
nells. The Southern territory in Meath went to Niall s 
other sons. The Northern Ui Neill however did not quite 
abandon all claim to possessions in the South, and so in the 
course of time there naturally arose confusion and misunder 
standing. In Fechin s time Domhnall II. of the race of the 
Northern Ui Neill, laid claim to certain territories of the 
Southern Ui Neill, and led a huge army into Meath to effect 
a new distribution of the Ui Neill inheritance and to rearrange 
the boundaries. 2 * The two princes, Diarmaid and Blathmac, 
called the Ui Neill of the South and their sub-septs to 
arms, but superior numbers being on Domhnall s side they 
had recourse to Saint Fechin to act as mediator and peace 
maker with the High King. This the Saint undertook 
to do. 

The Southern troops, under Diarmaid and Blathmac, 
were encamped at Rath Droma Nua, and there, we are told, 
Fechin sent them victuals from Tibraid" in Cenel Maine, 
where he then was, and miraculously supported them for 
three days with ale and food. 

The two Kings, Diarmaid and Blathmac, conducted 
Fechin to their encampment, where he began a long fast with 
much prayer. Trusting therefore in God, Fechin went to the 
High- King Domhnall to ask for peace. Domhnall, though a 
good and wise Christian King, would not yield to the Saint s 
entreaties. Fechin returned to his fasting and prayers, and 
so continued for thirteen days and thirteen nights, but King 
Domhnall would not yet make peace. God then, at Fechin s 
prayer, sent an immensejall of snow, shoulder high, so that a 
vast number of horses perished. A fiery sword also fell from 
the sky beside the High-King. Moved by these calamities 
and warnings, Domhnall made peace with Fechin and the 

35 This expedition was called " Sloigheadh an Mheich," the hosting of 
the measure, or, as Colgan says, " expeditio mensurae seu aequalitatis." 

M This place has not been identified. Harris and Archdall call it 
Tippert in the Half- barony of Fore. This may not improbably be Tubrid 
in the Parish of Ballinacree (Kilbride). 



38 

Southern Ui Neill. Moreover, the good King Domhnall, we- 
are told, recognising the injustice of his claims and the crime 
of bloodshed he had almost perpetrated, flung himself at the 
Saint s feet, and to show the sincerity of his sorrow, put the 
Saint s foot on his neck. According to some, this was 
imposed upon the King as a public penance. 27 Fechin acted 
thus sternly, but justly, like another Saint Ambrose who 
commanded the great Emperor, Theodosius, to kneel out 
side the church door and there publicly to ask pardon for 
the blood he had caused to be shed, and to do public 
penance before he was allowed to enter the House of God 
and to assist at Holy Mass, Though they had erred, Theo 
dosius and Domhnall were at heart good Christians, and 
humbly confessed the crimes their pride had impelled them 
to commit, and asked pardon for the scandal they had given 
to their people. But when humbly upon their knees, they 
were more pleasing to God and more praised by the good 
than when on their thrones or on the victorious battle-field^ 

SAINT FECHIN AND THE WICKED KING. 

Saint Fechin presented himself before another King to 
plead the cause of justice and virtue. But this King was a 
bad, impure, tyrannical monarch, the notorious King 
Raghallach of Connacht. After securing his throne by a 
murder, he lived a life of sloth and debauchery, oppressing, 
his subjects and insulting his Queen. 

After trying in vain to reclaim her husband, the Queen 
at last laid the case before Fechin and begged the assistance 
of the holy man. The scandal of this King s evil deeds, 
says Keating, made the Saints of Ireland sorrowful. Saint 
Fechin went in person to King Raghallach bringing many 
saints and eminent persons with him. They used all pos 
sible arguments to prevail upon the King to discontinue his 
criminal life. The King despised their exhortations, and 

27 According to Colgan, Fechin put his foot on the King s neck to test 
his sincerity when he flung himself at the Saint s feet. 



39 

Saint Fechin and the rest left the Court and prayed and 
fasted that God might change him or punish him and remove 
the scandal out of Ireland. The wicked King remained 
obdurate, but as Fechin had threatened, the vengeance of 
God and a miserable death overtook him, for soon after he 
was killed in an ignominious manner by turf-cutters with 
their ignoble spades. 38 

FECHIN RANSOMS OTHER CAPTIVES. 

The sorrowful mother of a poor captive came one day to 
Fechin to ask him to have her son restored to her, "for it 
was Fechin s continual habit to ransom captives," says the 
chronicler. Words like these should be remembered. If 
Fechin was seemingly over severe and harsh betimes it was 
only with those who were obstinate in crime or were cruel 
to a neighbour. He loved God and his neighbour and was 
the unrelenting foe of all injustice in king as in peasant. 

Erloman, such was the name of this captive, had been 
seized by Maenach, 29 son of Fingen, King of Cashel. Fechin 
knew King Maenach, for he had spent some time with him 
at Cashel previous to this. The Saint gave to the mother 
the price of her son s ransom, a necklace of gold. She pre 
sented herself before the King and asked for her son in 
Fechin s name and offered him the torque of gold. As soon 
as the King knew that she asked in Fechin s name, he dis 
charged his prisoner saying : 

" Ni coe cornoil na cuillte(?) 

