Wednesday 17 June 2015

A Collect for Saint Columba

To mark the octave day of the feast of Saint Colum Cille and to conclude the series of posts in his honour, below is a beautiful collect taken from the Mass for his feast day:

Breathe into our hearts, we entreat you, Lord, a longing for heavenly glory: and grant that we may bear in our hands sheaves of justice thither, where the holy abbot Columba shines with you. Through Our Lord.

Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, O.S.B., Saint Andrew Sunday Missal (Bruges, 1957), 856.

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Tuesday 16 June 2015

Hagiography and Saint Colum Cille

Although the Life of Columba by Saint Adamnan is one of the most famous works of hagiography, it is not the sole one written about our saint. The Betha Colaim Chille, written by the sixteenth-century Donegal chieftain Manus O'Donnell, contains many stories and local lore not found in its more famous predecessor. The editors and translators of the 1918 edition made this observation about the hagiographical traditions relating to Saint Colum Cille as O'Donnell found them:

In the miracles, prophecies, and visions of Columcille, there is much that is of familiar hagiographical pattern. Those who loved his memory, like those who treasured that of other saints, would permit their favorite to yield to none in sanctity and power. Fair traceries from the shrines of many another holy man are borrowed to deck that of the beloved patron. There are stories of the holy men that were Columcille 's friends, and of those who were his teachers and pupils.  Visits to France and pilgrimages to Rome have been added, and other practices conforming to the habits of saints of later date. Local legends explain the origin of land grants and taxes which readers of the Life were paying—or neglecting to pay—to Columcille's successors. Many an anecdote testifies to the genuineness of relics in this place or that — the Golden Leaf in Iona, the Red Stone of Gartan, and not a few others.

Many a miracle of Patrick or of Bridget, of the apostles and of Hebrew prophets, is told and retold of Columcille. Was he not like them in life and in works, and what the others did, should not he do also? And so Columcille, like other saints, strikes fountains from rocks, blesses stones and salt to heal maladies, illumines dark places with his hands, and by a thousand miracles already told a thousand times of other holy men, proves that indeed "there hath not come patriarch nor prophet, nor evangelist, nor apostle, nor martyr, nor confessor, nor virgin, that we may not liken Columcille to him or set him in some degree of perfection above all of them. "

Monday 15 June 2015

Saint Colum Cille and Saint Brigid's Blessed Thought

107. On a time Brigid was going over the plain of Liffey. And as the holy virgin then beheld the fair plain before her, she said that if hers were the power over that plain, she would give it to God Almighty.

And that blessed thought of Brigid 's was made known to Colum Cille in his abbey church at Swords, and he cried with a loud voice, '' It is as much for the virgin to have that thought as to bestow the plain," said he.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Saint Columba's Case Book

Below is a commentary on Saint Colum Cille's life and work from a medical perspective which I first contributed as a post to the celt-list back in 2009.  The career of Saint Colum Cille is so multi-faceted that to see him described as 'one of Britain's early GPs' seems like just one more string to this great saint's bow. It is interesting though to see the healing miracles of hagiography subjected to scientific analysis and for the saint to emerge with the doctor's respect.

St Columba's case book

by Duncan L Hunter

British Medical Journal Feb 19, 2000

Was St Columba of Iona a doctor or a saint? St Columba was an early Christian saint who founded a monastery on Iona, but his Life, published at the end of the fifth century by Adomnan, suggests that he was also one of Britain's early GPs.[1] Written a century after his death, the stories rely heavily on Christian symbolism as they were based on tales circulating among the monks and were written by an abbot, about an abbot. However, if you ignore the miraculous hyperbole, Book II can be read as a description of early British medicine. Columba seems to have been a widely respected GP with some knowledge of public health medicine.

He investigated two epidemics, once by identifying a point source infection from a well (anyone who drank from the well or intentionally washed his hands or feet in it was struck down--people became leprous or half blind or were afflicted) and once by attempting to treat a possible smallpox outbreak (awful sores of pus on the bodies of people and on the udders of cattle) with penicillin (bread dipped in water). Columba can be forgiven for not recognising that the virus would not respond to penicillin, which in any case was not discovered for another 13 centuries. He was also unlikely to have heard of
trichinosis, but he knew enough to warn of the dangers of eating undercooked pork. One impatient farmer did not wait and slaughtered a pig too soon (he was impatient to have his first taste of the meat--as soon as a morsel of meat was cooked, he called for it to taste it), and he died.

Columba was ready to treat whoever showed up at his clinic and sometimes did house calls. A young woman stumbled on her way home and broke her hip in two; while Columba does not reveal the contents of his doctor's bag (a little pinewood box), the bone successfully mended. A young man presented with a chronic nosebleed, which Columba healed by applying pressure to the nostrils with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. A couple came for counselling when a patient complained that his wife would not sleep with him. She told Columba, "Do not make me share a bed with Luigne." Columba successfully recommended a combination of controlled dieting (fasting) and counselling. On another occasion, he was called out at night to attend a woman in labour who was suffering great pains during a difficult childbirth. Columba chose prayer or "watchful waiting."

