Welcome to Ferns – Ancient Capital of Leinster
Founded 1,400 years ago by St Aidan, Ferns became a royal seat and capital of the powerful ancient Kingdom of Leinster. This trail takes you through the heart of the historic village, where you will visit the remarkable medieval monastic remains at one end, and the imposing Norman Castle at the other.
If that isn’t enough, how about a miraculous well, the grave of a famous Irish King, and the tranquil beauty of a modern-day hermitage?
1. Grave of Rebel Commander Father John Murphy
Fr John Murphy (1753-1798) was one of the main commanders of the 1798 Rebellion in Wexford. A gifted leader, he was eventually captured in Carlow by Crown forces, tortured and his body burned in a tar barrel. Some of his remains are laid here. Also, the remains of Fr Ned Redmond, who as a student in France saved the young Napoleon Bonaparte from drowning.
9. St Mogue’s Well
St Mogue, or St. Aidan (or Edan) as he is also known, is the patron saint of Ferns, founding a monastery here some 1,400 years ago. Ordering his followers to cut down a certain tree, a well of crystal water sprang up and has flowed here ever since. The water is said to cure many afflictions and legend has it that it will not boil. The carved head on the well house is extremely old and was taken from the medieval church at nearby Clone.
2. Grave of King Diarmuid MacMurrough
A brilliant and ruthless King, Diarmuid forged alliances overseas and recruited Norman mercenaries to help his campaigns in Ireland, ultimately precipitating a Norman invasion of his country. Dying in 1171, the broken shaft of a once enormous High Cross marks his resting-place.
10. St Aidan’s Monastery
In 1990, on the site of the old Roman Catholic Church, the Sisters of Adoration built a convent, a church of perpetual adoration and individual stone hermitages, continuing a tradition of spiritual reflection extending back 1,400 years.
3. Ruins of Medieval Cathedral complex
This part of the medieval Cathedral complex was built here some 800 years ago by John St John, Bishop of Ferns between 1223 and 1243. What remains today are fragments of the two side walls of what may have been a chapter-house of the 13th century Cathedral, with their unusually closely-set windows.
11. The Fr Murphy Monument
Taking the form of an ancient Irish High Cross, this monument carved in limestone on a granite plinth, commemorates Fr John Murphy (see 1 above), one of the most charismatic and beloved leaders of the 1798 Rebellion.
4 . St Mary’s Abbey
In 1158, King Diarmuid MacMurrough (see 2 above) foundedva new Augustinian monastery here in Ferns. Easily recognisable with its ‘Round Tower’ type belfry, the Charter granted by Diarmuid promises the Abbey “a portion of all beer brewed in Ferns”. The Abbey was suppressed by Henry VIII of England in 1539.
12. Visitor Centre and Ferns Tapestry
This is the Visitor Centre for Ferns Castle, and also houses the Ferns Tapestry, a community-led initiative showcasing the history of Ferns from the arrival of St. Aidan in 598AD to the coming of the Normans in 1169. The story is told over twenty-five panels, using the ancient art of crewel embroidery
5. St Edan’s Cathedral
Said to be the smallest Cathedral in Europe, St Edan’s incorporates much of the earlier, much larger, medieval Cathedral (see 3 above), but without its transepts. Inside is the remarkable 800 year old effigy tomb of Bishop John St John (d.1243) showing him with his mitre and crozier, and with his feet resting upon a dog. Medieval features such as piscinae (ritual stone basins) and mason’s marks are also in evidence.
13. Ferns Castle
The first castle on this site was built nearly 900 years ago by King Diarmuid MacMurrough (see 2 above). A second castle was built here in the 1170s by the Normans, while the present castle – a Marshal castle – was completed in 1224.
6. High Crosses
High Crosses are a unique feature of early Irish monasteries. In the grounds around the Cathedral are three plain granite crosses, a smaller stone cross and a cross slab. In addition, part of the shaft of a monumental carved High Cross survives above the grave of King Diarmuid MacMurrough (see 2 above).
14. 1916 Commemorative Plaque
Outside of Dublin, the most extensive and effective campaign of the 1916 Rising was here in Wexford. The Ferns contingent was particularly active, sabotaging railway lines and taking the village itself on 28 April, 1916.
7. St Mogue’s Cottage
This picturesque 300 year old thatched cottage was probably the home of the Sexton or caretaker of the nearby St Edan’s Cathedral (see No. 5). It has been restored for community use.
15. St Aidan’s Church
This is the new Church of St Aidan, begun in 1974. A plaque listing the names of all parish priests from 1644 is on the wall to the right of the altar.
8. St Peter’s Church
While this curious church was probably built some 400-500 years ago, it seems to have ‘recycled’ parts of much earlier buildings nearby. Two of the windows came from the ‘old’ Cathedral across the road (see 3 and 5 above) while another window is even older and may have come from St Mary’s Abbey (see 4 above).
16. Haughton’s Plaque
Joseph Haughton was a Quaker who lived through the 1798 Rebellion and is remembered for his humanitarian efforts. He famously refused to sell a coil of rope to a member of the Crown forces, suspecting it was to be used to hang rebels.