Since thou hast brought refined gift-gold; 

To Fechin out of the Glens 

Take his captive and his neck-lace." " 

28 Keating. Vol. III. . p. 131. Irish Texts Society. Dinneen. 
20 Meanach died in 660. ( four Masters}. 
80 Ni coe comoil na cuillte 
O thugais bronnor bruinnte ; 
Do Kechin asna glinnib 
Beir a cimidh sa muince. 

Rev, Celt,, xii., 352, n. 48. 



40 

Erloman was then brought by his happy mother to Saint 
Fechin. He became a monk under Fechin like the other 
captive, Aidan, and became a great saint. 

We said that Fechin had been to Cashel. When he was 
there a mother went to him with prayers and tears to ask 
him to bring back her son, Tirechan, from Rome. Fechin 
had recourse to God in fervent prayer and we are told that 
Tirechan returned home. Some say that he returned in a 
miraculous manner and stood before Fechin as soon as he 
had finished the prayer. Even at this we need not wonder 
as time and space are as nothing before God, and besides 
holy prayer is all powerful with Him, for we know we have 
the promise that " whatsoever" is asked in prayer will be 
granted. 

THE CAPTIVES AT NAAS SAVED BY FECHIN. 

At another time, when Fechin was at Fore, he heard 
that the King of Leinster had seized as hostages some who 
were under his jurisdiction. The Saint with some of his 
monks set out immediately to speak to the King, who was 
then at the great Fair of Carman with his chiefs and people. 
King Ailill rejected the Saint s prayer and seemingly turned 
his back upon Fechin to attend to some important engage 
ment. But the charity of the holy man would not be baffled. 
He prayed and sought further interviews with the King at 
Naas, but the guards were ordered to prevent his entrance. 
Then an angel said to Fechin : u I will open the fortress 
before thee." Thereupon an earthquake shook the royal 
city of Naas, and, as of old an angei broke the chains that 
bound Saint Peter in prison, so the bonds of the captives in 
the fortress were broken now. Then Fechin came out with 
the hostages to the Green, to the place where afterwards 
" Fechin s Cross " 81 stood, and the King himself was found 
dead within. 

81 " Fechin s Cross" was still standing in Colgan s time, in the XVII. 
Century, in the middle of the town of Naas. 



4 1 

The chiefs and people brought out the dead body to 
Fechin, and he restored the King to life. The Saint received 
his hostages and promised that no hostages should ever 
escape from the Fort of Naas, on condition, however, that no 
locks or gyves should ever be put upon them. 

It was then, says the chronicler, that the King in guerdon 
for his resuscitation by Fechin, gave Telach Fabra to 
Fechin, completely liberated the Saint and his mill from 
paying tribute to himself, and gave him for ever the right 
to levy tribute on the whole of Leinster. 32 

FECHIN AT POULAPHOUCA WATERFALL. 

Most probably it was at this time, when he was going to 
or returning from Naas, that Saint Fechin and his monks 
visited the romantic Falls on the Liffey, Eas-Dubthaire, 
"the Waterfall of Dubthaire," now known as Poulaphouca. 

The Saint and his disciples reached the place on the 
afternoon of Sunday, and weary though they were with travel 
their souls and hearts were lifted up to the great God at the 
ravishing glory of the scene and the music of the falling 
waters. They drew nearer and nearer, and descended into 
the narrow, deep glen in full view of the Falls. Their hearts 
were thrilled through and through, as the hearts of thousands 
since. Facing the glorious waters and surrounded by lofty trees, 
and the bright blue canopy of the skies above, you feel near 
to the presence of the great God. You stand as a wor 
shipper in a grand Cathedral built by nature to the great 
Creator of all, the soaring pines rising like the pipes of its 
grand organ that fills the air with its majestic music. 

" The voice of the Lord upon boundless waters ! 
The voice of the Lord in power ! 
The voice of the Lord in magnificence ! " 

M Some say this occurred at Naas, and that the mill was that at Mill 
Brook, but it is not improbable that it refers to the " Hill of Fore" itself 
and the mill there, so famous in Fechin s life. 



4 2 

It was the afternoon of Sunday when Fechin and his 
monks arrived atPoulaphouca Falls, and the glorious Twenty- 
Eighth Psalm was part of the Lauds for Monday, which they 
were reciting that evening, and no other Psalm could so voice 
the feelings of the enraptured hearts of those " sons of God" 
in the midst of " the many waters" and " the thunders of the 
Lord" and "the cedars." 

" Afferte Domino, filii Dei, gloriam et honorem : 

afferte Domino gloriam nomini Ejus : adorate Dominum in 
atrio sancto Ejus ! 

Vox Domini super aquas, Deus majestatis intonuit : 
Dominus super aquas multas ! 

Vox Domini in virtute : Vox Domini in magnificentia. 

Vox Domini confringentis cedros. . . . 