Perhaps Columba's most interesting intervention came in cardiology. A middle aged man with type A personality (Broichan's heart was hard and unbending) suffered a heart attack, attributed to a heavy blow from an angel, which left him struggling for breath and near to death. Columba prescribed the cardiac drug of choice, perhaps a nitrate (a white rock dipped in water, that floated miraculously on the water like an apple or a nut). The patient took the draught and completely recovered. This miracle drug healed many people and was so effective that it was kept in the royal treasury until it was used up.

Little acknowledgement of Dr Columba's contribution to medicine remains today. A monastery on Iona still exists and is the destination to many persons seeking spiritual healing. Those requiring treatment for physical problems must travel by ferry across the Sound of Iona to Mull or await the Oban ambulance.

[1] Adomnan of Iona. Life of St. Columba [translated by Richard Sharpe]. London: Penguin Books, 1995.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Saint Colum Cille Rescues a Pagan from a Demon

According to a legend, in the time of St. Columba, a pagan temple had been erected by some Magus,who set up in it glass images, representing the Sun and Moon and Stars. Shortly afterwards, a great swoon came on that Magus, and a demon bore him off through the air. But while both passed over the head of Columkille, this saint made a sign of the cross in the air. Instantly the magician fell to the earth at his feet. In remembrance of this rescue from the demon's power, and in gratitude to Columba, the Gentile priest is said to have dedicated his temple to the saint. Afterwards, this Magus became a monk, and thenceforth he lived a very holy and pious life.

Rev. J. O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume VI, 516.

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Friday 12 June 2015

Saint Colum Cille Heals his Attendant, Diarmit

Another time, the saint's faithful attendant Diarmit sickened even to death, and the saint went to visit him in that extremity. Standing by the bedside, Columba invoked Christ's holy name. He prayed, also, and after this manner: "I beseech thee, O Lord, be favourable to me, and let not the soul of my pious servant be taken out of this mortal life, before the course of my days." After praying thus, Columba held his peace for a little. Then opening his blessed lips, he said : "This my loving child shall not only escape danger, at this crisis of his infirmity; but, he shall moreover live for many years, after my death". Diarmit was delivered incontinently from his  disease; and, in good health, he survived the saint many a long year.

Rev. J. O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume VI, 422-423.

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Thursday 11 June 2015

Saint Colum Cille Prophecies the Death of a Stranger

Hearing some person shouting across the strait, one day, the saint spoke the following words : "That man who is shouting is much to be pitied, for he is coming to ask us for some cure for the disease of his body; but, it were better for him this day to have true penance for his sins, since at the close of this week he shall die." Those who were present told such words to the unhappy man, when he arrived. Yet slighting them, the stranger received what he had asked, and departed quickly; but, before the end of that same week, he died, according to the prophetic word of the saint.

Rev. J. O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume VI, 422.

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Saint Columba at Boyle

Below is a nineteenth-century paper dealing with the monastic foundation at Boyle, County Roscommon, which has been traditionally ascribed to Saint Colum Cille.  As the writer guides us through the locality he will introduce us to various saints as well as to the eighteenth-century Irish harper/composer Turlough O'Carolan. I was unable to easily reproduce the footnotes to the text, but the original can be read at the Internet Archive.


IN the very ancient life of St. Patrick known as the "Tripartite," we are told that when he visited Moylurg, in crossing a ford on the River Boyle (Buill) his chariot was upset, and he himself was thrown into the waters. The ford was for that reason called Ath Carbuid, the Ford of the Chariot, and lies near the waterfall of Eas-Mic-Neirc, now Assylin. The Saint blessed the upper or western part of the river, foretelling that " a Son of Life should come there in after years who should like fruitful water at his place." The ancient annotator informs us that St. Patrick here referred to Colum Cille, son of Fedhlimidh, at Ess-mic-N'Eirc. This prophecy was fulfilled when St. Columcille founded his monastery at Eas-mic-N'Eirc, before he left Ireland for Iona in 563, in fulfilment of the penance imposed on him by his Confessor, the monk Molaise, famed for his knowledge of Holy Scripture, whose name is known and fondly cherished, and whose ruined monastery is still visible on the island of Innislimuny, on the coast of Sligo, belonging to the parish of Ahamlish, diocese of Elphin.

St. Adamnan, the cousin and successor of Columcille as Abbot of Iona, in his delightful and edifying biography of the Saint, refers more than once to his presence at Boyle. Thus he gives us a "Prophecy of the holy man regarding the Poet Cronanus." "At another time," writes Adamnan, "as the Saint was sitting with the brothers near Lough Ce (Key), at the mouth of the river called in Latin Bos (Bo), an Irish poet came to them, and when he retired, after a short interview, the brothers said to the Saint - 'Why have you not asked the poet Cronanus before he went away to sing us a song with accompaniment.' The Saint replied, ' Why, my dear children, utter such idle words? How could I ask that poor man to sing a canticle of joy, who has now met with an untimely end at the hands of his enemies?' The Saint had just said these words, and instantly a man cried out from beyond the river: 'That poet who left you in safety a few minutes ago is now dead, having been killed by his enemies.' Then all that were present wondered very much, and looked at one another in amazement."

