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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 21 September, 2014

3 more off-the-beaten track places you really should visit

There is no entry fee to any of these sites in Westmeath, Mayo and Wexford – so what are you waiting for?

BIT OF A stretch in the evenings, isn’t there? If you’re planning to emerge from a winter hibernating indoors, you could do worse than explore some of these less well-known heritage sites on our doorstep.

We brought you five cool ones recently. Here’s another three from across the country. They are all free entry too.

1. Fore Abbey, Co Westmeath


Located in the small village of Fore in rural Westmeath, Fore Abbey is one of the true wonders of Hidden Ireland, a site that should be on every must-see list for those interested in Irish history and archaeology.

The site was founded by St Féichín in around 630AD, and the small monastic site quickly grew in size and importance, and received many mentions in the Annals of Ireland.

Although there are no visible remains of this initial seventh century monastery (indeed the exact location of the earliest foundation has still not been conclusively proven) there is still a fine 10–11th century church located on the slopes directly above the main part of Fore Abbey. This is St Féichín’s Church, the main part probably dates to the 10th century, with a later chancel added in the 13th century to extend the church. A huge lintel above the doorway is said to be one of the Seven Wonders of Fore (see below).

Most of structures forming the main part of Fore Abbey date to the period following the Norman invasion of Ireland. Hugh De Lacey ruled the Lordship of Meath (roughly speaking it incorporated today’s Meath and Westmeath) from his fortress at Trim Castle. De Lacey would have appreciated the value of the monastery and the population growing around it.

He had a priory established in around 1180 and gave the site to the Benedictine Order.

The Benedictine movement was extremely popular across the Continent, but there were not many Benedictine monasteries established in Ireland, and I can’t think of another example as well preserved as Fore. It was constructed around a central cloister (a beautiful courtyard), with a church to the north, the dormitory for the monks to the east, the refectory to the south with its adjacent kitchen to the south-west.

Fore Abbey from above the Anchorite’s cell

By the 15th century Fore Abbey had become vulnerable to attack by the Gaelic chieftains as it was located outside of the area of The Pale. It was attacked in 1423 and 1428, and remained vulnerable enough that there were gates and walls built to surround the monastic settlement. I didn’t see any remains of the walls, but two stone gates can still be seen near the site.

Despite these raids Fore Abbey was still a wealthy place and new towers and a revamped cloister area was added in the fifteenth century.

Fore is also known for the Seven Wonders of Fore. These are:

  • The anchorite (hermit) in a stone
  • The water that will not boil
  • The monastery built on a bog
  • The mill without a millstream
  • The water that flows uphill
  • The tree which will not burn
  • The stone lintel raised by the saints’ prayers

Fore Abbey is a wonderful place, the area is steeped in history and stunning ruins that you can easily spend an afternoon wandering around, especially if you are lucky enough to be there on a fine day too. The site is well signposted (see our map for its exact location) and provisioned with a large car park, I highly recommend a visit!

2. Baginbun, Co Wexford (where Ireland was lost and won)

In a little departure from our usual historical sites, this tranquil looking beach is Baginbun, the scene of epic high drama in 1170 AD. While the first Anglo-Norman invasion landed at Bannow Bay in 1169, the second wave landed here at Baginbun just south of the Hook Head Peninsula in Co Wexford in early May 1170. The invasion consisted of just around 80 men, but they were led by Raymond le Gros, a man with great military skill and cunning. Raymond had chosen Baginbun as he knew that there was an ancient Irish promontory fort that could serve well as a temporary defensive camp before he moved on to attack nearby Waterford.

Raymond knew that Waterford would be well defended and he also needed supplies for the invasion, so he decided to coax the Waterford men out to fight on his terms. He had his men raid the surrounding countryside for cattle, they drove the massive herd back to the ancient promontory fort where the Normans had established their camp. This enraged the Waterford men, and they quickly gathered their forces to attack.

It is estimated that between 1,000–3,000 Waterford men marched to Baginbun to kick these cheeky invaders back into the sea, and when they saw the tiny size of the Norman force they must have felt confident of victory. However they reckoned without the cunning of Raymond le Gros, he ordered his small force to attack the large army of Waterford, and then he ordered them to quickly retreat, feigning panic.

The Waterford men were jubilant at the site of the fleeing Normans and charged after them along the narrow promontory. When they were committed to the narrow pass Raymond had the massive herd of cattle stampede into the ranks of the onrushing Waterford men, scattering them and causing panic and devastation to their ranks. His men followed hot on the hooves on the cattle, cutting down the now panicked Waterford force in droves. They captured a large number of men, Raymond had hoped to use them as bargaining chips to gain ransoms from Irish chieftains but he was to be disappointed.