Dominus virtutem populo suo dabit : Dominus benedicet 
populo suo in pace." 

" Bring to the Lord, O ye sons of God, . . . glory 
and honour ! bring to the Lord glory to His name ! Adore 
ye the Lord in His holy Church ! 

The voice of the Lord upon the waters : the God of 
majesty hath thundered ! The Lord upon many waters ! 

The voice of the Lord in power, the voice of the Lord in 
magnificence ! 

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars ! . . . The 
Lord will give strength to His people ; the Lord will bless 
His people with peace." (Ps. xxviii). 

Not for a few minutes only but for hours did holy Fechin 
and his disciples pray here and sing their Psalms and hymns. 
At last some of the monks completely tired and physically 
exhausted said to Fechin that it was time for all to rest- 
" No," answered the Saint, " I cannot cease. The Falls 
never cease, but are continually offering the sublime melody 
of their music to their Creator. I must not be a debtor to 
my God." Behold then God wrought a great wonder to 
reward His devout servant. The waters of the Falls ceased 
to flow down, and, piling themselves above, seemed to listen 



43 

to the chanting of the Psalms of Fechin and his choir, a 
heavenlier music than their own ! This prodigy lasted till 
the third hour. Then the Saint was given to understand 
that he and his tired brethren might themselves take a little 
rest and refresh their exhausted bodies, and so they ceased 
their psalmody. 

God is indeed wonderful in His ways with the Saints, and 
may He be blessed for ever ! 

Every year, thousands visit the beautiful and holy 
spots scattered through Ireland, but few visit them in 
the spirit of Fechin and his holy disciples. The Saints loved 
nature. A little wild flower has cast Saints into ecstasies of 
delight, for in the beautiful things of nature they see the 
footprints of the great Creator. To them the earth and the 
skies proclaim the glory of God. But we fear that very few 
have the minds and the eyes of the Saints. Thousands of 
visitors come and go through our land, and instead of being 
lifted up to God, in the spirit of reverence and thanksgiving, 
they think only of recreation and of the body, and its meat 
and drink. Poetic inspiration may indeed be stirred in some 
but what of that ? Do not heathen poets feel deeply and 
write well? But there is no God to be found in them. For 
them there is no God " on the boundless waters" ; all is 
" nature," and of earth earthly. 

But we would remind those who visit historic places 
through our land for the sake of mere pleasure and recrea 
tion, that these places are sacred to the nation and hallowed 
by the presence of Ireland s saints and heroes. They should 
therefore be reverenced and not profaned by vandalism, 
vulgarity, or any sort of unworthy conduct. 

Those who have a good spirit need not be reminded 
of their duty, for they always treat the sacred, historic places 
and things of Ireland with that reverence and affection which 
good children bestow upon the keepsakes of a mother and 
the grave where she lies. 



44 

OTHER PLACES VISITED BY FECHIN. 

Many other parts of Ireland were visited by Saint Fechin, 
and various other places not mentioned in these pages are 
associated with his name in the ancient Lives and Chronicles, 
and some of these places bear his name to our own day. 
Termonfechin, for example, in the County Louth, is called 
after him. We do not know whether the Saint founded a 
church or cell there or established a monastic colony in the 
district. It is not improbable that he visited Louth often as 
the famous Louth Saint, Abbot Ronan of Dromiskin, and he 
were fast friends. 33 

Near the town of Gort, County Galway, we have the 
parish of Kilbecanty. Some authorities say that this is the 
" Church of Becnat." 34 No saint of this name is mentioned, 
as far as I know, in connection with this district, but Saint 
Fechin is. A miracle is related of him that he sailed on a 
large flag-stone over the waters of the neighbouring Loch 
Cutra to one of its islands. Even if this be only a mere 
legend it goes to prove that the Saint visited the place and 
probably evangelised the people there. All that district of 
South Galway (Aidhne) was the territory of Fechin s friend, 
the famous Guaire the Hospitable, and the Saint would not 
fail to visit and preach amongst the subjects of the good 
king who had helped him so royally at Omey. 

WHAT THREE SAINTS WISHED FOR IRELAND. 

The three Saints, Fechin of Fore, and Ultan of Ard- 
braccan, and Ronan of Dromiskin, were very great friends, 
and visited each other, each bringing with him, no doubt, a 

88 There is a Killfechin in the Parish of Danesfort, County Kilkenny. 
" The Saint s holy well, called Tubber-Eheen (CobAfi feiciti) was for 
merly beside his church of Cill-Feichin, but it removed thence, owing 
to some act of profanation, and broke out again about a half a mile to the 
South-west in the townland of Riesk, where it is now generally known as 
Desert Well." " The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory." 
Carrigan. Vol. iii. , p. 398. 

