Saint Columba
Written and researched by Margaret [nee Knight] Odrowaz-Sypniewski

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Columcille [as he was known in Ireland], or Columba [the Latin version of his name] was born in Garten, County Donegal, Ireland about December 7, 521. He was a member of the royal clan in Donegal. His kinsmen were the UiNeill Kings of Tyrone and Tyconnell. He was baptized as Crimtain, but he was renamed Collum Cille, meaning "dove of the church." Conall Crimthann, the third son of Niall, was the relative that Columba have been named after. Conall Crimthann was ancestor of the O'Melaghlins, Kings of Meath. Had he not chosen the life of a missionary, he would have been a chieftain. His father was Feidlmid, a northern prince. His mother was Cathar Mor, founder of the royal line of Leinster (*note: other accounts have his mother as Ethne). The dove was the symbol of the Holy Spirit. St. Columba's Day is June 9th.

O'Donal (O Domhnaill) was the princely house of Tirconnel or Tir Conaill (Connell's land), which is now called Donegal, Ireland. The O'Donal name is taken from Donal (d. 901), a descendant of Niall. The O'Donal are an old Gaelic aristocratic family. Another line takes their name from Conall Gulban (another son of Niall). They descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, as do most of the northern aristocratic familes of Ireland. Niall Naoi-Ghiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages), was named from the royal hostages, taken from nine countries. These hostages were subdued and had to make tributary. They were:

  1. Munster
  2. Leinster
  3. Conacht
  4. Ulster
  5. Britain
  6. the Picts
  7. the Dalriads
  8. the Saxons
  9. the Morini - a people of France, towards Calais and Picardy.

Niall's father was Eochaidh Muigh-Meadhoin [Moyvone], the 124th Monarch of Ireland, who in the 8th year of his reign, died a natural death at Tara, in 365 A.D., leaving four sons. Niall of the Nine Hostages was a high king of 4th century Ireland. Niall began to reign in 379, as the paramount king of Ireland. Before his death, Niall had been High King of Ireland for twenty-seven years. Niall was killed by an arrow from an ambitious enemy. Niall died a pagan, but nearly 300 of his descendants were canonized as saints.

Niall had twelve sons. Niall was the forefather of the O'Neills of Ulster, who made raids on Briton and France towards the end of the fourth century, when the Romans were returning home. This line was that of his eldest son, Eoghan. But Columcille's line is from Conall Gulban, of Tir Connaill - the land of Conall (now called Donegal). Conall Gulban, was the fourth son of Niall and ancestor of O'Donnells (princes, lords, and earls of the territory of Tirconnell - Donegal), and of O'Boyle, O'Dogherty, O'Gallagher, etc. Conall meant "strong as a wolf." As kings of Tir Connell, they were inaugurated at the Rock of Doon (Carraig Dun), near Letterkenny. In Christian times, they proceeded to Kilmacrenan to be blessed by the bishop. In 1200, Eignechan was the first chief of the O'Donnell clan. They take their name form Dombnaill (meaning world mighty). The O'Donnel's had tribal conflicts with their kinsmen the O'Neills. Conn of the 100 battles was from the Neill Clan of Ulster, while the O'Donnels were most numerous in Donegal. Chief Hugh Roe O'Donell (1461-1505) built a castle and monastery at Donegal. This castle was the sixteenth century stronghold of Manus O'Donnell (d. 1563), Lord of Tirconell.

St. Columcille (521-597) was of this lineage. He was born in Garton, Donegal and was kinsman to the O'Donnells. The O'Donnells were primarily warriors. His father was Fedlimid of Tir Conaille, grandson of Conaill Gulban. Columcille was the monastic scribe, and was known as one of the best copyists of illuminated manuscripts. Columcille who wrote the Cathachm the famous Latin book of psalms. which the O'Donnells carried into battle as their rallying symbol. This book is now in the Royal Irish Academy.

St. Adamnan, the abbot of Iona (626-703), was another member of the family. He wrote down the life of St. Columcille one hundred years after Columcille's death. Adamann/Adomnan was the ninth Abbot of Iona.

Columcille wrote the Book of Durrow, a well-executed illuminated manuscript, which is now housed in the Trinity College Library, and is written in Colmcille's hand. The Book of Durrow was a holy relic as early as the tenth century. Columcille coveted a copy of the Gospel of St. Martin (St. Martin of Tours). When Columcille was at the Abbey of Maghbhile, with St. Finnan, he copied the book at night. When Finnan discovered this Columcille was taken to the High King, DiarLaid Mac Cerbgaill (d. 565). His judgement was " to every cow belong her calf, so every book belongs to its offspring book." Columcille took offense to this judgement. His clan rose to help Columcille, at the Battle of Cuildremhne (Cooldrevy, in Sligo) in 561. The High King won the battle and Columcille was in danger of excommunication and death. He was then exiled to the kingdom of Dalriada at age forty-four (44).