This anecdote reminds us that St. Columba, like many other great saints, as St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Paulinus of Nola, the friend of the poet Ausonius, was a poet. Indeed, St. Patrick had foretold this when his hands fell on the head of the ancestor of the Cinel Conell, and he said:

"A youth (i.e., Colum Cille) shall be born of his tribe,
Who will be a Sage, a Prophet, and a Poet."

He was also through life the friend and protector of poets and bards, whose influence was so powerful in ancient Erinn, and who, as we also learn from Adamnan's narrative, were to be met with on the public roads, as well as in the palace of the prince. These bards were clearly great travellers. They seem to have gone their circuits with the regularity of our Judges. Thus we read in the Annals of the Four Masters, that "Melaghlan, son of Loughlin O'Mulconry, died while on his bardic circuit through Munster." It is a singular and curious coincidence to find the last and not the least of the Irish Bards, leading the same troubadour life, going the same bardic circuit, and wandering along those same roads round Boyle, nearly a thousand years after the death of the unfortunate minstrel Cronanus. Provided with a horse, a harp, and boy, by the MacDermot of Alderford, in the Barony of Boyle, Torlogh O'Carolan made his circuit through the counties of Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo, Mayo, and Galway, becoming the honoured guest of the oldest families, celebrating their praises in those beautiful pieces of music which still live in popular tradition, some of which have been wedded to the immortal melodies of Moore. It may be remarked, in passing, that it was in the town of Boyle, of a night, Carolan composed his unrivalled piece, the "Receipt for Drinking," over a bowl of that favourite Uisquebaugh, to which he is said to have been unduly attached, and sang and played it the following day in the house of his friend and frequent host, Mr. Stafford, of Portobello, near Elphin. At Alderford he played his last piece, the well-known " Farewell to Music." When he felt his death-sickness coming on him he betook himself to that hospitable mansion. He was received then as always, with true Irish warmth and welcome, by Mrs. MacDermot, still in the health and spirits of youth, though bearing the burden of four score years. Like another "Latest Minstrel," his trembling hands wandered feebly at first over the strings of his harp, till at length the fervour of other days was enkindled,

" The old man raised his face and smiled,
And lighted up his faded eye
With all a poet's ecstacy,"

and he played the Farewell to his long-loved art in a strain of tenderness and feeling that drew tears from the eyes of those who heard him. He was borne immediately to a bed from which he never rose ; he was carefully tended by his best benefactress, Mrs. MacDermot, and was interred in Kilronan, in the vault of the MacDermot Roe.

Montalembert refers to the incident which we have quoted from Adamnan. He says of Columba "Himself a great traveller, he received the travelling bards in the different communities where he lived; among others in that which he had built upon an island of the lake which the Boyle traverses before it throws itself into the Shannon. He confided to them the care of arranging the monastic and provincial annals, which were to be afterwards deposited in the charter-chest of the community ; but above all he made them sing for his own pleasure and that of his monks ; and the latter reproached him energetically if he permitted one of those wandering poets to depart without having asked to hear some of his chaunts accompanied by his harp. The monk Columba was a poet. After Ossian, and his glorious compeer of the Vosges, he opens the series of two hundred Irish poets, whose memories and names, in default of their works, have remained dear to Ireland."

We are led to admire, too, the gentleness, the familiarity with his monks, the tender regard for the feelings of others, of this great man, sprung from the royal race of Niall, the nephew or near cousin of seven monarchs, himself possible heir to the throne, and even then the founder of a crowd of monasteries. "Weep with the unhappy," was one of his own maxims quoted by Montalembert. This practice of the great Saint, in causing poets to sing for himself and his monks, reminds us also of the constant and serene joy of those monks of old, so often represented as sad and gloomy ascetics. As St. Chrysostom says so beautifully, "They had no sadness : They waged war with the devil as if they were playing (as if dancing)"; or, as a poet of our own day, Lord Houghton, expresses the same idea:

"They went about their greatest deeds
Like noble boys at play."

Among the qualities of sainted abbots and holy monks, we find it related that they were gay, joyous, amusing, loving to laugh, "jucundus, facetus." "See," wrote that great monk, St. Anselm, "with what lightness the burden of monastic life is borne, by Christians of each sex, of every age and condition, who fill the whole earth with their songs of joy."

St. Adamnan, almost the contemporary of St. Columba, again tells us, that " At another time also, when the Saint was stopping some days near Lough Cei (Key), he prevented his companions from going to fish as they desired, saying : 'No fish will be found in the river to-day or to-morrow : I will send you on the third day, and you will find two largeriver salmon taken in the net.' And so after two short days, casting their nets, they hauled in two of the most extraordinary size, which they found in the river Bo."