84 According to Joyce the Irish of the name is " Cille Becnata. " " Irish 
Names of Places," p. 28. 



45 

number of monks so that they might piously recreate one 
another in the Lord and profit in mind and heart by this 
interchange of visits. Indeed these visits must have been 
delighful, and most pleasing to God. Charity abounded in 
those days, and there was no need to wait to be asked to 
come, and no need to send forward a herald or a message of 
any kind. Those holy bands of visitors paid visits of 
brotherly charity, not of idle ceremony, and were in search 
of spiritual and literary feasts rather than of social dinners. 
A few lines quoted in our Saint s Irish Life, from a poet 
who wrote nearly a thousand years ago tell us that : 

" Woe is to him who sets his heart 
On converse and on ale-liquor. 
That is a slippery satisfaction 
Out of which the Devil gets a dark profit." 

We can well suppose, however, that the monastic cook was 
often startled when a crowd of visitors suddenly appeared 
and there was little enough food in the kitchen or store-room 
for the inmates themselves. One day quite a number of 
guests arrived at Fore. The cook hastened to Fechin and said 
there was no food for them unless God should give it. Then 
says the old chronicler, wheat was got from the Lord, and 
butter and milk, to help Fechin s hospitality and chanty. 

We are told interesting facts of one particular occasion 
when his friend?, Ultan of Ardbraccan 85 and Ronan of 
Dromiskin, visited Fechin in Fore. They were three who 
loved Ireland, patriots as well as saints, and they spoke 
together about what each wished most for their country. 
Patrick himself had his wish and his prayer granted to him 
by Heaven when he prayed and wept for 40 days on the 
Reek that Ireland should ever be true to the Faith of 
Jesus Christ. These three saints now would wish for three 

M St. Ultan was Bishop of Ardbraccan in Meath. In olden days there 
were Bishoprics of Ardbraccan, Clonard, Dunshaughlin, Trim, Slane, 
Kells, Duleek, Fore, but all these have been tor centuries consolidated in 
the present Diocese of Meath. 



4 6 

great temporal blessings for Ireland during their lifetime. 
These were their wishes : 

That she might be free from pestilence, Ultan wished : 

That she might not suffer from famine, was Fechin s 
wish, and 

That she might not be profaned by foreign invasions, 
was the fervent prayer of Saint Ronan. 

Each of the saints had his own wish fulfilled during his 
life-time. Ultan died in 657, seven years before the great 
pestilence, the " Buidhe-Connail " : Fechin died in 664, 
during the pestilence indeed, but before the terrible famine 
that followed had wrought its worst horrors throughout the 
land ; and Ronan died the same year as Fechin, long years 
of course before the Danes, Normans or English invaded 
Ireland. One of the greatest misfortunes that can befall a 
Christian land is foreign invasion, as the history of our own 
country abundantly proves. The saints are always the best 
patriots. A saint would not be a saint if he were not a lover 
of his country, for love of country is a part of Charity, the 
Queen of Virtues, and in that virtue the saints are our 
models. 

In this connection we may relate the story that is told 
of Fechin and a Welsh monk : 

SAINT FECHIN AND THE WELSH MONK. 

It is related that towards the close of our Saint s life he 
was visited by a certain monk named Mochoemoc, the Cam 
brian. 1 his good man seems to have had little or none of 
the humility of the true religious, or the simplicity of the 
dove. After having, no doubt, politely and sympathetically, 
inquired of the aged abbot how he was, he went on to ask 
him who it was he wished to leave as his successor in Fore 
and superior of the monastery. 

" Some fit person among my monks," said Fechin. " But 
in case," said Mochoemoc, "there be no suitable person 
found among them, what do you propose doing ? " " In that 



47 

case," answered Fechin, " I will leave it to the superiors to 
choose." "But, * continued the insuppressible Cambrian, 
"suppose they could not agree as to who would be eligible, 
what then must be done ? " Oh, then," said Fechin, 
waxing warm no doubt, " could so unlikely a thing happen, 
my successors must be taken from Irishmen somewhere, but 
under no circumstances from the Welshmen." No doubt 
the ambitious Cambrian then retired, a sadder, if not a 
better, monk. 

Irish monasteries had no need to choose superiors from 
amongst strangers much less from amongst foreigners, nor 
did the monks care to go outside their own body for a choice. 
Saint Fintan Maeldubh, the second abbot of the famous 
monastery of Clonenagh, was a warm friend and admirer of 
Fechin, and seems to have wished his monks to take Fechin 
as their superior. 86 When Fintan died in 626, Fechin went 
to Clonenagh, where the monks eave him Fintan s staff and 
chrism-vessel and vestments, willed probably to Fechin by 
his dear friend, but the monks declined to have a stranger 
over them, even though the stranger were a Saint Fechin. 

Some think that it was on this occasion that Fechin 
parted from Clonenagh without giving the monks his bles 
sing. What it really was which gave him offence is not 
known. Conscience however reproached him afterwards 
for giving way to anger, and, as the legend tells us, he was 
miraculously transported back to the monastery of Clonenagh 
where he gave a cordial blessing to all the religious. 

DRAWING TOWARDS THE END. 

St. Fechin had now worked long and hard for God and 
for the sanctirication of his own soul ; and by the good 
example of his life, by his apostolic preaching and by the 
monasteries he had founded, had done much, too, for the sanc- 
tihcation and salvation of numberless souls in Ireland. 

