LAST Sunday not only marked the first day of the new year, but also the feast of Fermanagh’s own St Fanchea, who is one of several revered saints to be celebrated on the Lough Erne Pilgrim Trail.
While her name is well known around the county, and Enniskillen parishioners will also be familiar with her face from the beautiful stained glass depiction of the saint at St Michael’s Church in the county town, the story of the princess who gave up a life of comfort to help the poor is less known locally.
Born in the fifth century at Rathmore near Clogher, Fanchea of Rossorry – as she is now known, for the abbey she founded outside Enniskillen – was the daughter of king Conall Derg of Oreil.
Legend has it that when she was a young princess, Fanchea was to be married off to the king of Munster, but gave up life in a royal court to become a nun.
Along with her sister Darenia, Fanchea went on to build Rossory Monastery on the banks of the Erne.
She also is credited with helping her warrior prince brother give up his violent ways, using various means to stop him engaging in battle and fostering his Christian faith.
That brother was the man who would become known as St Enda of Aran, the father of Irish monasticism.
After her death Fanchea was buried at the abbey, and while the building no longer exists, pilgrims can still visit her grave at Rossory.
St Fanchea’s story is one of several to be celebrated as part of the Lough Erne Pilgrim Trail, which is currently being developed by the local Council and the Lough Erne Landscape Partnership, and will celebrate the historic pilgrimage route from the Erne to Lough Derg.
In a post on January 1st a spokesman for the Council said during the year ahead they would be sharing some of the history and heritage of the Trail, beginning with a celebration of the Fermanagh saint on her feast day.
“St Fanchea was quite a woman,” said the spokesman.
“She was Irish royalty, the daughter of a King. It was said she was a beauty and had many suitors but she turned them all down in favour of leading a religious life. She set up a convent on the hillside of Rossorry near Enniskillen. She converted her brother Enda to a religious life too.
“The convent of St Fanchea is no longer there but the graveyard and gravestones can still be visited.”
Rossorry Graveyard is one of the sites on the Pilgrim Trail, which is being created to celebrate the ‘spiritual superhighway’ that was Lough Erne in the early Christian period.
The trail – which has been developed by the Council in partnership with Waterways Ireland, the Lough Erne Landscape Partnership, and the Department for Communities, with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund – is focused on developing 11 key sits on the upper and lower loughs.
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