From these incidents recorded in that biography which is regarded as one of the most ancient and authentic relics of Christian history, St. Adamnan's Life of St. Columcille, it appears that Boyle, and particularly the neighbourhood of Lough Ce were favourite resorts of Columba. We have visited the spot where the Saint conversed with the poet Cronan, the place, as Adamnan tells us, where the Boyle river enters the western extremity of the lake, when the groves were vocal with the song of blackbird and thrush, and the clear note of the cuckoo, heard through glade and dell, woke the echoes of the hills around. The scene is one of sweet and quiet loveliness. Not grand or wild, but extremely beautiful and picturesque, is the view from the margin of the crystal lake glowing in the evening sun, the emerald hills around, and wooded islands on its bosom flinging their shadows over the sunlit waters. To such scenes of sweet repose and sylvan beauty memory often bore the illustrious exile in after years, from that "sad and sullen '' island of the wild Hebrides, which bears his name, in which he became "an exile for Chirst." To that loved and lovely lake, those sweet and secret cells on Inchmacnerin and at Eas-mic-n 'Eire, on the green and fertile banks of the swift-flowing Boyle, he goes back in spirit, when he weeps that " He can no longer sail on the lakes and rivers of his native land, nor hear the songs of the swans of Comgall, nor the wind sigh among the oaks, nor the song of the blackbird and cuckoo." The memory of those scenes of tranquil beauty must have mingled in his mind, with his dear monastery at Burrow, and his beloved oak-woods of Derry, when the sainted exile of Iona penned those poetic messages by returning travellers to his unforgotten Erinn, which are still extant, in his native Gaedhlic.

Lanigan, who is very sceptical with regard to many of the foundations ascribed to St. Columba, expresses no doubt as to the establishment by him of the monastery of Eas Mic n 'Eire. O'Donnell in his life of the Saint tells us that he dedicated the place to God, and placed Dachonna over it as superior. Colgan, who gives the life of St. Dachonna at the 8th of March, says that he was more generally called Mochonna, but that his real name was Chonna. In the Irish Calendar of the O'Clerys, at the 8th of March, he is styled Mochonna Mac Eire, Abbot of Easmic-n 'Eire, in the county of Roscommon. In the Feilire Aenguis of the same day, the place is distinctly called Easmic- n 'Eire, i.e., the Cataract of the Son of Eire, namely Dachonna. The author of a Life of St. Columba, quoted by Colgan, also calls him Dachonna, and says that St. Columba erected a monastery at Eas mic n 'Eire, and gave him the care of it. Colgan further informs us that he was of the family of the chieftain of the place, whose name was Ere, and that he was renowned for his virtues and miracles, "Sanctitatis laude, et miraculorum gloria ipsum claruisse." We may here admire the admirable dispensation of Divine Providence, in thus drawing from the family of Ere, who offered the most stubborn opposition to the grace of the Gospel and the preaching of St. Patrick, the patron Saint of their territory. Maelmaire O'Gorman, who compiled his Martyrology, "when Rudhraidh (or Roderick) O'Conor was monarch of Erinn," mentions two Saint Chonnas, one at Boyle, at Eas mic-n 'Eire, the other at Eas-Roe, on the north bank of the Erin. The latter was son of the provincial King of Ulster, and followed St. Columba into exile, becoming one of his most ardent and devoted disciples.

There can be no doubt, therefore, that St. Columba founded a monastery at Easmic n 'Eire on the banks of the Boyle river, over which he placed St. Dachonna as Abbot ; but the actual site of this foundation has been mistaken by many writers of great authority, through want of actual and familiar acquaintance with the localities round Boyle. Thus the learned Colgan, and after him the acute and accurate Lanigan, say it was the same monastery, which many centuries later, fell into the possession of the Cistercian Order, and became so famous under the name of the Abbey of Boyle: "Eas mac Neirc, Monasterium ad ripam Buellii fluvii in Conacia. Hodie vocatur Monasterium Buellense, estque ordinis Cisterciencis." Dr. Charles O'Conor, grandson of the celebrated Charles O'Conor, of Bellinagare, writes "The ancient monastery of Boyle was founded by St. Columba, and called Eas-mac-n 'Eire, a name which it derived from its pleasant situation, near a cataract about a mile from where the river Boyle discharges itself into Loch Cei. The Cistercian Monastery of Boyle was founded, not exactly on the site of the ancient monastery, but not far from it, in the year 1161." Ware thought that this place might have been the same as Inchmacnerin, an island in Lough Key. D'Alton, in his History of the Barony of Boyle, tells us that " St. Columba erected a noble monastery, where the ruins of Drum still mark holy ground, and near the fall of water whence it took the name of Eas-mac-Neirc." Montalembert, following the authority of Colgan, makes the site of the Columbian House the same with that of the Cistercian Abbey. "On the banks of a cascade," he writes, "formed by the Boyle, as it throws itself into the lake (Lough Key), rises another monastery founded by Columba, and which became in 1161, a celebrated Cistercian Abbey, the Abbey of Boyle." But it may be clearly shown that Eas-mic n 'Eire is not the Great or Cistercian Abbey of Boyle, which during its early history is styled in our Annals Mainister Atha da laarg, i.e., Vadum duarum Furcarum, Ford of two Forks, though afterwards, more generally, the Abbey of Boyle, Mainister na buille. The ancient name of Drum, referred to by D'Alton as the site of the monastery of Eas-mac Neirc, was Drumconnell, and the place was founded by St. Council or Connell, brother of St. Attracta of Killaraght. The notion of Ware cannot be admitted, as Eas-mic n 'Eire is never spoken of as an island, but is said by all the old writers to be near the river Buill (Boyle).