According to some authorities, Fechin studied under Saint Fintan 
for borne short time. 



4 8 

Fore was of course his chief monastic foundation and 
the dearest to his heart. God had blessed it abundantly 
and, like the mustard seed, one of the least of all seeds, it 
grew and became a great tree, and thousands of white 
shining souls had found there a shelter and a home. Fore for 
centuries after Fechin s day was renowned for sanctity and 
learning. Even in his own time there were hundreds of 
monks there, aud the name of Fobhar-Fechin was famous 
through all Ireland, and Irish missionaries carried its fame 
and the fame of the founder into foreign countries. 

Fechin had ever been to his religious a kind, loving 
father and a discreet, skilful guide in their spiritual life. 
When he was drawing towards the end, and the great pillar 
of light in the valley was about to set, we are told that he 
called his disciples to him to give them a spiritual confer 
ence for the last time. He told them to follow the rule of 
the patriarchs and the apostles ; and to battle with body and 
soul against their enemies, the devil, the world and the flesh, 
and reminded them that life was short, eternity long, and 
its rewards great and everlasting. 

His holy words were never forgotten by the faithful 
children who were gathered then about his death bed. And 
we may well believe his last words of good advice were con 
veyed to Cong and Ballysadare and Omey and Ard Oilcan, 
and wherever he had disciples through Ireland. 

FECHIN S LAST HOUR AND DEATH. 

One of Fechin s dearest friends was Mochua of Ard- 
Slaine. Now Mochua one day, years before this, told Fechin 
how he would like to die on the day Fechin died. " If it 
be God s will," said Fechin, "it is mine." So it was under 
stood by Saint Mochua that he would die and go to the 
Lord the day his holy friend should depart. 

Fechin s last hour having now come, he received the 
Sacraments of Extreme Unction and Holy Communion from 
the hands of one of his disciples, and gave his last blessing 



49 

to all his children and to all his monasteries. Then bidding 
all farewell he breathed forth his soul to God, in the year of 
our Lord, 664. 

At that hour Mochua of Slane despatched a messenger 
to look westward to know whether he could see the sign 
which Fechinhad promised him. And the messenger beheld 
a huge column of light of many colours like the rainbow, 
stretching from the monastery of Fore up to Heaven. The 
messenger returned and told Mochua what he had seen. 
" It is true," said Mochua, "that is the sign that Fechin 
promised me." 

Then Mochua, too, called his disciples around him and 
exhorting them to perseverance in the service of God, received 
Holy Communion and sent forth his spirit to Heaven along 
with holy Fechin. 

AFTER FECHIN S DEATH. 

It was during the terrible plague, called the Buidhe 
Connail, the Yellow Plague, 87 that Fechin died. The pesti 
lence was universal and carried away tens of thousands, 
people, priests and rulers, none were spared. 

The death of Fechin brought sorrow into every corner 
of Ireland, for he was known throughout the land for his 
goodness and wisdom. There is a very beautiful story con 
nected with his holy death. The devil, we are told, appeared 
to St. Moling 88 to distract him and perchance turn him from 
the religious exercises he was engaged in. But Moling com 
manded Satan in God s name to tell him whether he dared 
in that way to tempt the saints at the hour of their death. 
We do come to disturb them," answered Satan, " but 
we cannot succeed against them." 

" Did you go to disturb my friend Fechin at the time of 
his death ?" asked Moling. 

87 This Plague raged in England and other countries as well as in 
Ireland. Vide Lingard. Vol. I., ch. ii. 

88 St. Moling s Feast is on the i;th of June. 



50 

" Not only were we unable to do aught to him," answered 
the wicked spirit, " but until the end of seven days after his 
death we durst not visit Ireland because of the splendour 
of the Holy Ghost which surrounded it." 

This legend shows better than anything we can say the 
profound veneration in which Fechin was held by the saints 
of his own day and by all the people. 

After giving the story as we have told it the old chronicler 
remarks : " Hereby is declared the sanctity of the man of 
whom his enemy gave that description. For he to whom 
his enemy bears favourable witness is all the more deserving 
of praise." 39 

DEVOTION TO SAINT FECHIN. 

It is shown to us in many and various ways that there 
was very great devotion to our Saint in Ireland from the 
earliest days. And it is a great shame and a great pity that 
this devotion is not now as it used to be. Surely we should 
know and love and honour our own Irish saints, those 
men and women of renown, like Saint Fechin, for they are 
very great and powerful before God, and naturally, as it 
were, take most interest in their Irish children. It is inter 
esting to note how devotion to Saint Fechin was shown 
in ancient times. 

