From the Library
PADRAIG 6 BROIN
SAINT FECHIN OF FORE
Our Lady of Perpetual
Succour and Ireland.
"This history is a veritable his
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"A complete manual of Marian
devotion." The Tablet.
" A truly beautiful book."
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" A work so redolent of devotion
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New Edition. Illustrated. Nearly 400 pp.
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SAINT FECHIN OF FORE
Clje jostle of Conncmara
REV. JOHN B. COYLE, C.SS.R.
HIS GRACE THE ARCHBISHOP OF TUAM
M. H. GILL & SON, LTD.
50 UPPER O CoNNELL ST.
Censor Thcol. Deput.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.")
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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."
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
" 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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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
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
81 " Fechin s Cross" was still standing in Colgan s time, in the XVII.
Century, in the middle of the town of Naas.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
" 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,"
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
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
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.
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
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
esteemed one of the most learned of the Irish." (Monas :
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.
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
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
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).
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-
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.
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
" 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
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
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.
O Brien & Ards, Printers, Dublin.
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