But there was on Inchmacnerin a House also founded by St. Columba. This island, now called Church Island, is near the western shore of Lough Key, and north of Trinity Island, and contains upwards of four acres. Many records of it, under its ancient name, Inchmacnerin, occur in the Annals of Boyle, and the Annals of Lough Key are held by many to have been compiled there. The tradition of the place has it, that the ruined church, which still remains, was founded by St. Columcille, about the same time that he founded Eas-mic n'Eire. We find in the Calendar of the O'Clerys, at 22nd Sept., "Barfion Me Emm, son of Ernin, of Inis MacErnin, in Lough Ce, in Connaught." It is clear from O'Donnell's Life, that St. Columba founded a house on one of the islands of Lough Ce, sometime about the year 550, for he speaks of the Saint as staying on an island in Lough Key, in Connacht. "From this notice," says Curry, "as well as from several other references that could be adduced, it is certain that Saint Columba founded a monastery on an island in Lough Ce," which was anciently called Inchmacnerin, now Church Island. The ruins of the Columbian monastery are yet to be seen on the island. They consist of lofty and extensive walls, amidst an intricate mass of rocks, trees, dwarf ash, and thorns, closely bound together by tendrils. But it is at least equally certain that this house was not the monastery of Eas-mic n 'Eire.

O'Donnell, in his Life of Columkille, clearly points out the site of Eas-mic-n 'Eire : "Inde ultra Senanum versus occidentem progressus, pervenit (Columba) ad eum locum, cui praeterlabentis Buellii fluminis Vicina Catharacta nomen fecit Eas-mic-Eirc, eumque Deo sacravit." This, beyond all doubt, is the place now called Assylin, situated on the north bank of the river Boyle, about a mile west of the town.

It is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters, at the year 748, that "Fursa, of Eas-mic-n-Eirc died. (Eas-micn-Eirc on the Buill, at this day Eas-Ui-Fhloinn.)" From this entry we see, that Eas-Ui-Fhloin, which has been anglicised into the present form Assylin, is identical with Eas-mic-n 'Eire. In the year 1209, we meet the record "Flaherty O'Flynn, Coarb of Dachonna of Eas-mic-n 'Eire, died." In the Irish Calendar of the O'Clerys, as we have seen, the Saint is styled Machonna Mac Eire, Abbot of Eas-mic-n 'Eire, in the county of Roscommon ; and in the Feilire Aenguis, the place is distinctly called Eas-mic-n 'Eire, namely Dachonna, from whom it was afterwards called Eas Dachonna, the patron saint of the locality, Mac N'Ere being the saint's patronymic name, i.e., the son or descendent of Ere. In the year 1222, we read of the death of Maelissa O'Flynn, Prior of Eas-mac n 'Eire." At the year 1207, we are told that " Cathal Carragh, son of Dermot, took a great prey from O'Flynn of the Cataract "(Ua Fhloin Eassa). In Macgeoghegan's translation of the Annals of Clonmacnoise, ann. 1315, we are told that "Rorye O'Conor caused to be assembled from all parts his forces, and with them encamped at Ballymore O'Flynn, and made little respect of the reverence due to the churches of Kill-Athracta and Easse-da-chonna." The Annals of the Four Masters relate that "Dermot More, son of Dermot O'Conor, was slain at Eas Da Conna, on the river Boyle." In an Inquisition of the reign of James I. the place which was called Ballymore O'Flynn in 1316, is called Ballymore Assylin, showing that Ballymore was church land belonging to this monastery.

It is clear, then, that the ancient Eas-mic n 'Eirc, the site of the monastery founded by St. Columba, is identical with the present Assylin, which is nothing more than a modern anglicised form of Eas-ui-Floinn, the name which the place acquired in later ages, from the family of O'Flynn, whose name we find so often mentioned in the Annals, in connection with it, and who were the hereditary Eranaghs or Wardens of the Church, and the Comharbas, or lay-incumbents of St. Dachonna. It is situated opposite the cataract, about six furlongs west of the town of Boyle. It is at least a mile from Ath-da-laarg, the site of the Cistercian Abbey, and two miles from Drumconnell, the site of St. Council's church, both of which are on the opposite side of the town. It is about a mile from the estuary from which the river issues out of Lough Gara. Here, close beside the river where it makes a sweep to the left, and immediately after widens into a little lake, and where its banks swell into gentle knolls, covered with deepest emerald, stand the ruins of the ancient monastery of Assylynn. Opposite to the ruins, the river rushes over the rocks with considerable velocity, and at one place still forms a small cascade,

" With one short rapid, where the crisping white
Plays ever back upon the sloping wave
And takes both ear and eye."