It was recorded by the Norman chronicler, Gerald of Wales, that a fearsome female Welsh warrior, Alice of Abergavenny, enraged by her husband’s death on the battlefield, took an axe and beheaded seventy of the Waterford men to avenge his death, throwing their bodies off a cliff.

The bloody scene was set for the Norman assault on Waterford. It just goes to show that even a tranquil a spot as Baginbun can often have a dark story to tell.

Baginbun is located at the very southern tip of the Hook Head peninsula. It is about 2kms south of Fethard on Sea on the R734. The promontory has restricted access but the beach is open to the public. If you are in the area, why not visit the Bishop’s Palace in Fethard-on-Sea. This is located on the outskirts of the village, and dates to the fourteenth century. There is an earlier motte (a type of Anglo Norman fortification) located behind the palace.

3. Moore Hall, Co Mayo

Moore Hall is located in a beautiful spot on the shore of Lough Carra in Co Mayo. The house was constructed between 1792 and 1796 by George Moore. He was a very successful wine merchant and entrepreneur, and his main business was based in Alicante in Spain where he traded in wine and brandy. He was also involved in the export of seaweed from Galway as it was used to make iodine.

Unusually at that time for such a wealthy and powerful man, George Moore was a Roman Catholic. His family originally came from Ashbrook near Straide in Co Mayo, but George wanted a house to reflect his vast fortune so he commissioned the architect John Roberts, to construct a house suitable for a man of his means.

Legend has it that George was warned by the locals not to construct his new house at the site on the shore of Lough Carra. Way back in the 5th century AD, the King of Connacht was said to have been murdered by his enemies. The kings’ druid fled after the murder, fearing for his own life, but was hunted down and was himself murdered close to where Moore Hall stands today. The ill luck of the druid and King were said to linger in the area and infect the lives of those who chose to live there.

George Moore lived at the Moore Hall from the time of its construction until his death in 1799. Bad luck did befall him and his family when his son John took part in the ill-fated 1798 Rebellion. John was even declared the ‘President of the Connaught Republic’ before he was arrested and sentenced to transportation. John died in Waterford en route to fulfilling his sentence and a month later his father died. John’s body was exhumed in 1961 and transferred from Waterford to The Mall, Castlebar where he was reburied with full military honours.

George Henry Moore (who was landlord of the large estate) was renowned for his kindness during the Great Famine. He was a keen horse racing enthusiast, and during the height of the Famine in 1846 he entered his horse Coranna in the Chester Gold Cup and won the huge sum at the time of £17,000. He used that money to give every one of his tenants a cow. He also imported thousands of tonnes of grain to feed the locality. Not one person was evicted or starved on George Moore’s estates during the Famine. George was also a politician and an MP for County Mayo. He, along with some other family members, are buried at Kiltoom, which is a small family graveyard about 30 metres from the modern day carpark at Moore Hall.

George Henry’s son was the famous writer George Augustus Moore. He played a pivotal role in the Irish literary revival and was one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre and the Gaelic League.

The last of the Moores to live at this great house was Maurice Moore. He fought with the Connaught Rangers in the Boer War and became deeply involved with human rights issues. One of the key issues he petitioned for was the return of Irish prisoners serving sentences in English jails following the War of Independence. Moore was elected envoy to South Africa by the first Dàil and served as a Senator under Cosgrave and de Valera. Despite his tireless work for Irish independence, Moore Hall was burned down by anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War in January 1923.

Today Moore Hall is owned by the forestry company Coillte and is a wonderful and atmospheric spot to enjoy a walk and a picnic. Moore Hall is located around 11km north of Ballinrobe. Leaving Ballinrobe, take the L1067, this will take you to Ballygarris cross.  Turn left at this point and you will be on the road for Carnacon. Follow the road to the right, and after crossing Annie’s bridge, take the next left turn at Lough Carra lake.  This will take you to the car park at Moorehall. There is a marked trail through the woods which is approximately 3kms long.

Old carriageway to Moore Hall

    This is the second part in a series of articles on great sites to visit in Ireland. I’m hoping to visit as many sites across the country as possible. The wonderful thing about Ireland is that every county, town, village and parish in the country has an incredible story to tell. If you have any suggestions for sites in your locality please let us know by leaving a comment below or send an email to info@abartaaudioguides.com.

    • You can discover more great sites off the beaten track on Neil’s blog, Time Travel Ireland.
    • Neil Jackman has also produced an acclaimed series of audioguides to Ireland’s heritage sites, they are packed with original music and sound effects and a really fun and immersive way of exploring Ireland’s past. They cost just €1.99 each and are available from AbartaAudioGuides.com

    All photographs © Neil Jackman/AbartaAudioGuides.com

    Read: 5 off-the-beaten track places in Ireland you really should visit>

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