The holy and learned Aileran, who is supposed to have 
written the lives of Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid, showed 
his devotion to the great Saint Fechin, too, by writing his 
life. " O dear brethren," he says, "I have heard many of the 
mighty deeds and marvels of holy Fechin, abbot and 
anchorite, who by his word alone gave sight to the blind, and 
tongues to the dumb, and hearing to the deaf, and health to 
the lepers and to sufferers from every disease besides, and 
who was skilled in every science and especially in the Rules 
of the Saints. 40 As we have already pointed out in the intro- 

89 Rev. Celt., xii., p. 339, n. 28. 

40 Rev. CV//., xii., p. 339, n. 29. The author of this Irish Life quotes as 
above from what he calls " The Compendium of the Life of Fechin," 



5 

duction to this little Life many other holy and learned Irish 
men wrote the history of Fechin in Irish and in Latin, in 
prose and verse, to show their own devotion to the Saint and 
to transmit to future generations the glory of his name. 
" And God s name and Fechin s were magnified thereby," 
writes one chronicler twenty different times in relating the 
deeds and miracles of the Saint. It was for the glory of 
God and Fechin that they wrote. Now, this grand spirit 
of the men of old should surely animate us with great devo 
tion to this Saint of God. 

We honour the name of a saint when we take it in 
Baptism. But, as far as we are aware, in no part of Ireland, 
not even in Fore he loved so dearly, is Fechin s name now 
taken by children in Baptism. In Connemara, indeed, where 
Fechin is Apostle and Patron, the strange, Latinized form 
of Festus is adopted still in Baptism ; but it is peculiar that 
such a form of the Irish Fechin should be in use in that 
Irish-speaking world. 

HOW HIS RELICS WERE HONOURED. 

ITt is not known for certain where Saint Fechin was buried, 
nor of course where at present his bones lie, but the general 
tradition has it that his church in the old graveyard under 
the ** Rock of Fore" 41 is the place where the venerable 
bones of the Saint rest awaiting the Resurrection. Hence 
that graveyard is looked upon as one of the most sacred in 
all Ireland, where only those of Fechin s Faith have ever 
been buried, or even can be buried, as has been handed 
down from immemorial times. 

The chief historical relics of Fechin are " Cuach Fechin, * 
Fechin s Cup ; " Cloc Fechin," Fechin s Bell; and " Bachall 
Fechin," Fechin s Staff, or Abbatial Crozier. These relics 

written by Eruran the Sage. Eruran or Aileran was chief professoi at 
Clonard in Meath, a contemporary of Fechin, and died in 664. Like Cum- 
mian, Sedulius, and many other Irishmen, he was celebrated for his 
learning. 



52 

were held in the greatest veneration and reverence by people 
and priests, by kings and their subjects alike, all over Ire 
land, for we find mention made of them in our history as 
amongst Ireland s " chief relics," or as " sureties and guar 
antees of Ireland," in the same way as the " Staff of Jesus" 
itself, the " Shrine of Ciaran," and the " Bohan of Kevin." 
The "Belies of Fechin" were preserved most probably in 
Fore Monastery. His Staff, Fechin received, at least indi 
rectly, from the hands of Jesus, as Patrick received his. And 
so it was the instrument of many miracles. What became 
of Fechin s Staff we do not know, but it was destroyed, not 
improbably, by some wicked, sacrilegious man of the stamp 
of George Brown, who forcibly took the " Staff of Jesus " 
from the Cathedral of Christ Church, Dublin, and publicly 
burned it in High Street (1532), to the great horror and 
indignation of all the people. Brown, an apostate Friar, was 
the first Protestant Archbishop of Dublin. 

THE FEAST DAY OF SAINT FECHIN. 

According to various Martyrologies and Calendars, Saint 
Fechin s Feast Day was always celebrated on the 2Oth of 
January, the day on which he died in the year 664. In 
Armagh, it was a special feast, coming with Saint Ronan s 
next in importance after that of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid 
and Saint Columcille. It is probable that our Saint had a 
special and proper Office of his own, as there are at least two 
Office Hymns in his honour still extant, one for Lauds, 
another apparently for Vespers. 42 

God grant that soon again Saint Fechin s Feast may be 
celebrated at least at home in Ireland, and the Saint s Mass 
and Office said, so that his Feast Day may be once more a 
day of grace for all the children of Ireland. 

42 "Item eodom modo (i.e., sub festi more novem lectionibus)statuimus 
de festis Sanctorum Feghini et Ronani quoad nostram diocesam Ardma- 
chanam." Acts of Archbishop Colton. Reeves. Introd., p. xix. 



53 

FECHIN S WELLS 

As has been already said, there were many churches 
monasteries, wells and districts consecrated to Saint Fechin 
and called by his name for more than a thousand years. And 
he is still spoken of in connection with some of these holy 
places as though he were only a little while dead. 

Pilgrims still go to his wells, with the firm, unwavering 
belief that these waters will cure, as the touch of Fechin s 
own hand cured, and as the waters of the Jordan cured the 
leper. We ourselves recollect how regularly the school 
children brought bottles of water from Fore to cure the many 
ills of their old people at home. The young, too, were as 
strong believers as the old. One poor tradesman, we still 
remember, suffered so much from toothache that he could 
but with difficulty do his work. Like others he had great 
faith in Saint Fechin and sent a messenger to Fore for water. 
When the water came, he took a mouthful of it, and unflinch 
ingly let it rest on the aching tooth. For a few seconds the 
pain was intense, but suddenly the pain ceased and the tooth 
itself fell out on his hand. This was looked upon by all as 
very extraordinary, though they would hardly dare perhaps 
to call it a miracle. 