This cascade, which gave the place the names of Eas-mic n 'Eire, Eas Da Chonna, and Eas Ui-Floinn or Assylynn, O'Flynn's Cataract, its present name, was in ancient times much larger, and has been nearly removed by the wearing down of the rocks, as will be seen on examining the place. The waterfall was under the present railway bridge, whose very capacious single arch here spans the Boyle river. The foundations of the old church, and a great portion of one side of the walls still remain. The walls are massive, built of large hewn stone, two and a half feet in thickness. In parts, they rise in detached masses, to a height of twenty feet. The choir measures sixteen yards by eight, and the aisle twenty-five by eight. All the casings of windows and doors have been carried away. A burial ground,which has recently been largely increased, enclosed with walls, ornamented with trees and walks, surrounds the ivy-covered walls of the ruined church of St. Dachonnamac-n 'Eire. From the crest of the hill, on the slope of which the monastery stood, extensive prospects open across the river and towards the plains of Boyle, the town itself standing in the valley, with the river winding towards it, surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills. Even to-day it is a sweet spot, wearing an aspect of indescribable calm, a meet retreat for holiness, a fitting site for the cell of seclusion, solitude, and prayer. As we walked by the murmuring cascade, when the evening sun was sinking to its rest, the shadow of the great saint, next to Patrick in the reverence and love of Irish hearts, for us made the ground holy. Memories of him, of Saint Dachonna and their holy brotherhood, clung to those old walls, within which many a world-weary soul

"Had passed into the silent life of prayer,
Praise, fast, and alms."

Reflecting on the labours of those ancient monks, and particularly on the glorious works of the Apostle of Caledonia, we could enter into the feeling which moved the Protestant Johnson to exclaim: " I never read of a hermit, but in imagination I kiss his feet; never of a monastery, but I fall on my knees and kiss the pavement." It was not without a pang of pain we learned, that before the building of the present Protestant church in 1770, Assylin had been the Protestant place of worship. Was it not enough to have driven out the old monks from their loved cells, and to have seized upon their lands, which the self-styled Church of Ireland, in part, still holds! Was it necessary to desecrate the ancient sanctuary hallowed by so many cherished memories, by the novel rites of modern religionists, celebrated in a tongue, whose first low Germanic element had not yet been heard in the forests of Britain, when Columba first consecrated it to God in the Catholic language of Rome? The words of one of the poems of the Poet-Saint, spoken of another of his Irish Sanctuaries, occurred to us:

" My dear little cell and dwelling,
Oh God, in the heavens above !
Let him who profanes it be cursed."

The retreats of piety and learning founded by Columba, Dachonna, and their successors, at Eas-mac n 'Eire and Inch mac Nerin, have been destroyed. The lands bequeathed by Christian charity, cultivated and made fruitful by the toil and sweat of many generations of unwearied monks, have been torn from their rightful owners. Their sanctuaries have been profaned, even their ruins have been almost obliterated -

" Vix reliquias, vix nomina servans."

but the names and memories of those sainted and heroic men have not faded from the hearts of the people. The enduring effects of the labours of those great Irish Saints remain indelibly impressed on the faith, the manners, the customs of the Irish nation. They remain in the purity of their homes, in their salutations, every one of which is a prayer or a blessing, in their changeless adherence to the old faith of Patrick, Bridgid, and Columkille, in their deep reverence and love for their priests and for all who wear the venerated habit of monk or nun. To-day, after nearly 1300 years, there is no cabin in Ireland in which the saintly memory of Columcille is not preserved, enshrined in faithful hearts, his name loved, and his prayers invoked.

In our own time, a writer of world-wide fame, the eloquent Montalembert, has added fresh lustre to the fame, and fresh glory to the name of Columba, to the history of whose life and labours he has devoted nearly the whole of the third volume of one of the greatest works of the nineteenth century, "The Monks of the West, from St. Benedict to St. Bernard."

J. J. K.

Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3rd series Vol 1 (1880) , 391-401

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

The Apostle of Caledonia

On the feasts of our two other national patrons, Saint Brigid and Saint Patrick, I posted accounts of their lives from a nineteenth-century American writer. Here to complete the series is John O'Kane Murray's account of The Apostle of Caledonia, on this the feast day of our tertiary patron, Saint Colum Cille. As before he uses the hagiographical sources to good effect, including many of the best-known stories associated with the saint and ends on a lovely note from Saint Adamnán's Life of Columba:


 ST. COLUMBKILLE, [1] whose glory is embalmed in legend and history, was born at Gartan, in the county of Donegal, Ireland, on December 7, A.D. 521. [2] His father was descended from the famous King Niall of the Nine Hostages, [3] supreme monarch of Ireland at the close of the fourth century. Before the child's birth his mother, who also belonged to a distinguished Irish family, had a dream which posterity has accepted as a graceful and poetical symbol of her son's career. 

