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Festival set for 2,000 visitors in village of 9 residents; The most 'magical' place in Ireland opens its doors to visitors.

Byline: TOM PRENDEVILLE

IRELAND'S most mysterious village is braced for its biggest ever public showing.

The nine villagers of Fore, Co Westmeath, are expecting up to 2,000 visitors next week - and hoping that there will be room for them all.

Interest in the village's 'Wonders of Ancient Ireland' has soared.

Interested parties from a string of different countries heard about Fore's bizarre charms through the promotion of the country's smallest heritage festival, which kicks off for a week on September 7.

Excited festival organisers Jane O'Reilly and local historian Michael Conlan say there will be the largest crowds ever in the hamlet - and they'll all want to get a look at the amazing sights on offer.

Fore, which has two pubs, a post office, a coffee shop and the smallest village green in Ireland, is a 'magical place' says Jane.

"We'll be having guided tours and they should be very popular.

"There will be far more people around than we're used to!"

Among Fore's attractions are:

n a river that runs uphill, said by sceptics to be an 'optical illusion' because of the lie of the surrounding land

an enormous 12th century stone monastery built in the centre of a bog which has mystified experts who are astounded at its foundations

a tree formed from a rare form of wood which doesn't burn and has tourist flocking to plant money in its bark

a well which produces water that won't boil, thought to be so because the water is so heavily mineralized

a lintel weighing two-and-a-half tonnes in a monastery with no upright support. Again experts are astounded as to how it was made to stand

Visitors can also enjoy trips around the old medieval walled town of Fore.

Other sights include the ruins of an early Christian era stone beehive hut.The tiny cell was home to an Eastern European Anchorite monk who vowed never to set foot outside the door.

He lived in total darkness for years until one day curiosity got the better of him when he heard barking hounds who were part of a passing hunt.

The unfortunate monk tried to clamber out of the roof to take a peek only to fall and break his neck.

He never did set foot outdoors.

In ancient times when the 12th century Normans built a grand monastery in Fore, the ecclesiastical settlement was manned only by French Benedictine Monks with women being banned entirely from the district.

In 1539 the monastery was destroyed during the Reformation.

The well preserved ruin has the distinction of being the only Benedictine Monastery in Ireland.

"All these things are very important to us and tourism is becoming very important," said Michael.

"On a good weekend we might have four or 500 visitors to the village," said Michael.

Although it's been an uphill struggle, Michael and Jane have been determined to put the tiny hamlet back on the map, and they've come a long way so far.

With the whole community getting involved in the festival - all nine of them - the prospects for the village's future look good.

The festival is a totally voluntary affair with practically no outside funding.

At 75, Michael Conlan's heart lies truly in the development of Fore.

Taking on two or three tours a week for visitors he charges no fees for fuel, personal expenses, postage or otherwise.

His colleague Jane is equally passionate about her village.

"I serve teas and coffees and homemade scones and cakes in the Fore Abbey coffee shop which is in an old restored farm building.

"I also show a 20-minute film about the area. There's a mouthful and a half for you," she joked.

CAPTION(S):

MAIN MAN: Historian Michael Conlan will be promoting this tree stump which doesn't burn. Its magical qualities have moved people to tie ribbons to its branches; THIS WAY: The tiny village of Fore is preparing for an influx of 2,000 visitors this a year
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Aug 31, 2003
Words:660
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