The Gospel of Saint Martin was brought by St. Ninian to Whithorn after his visit to St. Martin at Tours. The book then was taken to the monastic library at Movilla in Ireland. The battle that ensued regarding this book cost many thousands of lives. Columba was very remorseful for causing this battle and decided to exile himself.

St. Finnian of Clonard was Columcille's mentor at Moville, County Down, Ireland, while Angel Axel was Columcille's guardian. St. Brendan was born about 486 in County Kerry, he completed his monastic training at Clonard in County Meath, where he became friends with St. Columba and St. Kenneth. Irish monks were thought to be the most learned in all of medieval Western Europe. St Columba was no exception. He was considered to be foremost of all Irish copyists. He wanted to pen a copy of St Jerome's Book of Psalms, which was then owned by St. Finnian and tried to do this is secret. When St. Finnian found out he was angry and made him return the copy to him.

Columba took 12 monks (his apostles) with him. They crossed the Irish Sea and landed on Iona, where he established his mission. From Iona, he would bring Christianity to the Northern Picts of Scotland. He sailed to the Hebrides, the Orkney, and Shetland Islands. Scottish kings would be buried on Iona. MacBeth is even buried there. The Scottish Druids opposed Columba's efforts in the name of Christianity.

In 544 Columba received his priests orders and founded the monasteries at Derby. According to the legends, Columcille was condemned by a synod in 561. He left Ireland in his forties. He took 12 monks (his apostles) with him. They crossed the Irish Sea, and in 563, Columba landed on the holy Isle of Iona (I-Shona or "the Isle of Saints"), part of the islands of Mull, in Western Scotland. This island and its surrounds was part of the Dal Raida settlement. Dalriada means "followers of Riada." The island is three (3) miles long and one and one-half (1 1/2) miles wide. The ruler of the Picts, at the time of the arrival of Columcille, was Bruide (or Brude) MacMaelchon (556-584), the first historical king of the Picts. Bruide reigned for the first year jointly with Galan Cennaleph until Galan died of the plague (?). Bruide was a pagan all his life, but he tolerated Christians. His home-territories and capital was Inverness. Columcille held little sway within the Pictish nations. When he met with the High King, Brude MacMaelchon, St. Columba had to employ the services of an interpreter since he could not make himself understood in the Pictish tongue. This language problem, it is known, was why even the great missionary himself failed to come into the lands of the Picts of the north-east. Everything was done to try to dupe the people into thinking that the Roman church was older than the Pictish church when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth!

From the line of Brude MacMaelchon came the Malcolm clan (although it is difficult to know if this is fact or fiction). Malcolm is thought to mean followers of Columba. The people of Bruide MacMaelchon's Pictish church worshipped at a certain fountain and they bathed and drank there. The waters were curative and were said to have helped with leprosy and partial loss of sight. Columcille blessed this fountain in the name of Christianity.

In 590, Colmcille introduced a law exempting women from military serice. Before this law, in 575, Colmcille presented a law ar Druim that was not popular and thus was not obeyed. Basically the law suggested that women had to have the protection of male society or social institutions. Woman in Cain Adomnain, were under the protection of Iona (Adomnan) and had to pay a quarterly tax accessment based on their ranking within society. The rich paid more, than the poor. This tax was payable to the abbott of Iona (Adomnan). If the tax was not paid, the saintly Adomnan would curse them and say that their children's lives would decay. Celtic society had always been matrilineal, while Romans were patrilineal. Rome ruled the Christians, so Christian society took away many privileges of women.

Colmcille was accused of fathering a child. Who the mother was is not clear. Some say it was Ercnat, his embroiderer and dressmaker that made his vestments. Colmcille's sister had two children by incest. Some were unsure if Colman Ela was Colmcille's son or nephew. Colman Ela was at Llann Ela. Colmcille baptized both his sister's children before knowing they were from an incestuous relationship. Colmcille has not been the first cleric claiming to be celibate, but had fathered children. Nor was he the first to comtemplate murder to cover the scandal. In Christianity women were NEVER to have children by a man other than their husband, while men were allowed, if the women were certified whores. This came from Roman law.

Iona is the graveyard of olden Scottish kings, such as Macbeth. St. Columba's relics were patriotic talismen for the Scottish people, especially in war. They were carried to the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

Columba was a great poet, writer, and scholar; who studied under Finnian of Clonard, and he inspired generations of monks to copy the gospels. He was an Irish prince as well as a monk, and he founded many churches and monasteries in Ireland, including Derry in 546, Durrow in 556, and most likely Kells. All of these had oak groves, the favorite trees of the Druids, growing on their original sites.