FORE AFTER SAINT FECHIN. 

For centuries after Saint Fechin s death, the monastery 
of Fore was the home of sanctity and learning. The Annals 
of Ireland give us the names of many of the monks and 
abbots of Fore, of whom many were saints and famous 
scholars. 

We find celebrated, Saint Leighnan of Fore, on the 5th 
of February ; Saint Forhellach, on the loth of June ; Saint 
Brendan, on the 27th of July ; Saint Aingin, on the ist of 
May ( + 766), and other saints. There is mention of great 
and learned doctors like Abbot Ceallach, and distinguished 
professors like Abbot Maol Kevin O Gorman, " who was 



54 

esteemed one of the most learned of the Irish." (Monas : 
Hibernicum). 

Saint Suarlech of Fore, who was Bishop as well as Abbot, 
died in 745. By the end of the seventh century, Fore had risen 
to a high position of ecclesiastical and civil importance. The 
list of holy and learned men is a long one and shows con 
clusively that the children of Saint Fechin followed faithfully 
in the steps of their father. Indeed so high a repute had 
Fore in the annals of Irish learning that Ussher, mistakenly 
of course, seeks to derive its name of Fobhar from 
" Baile-Labhair," that is, " The Town of Books." 

Alas ! Fore had its share of misfortune and had to pass 
through dark and evil days. As early as the middle of the 
eighth century it was destroyed by fire. Then again at the 
beginning of the ninth century the JDerthech of Fore was 
burned. This was, no doubt, Fechin s own little church. 
In the tenth century, and after, the town and monastery of 
Fore were plundered and burned more than once. 

Still Fechin did not forsake or forget his suffering monks 
and people. For we are told how some of the freebooters, 
native as well as foreign, were punished from Heaven by 
the angered Saint. " An army was led, say the Four 
Masters, " by Murchadh MacDiarmaid into Meath, when he 
burned territories and churches, namely Granard, Fobhar- 
Fechin and Ardbraccan, but Fechin slew him face to face, 
and a great destruction was made among the foreigners and 
Leinstermen by various distempers." 43 

But God allowed the wickedness of men to prevail, and 
in 1176 the Anglo-Norman invaders, under Hugh de Lacy, 
utterly wasted Fore, and from that time it probably remained 
a ruined place for 40 or 50 years. 

FORE REBUILT. 

It happened about 1209 that the two sons of Hugh de 
Lacy had to fly out of Ireland, because of a murder com- 

43 Four Masters, A.D. 1069 



55 

mitted by them, as some historians tell us. They retired 
into a Cistercian Monastery at Evreux in Normandy and 
there they remained for about three years. At the inter 
cession of the Abbot of the monastery they were pardoned 
and returned to Ireland and settled in the English Pale, of 
which Fore soon became a fortified town." The de Lacys 
brought Cistercian monks with them to Ireland from the 
monastery of Saint Taurin at Evreux, and put them in pos 
session cf the monastic property at Fore. The monastery 
which their father had plundered and ruined the sons now 
refounded, and the great Anglo-Norman Abbey of Fore was 
built to the glory of God and placed under the joint invoca 
tion of Saint Fe.chin and Saint Taurin as a branch house, or 
cell, dependent on the Abbey of Evreux in Normandy. It 
so remained uctil about 1369, when it was seized as an alien 
Priory by the King of England, then at war with France. 

As the monastic inheritance of Fechin and the glorious 
abbey were now in sacrilegious hands the protection of God 
and the Saint passed away from them. Space will not allow 
us to recount the changing fortunes of Fore and its Abbey. 
Kings and Parliaments harassed the monks, farmed out the 
monastic lands and deprived the religious of their indepen 
dence. On the other hand, as Fore had been built and for 
tified by England against "their Irish enemies," the Irish 
enemies harassed the town and thrice burned it to the 
ground. 46 

At last the day of doom came, and Fore and all its 
monastic buildings were uiterly destroyed. This took place 
in the days of the wicked King, Henry VIII. of England. 

Dean Cogan, the learned historian of the Diocese of 
Meath, says : u The last Prior of Fore was William Nugent ; 

44 Two of the arches of the town gates still remain. The western arch 
is called " the Leper s Arch," and there stood, most probably, in the 
ancient days " the Leper s Cross, (p 14 supra). 

45 Monas : Hibernicum. For much interesting and valuable information 
about Fore, see " Annals of Westmeath, Ancient and Modern," by 
James Woods. (Scaly, Bryers & Walker, 1907). 



