Saint Columba - Irish Missionary to Scotland


Saint Columba

Together with Patrick, St Columba is one of the most recognised names of early Celtic Christians. He is best known for bringing Christianity to the Picts in Scotland and establishing the famous monastery at Iona.

Early Days

St Columba was born in Donegal in AD 521. His father's name was Fedhlimdh and his mother's Eithne. He belonged to the O'Donnell clan which has produced many notable individuals and who descendants are still prominent today still under the name O'Donnell. The O'Donnell territories at one time included most of Donegal, and parts of Sligo, Fermanagh and Londonderry in what today is Northern Ireland. Columba himself has a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, one of the 4th century Irish kings.

Columba took an early interest in religion and studied in a number of monasteries, most prominently the monastery of Clonard, by the river Boyne (not to be confused with the modern monastery of Clonard in Belfast). Many illustrious Celtic Christians studied in Clonard. The monastery flourished into the 13th century despite attacks by the Vikings, but then fell into decline and today is in ruins. While at Clonard Columba studied under the famous teacher Finnian. He also helped found monasteries in his native county as well as in County Londonderry.

On to the Isle of Iona Scotland

In AD 563 Columba moved to Iona Scotland. The reason for his move is unclear. Some sources suggest that he instigated an uprising against king Diarmait and had to leave Ireland as a punishment. Whatever the reasons, his move to Scotland marked the beginning of the most productive period in his life.

After he landed on Scotland he settled on the island of Iona which was granted to him by the king of Dalriada. At Iona he established a monastery with the aim of spreading Christianity among the pagan Picts. At this task he and his companions worked with vigour and considerable success. They established Christian communities and centres throughout Scotland and especially the northern part of the country and on the Hebrides islands. Nonetheless, his base remained at Iona where he would return after his missionary endeavours. Even today Iona has important remains and is a fascinating place to visit.

Saint Columba's Death

Columba lived in Iona Scotland for the remainder of his life returning only once to Ireland. He died on June 9, AD 597 at the age of 76. He was buried at Iona, but his bones were later taken and buried in Downpatrick, County Down. Without a doubt, Columba was a man of vision and mission and his work helped shape the future of Scotland by introducing Christianity on a broader scale. He is fondly remembered on both sides of the Irish sea.

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