Many of Columba's people, the Scots of Del Riata in Ulster, settled in Alba (Scotland). Columba carried the gospel to the Picts. He visited their king, Brude MacMaelchon (later Malcolm?), in his stronghold at Inverness. Brude and Columba became friends and Brude gave Columba the freedom of his kingdom.

One time, when Columcille was living for several days in the province of the Picts, he had reason to cross the river Ness. At this time, he saw a group of men on the bank of the river, with a man who had been bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the lake. While another member of their party swam in the lake, the monster was said to have come to the surface for his next victim. Columcille was said to have raised his hands towards the heavens and a holy cross appeared above the water line. Columcille/Columba said: "You will go no further; do not touch the man; go back with all speed."

At this the creature was said to have fled. See: St. Columba and Nessy

St Columba banished snakes on the island of Iona, so that its people and cattle would be safe.

On the Isle of Skye, Columba came across a huge bear in the forest and was said to have killed him with his words.


  1. Be alone in a separate place.
  2. Take no food 'til you are hungry.
  3. Speak not, except on business.
  4. Have three labors a day - work, prayer, and reading.
    Columcille/Columba could not spend as much as one hour without study, prayer, writing or some other holy activity.
  5. Give all your extra food and clothing to less fortunate brothers or to the poor.

Columba returned to Ireland and traveled through the land of the Picts and died on Iona on June 9, 597. When Columba knew death was near he was said to have sat upon a stone cross with his white horse nearby. Columcille was age seventy-seven (77) years. The white horse, that carried the milk pails from the cow pen to the monastery, was said to have laid his head upon Columba's arm and whinnied in distress as his master was dying. Columba was said to have passed in peace.

St. Columba is remembered at Kilmacolm (Columba's Cell) in Renfewshire, and at Invermoristan on Loch Ness, which is called in Gaelic "Clachan Chollumchille," meaning "the village where Columba has a cell." His Biography was called Bertha Colaim Chille" (A Life of St. Colmcille), and was written by Manus O'Domhnaill (in 1536). This book is in the Bodlein Library, Oxford, England.

There is also a tradition that Columba visited Inchcolm (Columba's Island) in the Firth of Forth.

At Gelncolumkille, County Donegal, in north-west Ireland, there is a recognized pilgrimage known as an Turas meaning "the journey." Here pilgrims make a three (3) mile walk, usually barefoot, using set prayers and devotions at each stopping point or station, including St. Colmcille's Well. This pilgrimage is generally performed on June 9th, but can be done anytime of the year.



Delightful to me to be on an island hill, on the crest of a rock, that I
might often watch the quiet sea;

That I might watch the heavy waves about the bright water, as they
chant music to their Father everlastingly.

That I might watch it's smooth, bright-bordered shore, no gloomy
pastime, that I might hear the cry of strange birds, a pleasing sound;

That I might hear the murmur of the long waves against the rocks that
I might hear the sound of the sea, like mourning beside a grave;

That I might watch the splendid flocks of birds over the well-watered
sea, that I might see its mighty whales, the greatest wonder.

That I might watch its ebb and flood in their course, that my name
should be -- it is a secret that I tell -- "He who turns his back upon Ireland;"

That I might have a contrite heart as I watch, that I might repent my
many sins, hard to tell;

That I might bless the Lord who rules all things, heaven with its
splendid host, earth, ebb, and flood...


Iona of my heart,
Iona of my love,
Instead of monk's voices
Should be the lowing of cattle;
But ere the world come to an end,
Iona shall be as it was.


St Columba and Iona, Scotland......
Knights of St. Columba's Patron Saint ..... Colum Cille, Our Patron Saint ..... Saints and Dragons
Polish Saints


Day, Malcolm. A Treasury of Saints: 100 Saints, Their Lives and Times. New York: Barron's, 2002.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. Celtic Women. Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. The Druids. Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. Erin's Royal Blood. New York: Palgrave. 2002.

Gill, Elaine and David Everett. Celtic Pilgrimages: Sites, Seasons, and Saints. London: Blanford Books, 1997.

Grehan, Ida. Irish Family Histories. Boulder, CO.: Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1993.

O'Laughlin, Michal C. The Book of Irish Families Great and Small Volume I, Irish Genealogical Foundation, 1997.

Reilly, Robert T. Irish Saints. New York: Gramercy Books, 2002.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints. Notre Dame, IN.: Ave Maria Press, 1993.



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