56 

and on the 27th November, 1539, the Commissioners of 
Henry VIII., armed with supreme power arrived at the 
gates of the monastery and demanded its unconditional 
surrender in the name of the King. There was no alterna 
tive ; resistance, of course, would be useless, and hence on 
that memorable day the last Prior of Fore and his 
sorrowful Community were obliged to sign their own sen 
tence of expulsion and to depart for ever from their conse 
crated home. The work of plunder now commenced in 
earnest, and in a few days the furniture of the monastery, 
the sacred vessels of the chapel, and every movable article 
of value, were piled up and carried away to enrich the church 
robbers for their recreancy, spoliation and sacrilege, and to 
replenish the coffers of a profligate King." 46 When every 
thing of value had been removed, the Baron of Delvin and 
his sacrilegious army set fire to the sacred buildings and 
soon nothing was left but smoking ruins. And those vener 
able and holy ruins stand there to the present day. 

FORE AS IT IS TO-DAY. 

Like Clonard, Clonmacnoise, Cong, and many another 
place in Ireland once so famous in the religious and social 
history of our people, Fore is to-day but a humble village 
seldom marked on a map of Ireland. It lies in North West- 
meath, about 12 miles from Mullingar, and 6 miles from 
Oldcastle, the terminus of a branch of the Great Northern 
Railway. Diiving to Fore from the latter place you skirt 
the hills of Loughcrew, so famous for their remains of pre- 
Christian Ireland. 

No bustling town or busy monastic colony greets our eyes 
as we now enter the valley of Fore-Fechin. Alas, the hand 
of the sacrilegious spoiler has been heavy upon it. Never 
theless there remains there still the same simple beauty, the 
same religious calm that touched the heart of Columcille, and 

46 Diocese ot Meath. Vol. III., p. 567. 



57 

that made Fechin himself rejoice at the very first sight of the 
sacred valley, and choose it as the place of his resurrection. 
Sacred indeed it is, the scene of the vision of those countless 
shining angels, its soil sanctified by the feet of Columcille, 
its graveyards and monastic enclosures filled with the holy 
dust of thousands of Erin s saints and scholars. 

The old church of Saint Fechin is still, after 1,200 years, 
in wonderful preservation. The learned Petrie was in admi 
ration of this venerable relic of ancient Ireland. He tells 
us it possesses architectural features dating from the seventh 
century, Fechin s own days. Additions were made to it 
about the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth 
century. 47 Probably then, at the period of the building of the 
Abbey by the de Lacys, the old church of Fechin was restored 
and enlarged. The door-way of the little church is said to 
be one of the best specimens existing now of pertectly 
cyclopean masonry. There are no remains now of Fechin s 
ancient monastery round or near his church. There is a 
modern building called the " Anchorite s Cell," now the tomb 
or place of sepulture of the Greville-Nugent family of Delvin. 
In this spot there was kept up a succession of hermits 
or anchorites down to the seventeenth century, the last being 
Patrick Beglin whose residence there is commemorated in a 
Latin inscription inside the oaken door of the "Tomb," dated 
A.D. 1616. It seems to us likely that this is the very spot 
where Fechin s own cell stood in the midst of his monastic 
colony or Laura. For it is but natural to expect that the site 
of Fechin s cell was never forgotten in Fore as long as there 
was a hermit there to keep up the unbroken succession, and 
each hermit looked upon that spot as the most sacred 
wherein a child of Fechin could pass his life in prayer and 
penance. 

" Fechin s Mill " was used as late as 30 or 40 years ago, 
but the ruin there now is that of a modern mill. 

47 Round Towers, p. 171 ; also Dr. Robert Cochrane s Report in the 
Irish Archaeological Journal i Oct., 1912 



58 

Across in the centre of the valley, some distance from 
Fechin s old church and the original monastery, stand the 
massive ruins of the later Anglo-Norman Abbey. The site 
is on an island, so to say, of firm, rich land surrounded by 
bog and marsh. During the past few years splendid work 
of repair and preservation has been done at the Abbey by 
the Board of Works. To the Board and its officials a deep debt 
of gratitude is due for their work in protecting so skilfully 
and sympathetically our country s ancient monuments. 
Much has been done, too, by the Board for Saint Fechin s 
Church, the Termon Crosses and the two remaining arches 
of the ancient gates. 4 ? " 

LEST WE FORGET. 

Few lands are strewn as plentifully as ours with the 
ruins of churches and cells and crosses, schools and monas 
teriesa precious, if mournful, inheritance. These vener 
able ruins are the relics and memorials of the men and 
women who made our land both holy and learned, and won 
for Ireland the renowned title of " Island of Saints and 
Scholars." 

Let us ever remember those saints, and thank and love 
them : let us reverence their holy sanctuaries, for out of their 
scattered stones the great God may yet build up a nation 
that shall outshine all the glories of the ancient days. 

48 We see from Dr. Robert Cochrane s Report of the work done at Fore 
by the Board of Public Works, that an extraordinary amount of labour and 
care was expended there ; for example : the ivy was removed, trees grow 
ing inside the walls carefully taken away, 350 tons of rubbish and debris 
removed from the interior alone, the floors laid bare or repaired, tops of 
walls, etc., covered by cement weathering, and so on. Vide Report of the 
Commissioners of Public Works, 1912-1913. 



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