Read here about Feast Day of St. Finnian of Clonard

France: The Feast Day of St. Finnian of Clonard, today is the Feast Day of St. Finnian of Clonard who was born just at the back of the mountain here in Co. Carlow in the late 5th century on the 12th of December.

Michael Fortune, artist, maker, folklorist and researcher mentioned in the statement that he know this date as Finnian was trained under St. Fortchern, the First Bishop of Trim who had an early Christian cell at the back of Mount Leinster. However I won’t go into detail about St. Finnian, instead, St. Forchern as he we believe was the figure were my own Fortune came from.

Read here the full statement by Michael Fortune

Where he grew up in on the east coast of Wexford they were told, that when Patrick left Wales to Christistanise the Irish he landed near Castletown in North Wexford where the locals didn’t greet him with open arms, instead Eanna Kinsella and his crowd threw stones at him and Patrick and the boys flaked up to Meath instead. 

This story still haunts the locals to this day as now and again someone will remind them that they were the lads who threw stones at Patrick!


But back to my ramble, It was here they converted a young boy called Fortchearn, who later became St. Fortchern, the First Bishop of Trim. It was this same St. Fortchern, who then moved down to Mount Leinster and set up a cell and left the Fortune surname behind him.

The Fortune surname is particular to Wexford and according to Annals of the Four Masters, he was one of St. Patrick’s first converts on his arrival to Ireland, as well as being one of his metal smiths. Regardless of how questionable the annals might be to some, the evidence has been stacked up in different ways, over the years and this the best we have,

In the Annals of the Four Masters, it traces how these Christian adventures first arrived to a territory near tInbear Mór (Castletown, area just south of Arklow) controlled by Eanna Uí Cheinnselaig but were ran. 

They then travelled further up the coast and as the annals say they spent time camped on the mouth of the Boyne, in a place called tInbear-Boinne, guarding their ships while Patrick went exploring for 40 days and 40 nights. In the Annals we read that after Patricks returned from his rambles, he instructed his colleagues to bring the boats up river to the Dún of Fedhlimidh, which was a fort sited close to the present day town of Trim.

It was here that a young Fortchern met these Welsh adventures and here he was converted by St. Lomman who travelled with the bold Patrick. Forchern father was called Fedhlimidh and apparently the Annals have it that he was the son of Laeghaire MacNeill who is said to have been a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Fortchern’s mother was called Scothnach, and was recorded as being the daughter of a Briton/Welsh King. 

It was no big surprise to find Welsh individuals or small groups in Ireland at this time, as there was a lot of movement of Irish across the Irish Sea once the Romans left. The records state that Scothnach was able to communicate with St. Lomman and his crew due to her Welsh/Breton background. 

It was here in 433AD, that Forchern and later his direct family were converted into the Christian way. His fathers brother didn’t like these Welsh boys though and made numerous attempts to kill them, eventually given in to the charms of Christianity and sure the rest is history.

Again the Annals of the Four Masters claim that Fortchern became a scholar and skilled craftsman in metal work and he is attributed as being one of St. Patrick’s three metal workers – ‘his smiths MacCecht, Laeban from Donhnach-Laebhan and Fortchern in Rath-Adiné near Leighlinbridge.

 On St. Lomman’s death bed, he wished for Forchern to become Bishop of Trim. Forchern didn’t want the job apparently and Lomman put the hard press on him and in one account we read this: “You shall not receive my benediction unless you assume the abbacy of my church”. 

As a result “Fortchern took upon him the abbacy after the death of Lomman, for three days, where he went to Trim; and afterwards gave his church to Cathlai, a pilgrim.” This short lived reign earned Fortchern the ‘Bishop of Trim’ however he must have felt he’d let down the family and took to the road as a hermit, heading down south to where our leg of the story begins.

In the records it states that in 450 AD Fortchern came as far as the Blackstairs Mountains on the Carlow/Wexford border and it was here he built a cell and a small church and foundry near Ratheaden on the Carlow side of the Mount Leinster. There is also evidence of another church near Rathanna and Killoughternane. 

Nothing of these remains however a small 10th century stone build stone church, called White Church locally, stands in the area near Killoughternane which is adjacent to a holy well, both dedicated to himself, St. Fortchern. There are many fantastic stories associated with the site, most notably the chalice and paten story in the link below. 

Fortchern’s monastic settlement became a place of learning and many early Celtic saints, including St. Finnian who was born nearby in Myshall, Co. Carlow. Finnian, is regarded as one of the countries leading Saints and was directed by St. Fortchern proceeded to Wales to study under St. David. Finnian established centres of learning through England, Wales and France as well as in Ireland, most notably was the monastery on Skellig Michael.

Fortchern also founded a small monastery on a small hill overlooking the river Slaney and in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1045 AD, this site is called ‘Tullach – Fortchern’ on the river Slaney, which has since become known as the town of Tullow in Co. Carlow. From my own experience, to this day, local people around the Clonegal area of the County Carlow still call a hill between Clonegal and Bunclody, ‘Forkans Hill’. One thing to note in this fact is that the local people called it ‘Forkans hill’. Aside from the Gaelic spelling of the name, in The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick, ed. by James O’Leary his latin name, Forkernus appears.

The Fortchern name as it was survived in the area from the 5th century right up to the 12th unchanged in spelling, as again In the Annals of the Four Masters it is recorded that ‘Donal Caemhanach (Kavanagh), the son of Dermod, (Diarmait MacMurrough) King of Leinster, was treacherously slain by O’Fortchern and O’Nolan, (clans in Carlow) in 1175 at the Battle of Naas. 

Again records state that Donal was 35 years old at the time and this surely wouldn’t have gone down well with MacMurrough and his crew, so this certainly wouldn’t have helped the clan prosper in those times.

As the centuries moved on, we continue to see the surname appear in various land and legal documents from the area. When Fortune is pronounced by people with genuine Wexford accents, in particular the northern half of the county, it sounds more like ‘Forch-tun’ or ‘Forch-in’ instead of the ‘proper’ English pronunciation of the word ‘Fortune’. My own grandfather was known as ‘Big Mick’ Forkan and growing up, older people would also pronounce the name Forkan rather than Fortune. 

In the same way, they phonetically would do with Whelan as Whalen, Kinsella as Kinch-shilla etc. Even the old Norman family names of Lambert are pronounced Lamport, Derveraux as Dever-rix etc

Edward MacLysaght in his map of Surnames of Ireland from 1962 places the name as straddling the border between the two counties of Wexford and Carlow, which is exactly where the Fortchern left his mark in the places names of that area. 

There may be another strand to the Foirtchearn/Fortune family in Galway and Mayo called Forkan/Forkin who crossed the Shannon at some stage in our history.

Attached are a few photos Ive taken over the years when visiting these sites and if any Fortunes ever want to see where they are – give me a shout and I’ll show you. I always think that it’s pretty special to know that your surname has been knocking around the same area for the past 1,650+ years or so.

As for St. Finnian, I’ll post something about him later, as after all, it is his big day.

Hot Topics

Related Articles

Translate »