 An angel appeared to the lady, bringing her a veil covered with flowers of rare beauty and wonderful variety of colors; but all at once she saw it carried away by the wind, and rolling out as it fled over plain and wood and mountain. "Woman," said the bright spirit, "you are about to become the mother of a son who will blossom for heaven, who will be reckoned among the prophets of God, and who will lead numberless souls to the celestial country." St. Bute, one of those holy monks whose lives light up the pages of Erin's ancient history, died on the day of Columbkille's birth. He spoke of the event. "To-day," said the departing old saint, "a child is born, whose name is Columbkille. He shall be glorious in the sight of God and men." 

 The good priest who baptized the child was his first instructor. It is recounted that from his earliest years Columbkille was accustomed to heavenly visions. Often, when his guardian angel appeared to him, the happy boy would ask if all the angels in heaven were as young and shining as he. Later on the same sweet spirit invited him to choose among all the virtues those which he would like best to possess. " I choose," said the youth, "chastity and wisdom." And immediately three young girls of dazzling beauty appeared and threw themselves on his neck, embracing him. The pious youth frowned and repulsed them with indignation. "What!" they exclaimed, "do you, then, not know us?" "No," he replied, " not the least in the world." "We are three sisters," said the lovely visitors, " whom our Father betroths to you." "Who is your Father?" enquired Columbkille. "Our Father," they gracefully answered, "is God." " Ah ! " said he, " you have indeed an illustrious Father. But what are your names? " "Our names," replied the sisters, "are Virginity, Wisdom, and Prophecy. We come to leave you no more, but to love you with a love pure and everlasting." 

 Columbkille passed into the great monastic schools, which were nurseries not only for the clergy of Ireland, but also for young laymen of all conditions. Here manual labor was joined to study and prayer. Like all his young companions, he had to grind over night the corn for the next day's food ; but when his turn came the work was so well and quickly done that his companions suspected him of having been assisted by an angel. On completing his course of studies and monastic training he was ordained priest by his reverend master, the Abbot St. Finnian, founder of the renowned monastic school of Clonard. 

A remarkable incident is related of the royal Saint's student career at Clonard, when he was only a deacon. A famous old bard named Gemman came to live near the monastery. Columbkille, who was at all times in life a poet and passionate admirer of Irish poetry, determined to join the bard's school, and to share his labors and his studies. One day the two were reading together, at a little distance apart, out of doors. A young girl ran toward them, pursued by a ro ber. She hoped, no doubt, to find safety in the authority of the venerable bard. Scarcely, however, had the poor girl reached the spot than her hard-hearted pursuer, running up, struck her with his lance, and she fell mortally wounded. Gemman called to his pupil for assistance. "How long" he exclaimed in accents of horror, "shall God leave unpunished this crime which dishonors us?" "Only for this moment," replied the indignant young monk. "At this very hour, as the soul of this innocent creature ascends to heaven, the soul of the murderer shall go down to hell!" The words were hardly uttered when the wretched assassin fell dead. 

Soon, far and wide, Columbkille's name became famous. As he was closely allied to the reigning monarch of all Ireland, and, indeed, eligible him- self to the same high office, it was very natural that his influence increased with his years. [4] Before reaching the age of twenty-five he had presided over the erection of a crowd of monasteries. As many as thirty-five in Ireland honored him as the founder. Of these the chief were Derry and Durrow. The young Columbkille was especially attached to Derry, where he habitually lived. He superintended with care not only the discipline and studies of his community, but also external matters — even so far as to watch over the preservation of the neighboring forest. He would never permit an oak to be cut down. Those that fell by natural decay, or were struck down by the wind, were alone made use of for the fire which was lighted on the arrival of strangers, or distributed to the neighboring poor. The poor had a first right in Ireland — as everywhere else — to the goods of the monks; and the monastery of Derry fed a hundred applicants every day with the most careful regularity. [5]   

Derry was the spot that Columbkille loved best. In the poem attributed to his old age he says so touchingly: 

"Were all the tribute of Scotia mine, 
 From its midland to its borders, 
 I would give all for one little cell 
 In my beautiful Derry.

"For its peace and for its purity, 
 For the white angels that go 
 In crowds from one end to the other, 
 I love my beautiful Derry." 

 Columbkille, it may be noted, was as much a bard as a monk during the first part of his life; and he had the roving, ardent, and somewhat quarrelsome character of the race. He had a passion for travelling, but a still greater one for books. It must be said, in truth, that his intense love of books brought him into more than one misadventure. The poet-monk went everywhere in search of rare works, which he would borrow or copy; but occasionally he met with refusals, which he sharply resented.

At the time of which we write there was in Ossory a holy recluse, very learned doctor in laws and philosophy, named Longarad. Columbkille paid him a visit and asked leave to examine his books. The uncourteous old scholar gave a direct refusal. Columbkille was indignant. " May your books," he said, "no longer do you any good — neither you nor those who come after you — since you have taken occasion by them to show your inhospitality." The curse was heard, according to the legend. As soon as Longarad died his books became unintelligible. " They still exist," wrote an author of the ninth century,  "but no man can read them." 

