He was born at Gartán, County Donegal in 521 AD and is also known as 'Columba', which comes from the Latin for 'dove'. Colmcille was related to the Ui Néill dynasty, Kings of of Ulster and of Tir Eoin, and was a direct descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Tara.
Colmcille studied under St Finnian of Moville and later under another St Finnian, of Clonard. which in the 540s was regarded as one of the finest academies of learning in Europe. There he met St Ciarán, who later founded Clonmacnoise. Later he moved to the monastery of Glasnevin where he met many scholars and saints. He established monasteries at Glencolmcille, Derry, Durrow and Kells in Ireland before founding his monastery on the island of Iona in 563. It was from there that he brought Christianity to the Picts of Scotland.
While at the monastery of Moville, legend said that he decided to copy Finnian's Book of Psalms secretly. A dispute ensued which was brought before King Diarmait to decide who was the rightful owner of the copy. Diarmait made his famous decision: 'To every cow its calf and to every book its copy'. That did not end the matter. Later, fighting broke out about the decision. After the bloody battle of Cúl Dremhe, below Ben Bulben in Co. Sligo, in 561, Colum Cille got it back and it has since been known as the 'Cathach' or 'the Battler', and was carried into each battle fought by the O'Donnell clan of Tir Conaill (Donegal) and worn around the neck of the McGroarty in a special cumhdach, or container. Colum Cille went into exile to Iona in 563, in repentance for the bloodshed that he had caused by his actions. In 1691 the Cathach was taken to France by the O'Donnells, after the Treaty of Limerick. It was brought back to Ireland in 1813 and is now in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. It is the oldest surviving manuscript of the psalms.
In 690 Adomnan (Eunan), sixth Abbot of Iona, wrote the 'Life of Colum Cille'. A second biography is a short one written by an unknown author, circa 1160, and is known as 'The Homily Life'. The third, and longest, was written by Manus O'Donnell in 1532. It was called 'Beatha Colm Chille', the life of Colum Cille. Columcille died in 597. Iona, pictured above right, became the site of a Benedictine Abbey and of a small cathedral. These were dismantled by Protestant reformers in 1561.
The Colmcille Heritage Centre, pictured left, is in Gartán, near Churchill, Co. Donegal (close to Glenveagh National Park) and is open from the first Sunday in May, including Easter week, until the last Sunday in September. Weekday opening times: 10.30am-6.00pm; Sundays 1.00pm-6.00pm. Groups may visit outside these times, call 074 9137306 to arrange. The centre, situated on a magnificent lakeside site, within a 100 acre estate, houses an interpretive exhibition featuring Colmcille (Columba), Patriarch of Irish Monasticism and of the Scottish Church. Highly recommended.
See also at this location:
Outdoor Education Centre
Creator God, source of all good, we thank you for the life of Saint Columcille. You have called Columcille to teach the Gospel and to be an example of Christian perfection. As we journey on life's way, may we remain, like Columcille, strong in faith, firm in hope and active in charity. Help us to love and serve You in liberty and peace. We ask this for ourselves, for our country and all peoples, through Christ our Lord. Amen. St Columcille, pray for us.