 But another event in the career of our Saint leads us to that turning-point in life which for ever changed his destiny and transformed hims from a wandering poet-monk and ardent student into a glorious missionary. While visiting his old master, the Abbot Finnian, Columbkille found means to make a secret and hurried copy of the abbot's Psalter by shutting himself up at night in the church where it was deposited, and illuminating his work by the light which escaped from his left hand while he wrote with the right. Finnian, however, discovered what was going on by means of a curious wanderer, who, attracted by the singular light, looked in through the keyhole. But the poor fellow's curiosity met with swift punishment. While his face was pressed against the door he had his eye suddenly plucked out by a crane, one of those familiar birds that were permitted by the Irish monks to seek a home in their churches. 

The abbot, for some reason or other, was much displeased, and declared that Columbkille had taken an unwarranted liberty with his book. He even claimed the copy when it was finished, on the ground that a copy made without permission ought to belong to the owner of the original. But the poet-monk refused to give up his work, and the question was referred to the king at Tara. King Diarmid, at that time supreme monarch of Ireland, was related to Columbkille, but he pronounced against his kinsman. Diarmid's decision was given in a rustic phrase which has become a proverb in Ireland : "To every cow its calf, and, therefore, to every book its copy." [6]   

Columbkille vigorously protested. "It is an unjust sentence,'' he exclaimed with indignation. All parties were hot and prepared for an open rupture. The occasion soon came. A young prince, son of the king of Connaught and a hos tage at Tara, had a dispute, during a game of hurling, with the son of one of Diarmid's officers. It ended in a quarrel, and the prince killed the youth by striking him with his hurley. He fled at once for sanctuary to our Saint, who was standing in the king's presence. But King Diarmid — contrary to all precedent  — refused to respect the undoubted right of Columbkille to protect his client, and he ordered the unhappy prince to be torn from the very arms of his protector and immediately executed.
The noble, fiery nature of the Saint revolted at this last outrage. " I will denounce your wicked judgment to my family and my friends," said he to the king, " and the violation in my person of the immunity of the Church. My complaint shall be heard and you will be swiftly punished. No longer shall you see my face in your province until the Almighty Judge has subdued your pitiable pride. And as you have humbled me to-day before your friends and nobles, God will humble you on the battle-day before your enemies!" 

 Diarmid attempted to retain him by force, but, evading his guards, the poet-monk escaped by night from Tara and hastily directed his steps to his native Tyrconnell. As he pushed along on his lonely way his agitated soul found utterance in the " Song of Trust": [7]

" Alone am I upon the mountain. 
 God of Heaven! prosper my way, 
 And I shall pass more free and fearless 
 Than if six thousand were my stay. 
 My flesh, indeed, might be defended, 
 But when the time comes life is ended. 
 If by six thousand I was guarded, 
 Or placed on an islet in a lake, 
 Or in a fortress strong protected, 
 Or in a church my refuge take, 
 Still God will guard His own with care, 
 And even in battle safe they fare. 
 No man can slay me till the day 
When God shall take my life away; 
 And when my earthly time is ended
 I die — no matter how defended." [8]   

 Columbkille arrived safely in his native province. His words, like a trumpet-blast, aroused the powerful clans of Ulster ; nor was it hard to procure the aid of the king of Connaught, the father of the executed young prince. The combined forces marched against Diarmid, who met them at Cul-Dreimhne. [9] The battle was short. Diarmid's army was routed, and he fled, taking refuge at Tara. According to the historian Tighernach, the victory was due to the prayers and hymns of Columbkille, who for days had fasted and appealed to heaven for the punishment of royal insolence. "As to the manuscript," says Montalembert, " which had been the object of this strange conflict of copyright elevated into a civil war, it was afterwards venerated as a kind of national, military, and religious palladium. Under the name of Cathac, or Fighter, the Latin Psalter transcribed by Columbkille, and enshrined in a kind of portable altar, became the national relic of the O'Donnell clan. For more than a thousand years it was carried before them to battle as a pledge of victory, on the condition of being supported upon the breast of a cleric free from all mortal sin. It has escaped as by miracle from the ravages of which Ireland has been the victim, and still exists, to the great joy of all learned Irish patriots." [10] 

Columbkille was victorious; but victory is not always peace. He soon felt the double reaction of personal remorse and the condemnation of many pious souls. In the Synod of Teilte, held in 562, he was accused of having occasioned the shedding of Christian blood. Though absent, he was excommunicated. But our poet-monk knew not that timidity which draws back before accusers or judges. He suddenly presented himself to the synod, which had struck without hearing him. Nor did he fail to find a defender in that assembly. When Columbkille made his appearance the famous Abbot Brendan arose, met, and embraced him. "How can you," exclaimed the members of the synod, " give the kiss of peace to an ex-communicated man? " "You would do as I have done," answered the noble Brendan, " and you would never have ex- communicated him, had you seen what I see — a pillar of fire which goes before him, and the angels that are his companions. I dare not distain a man predestined by God to be the guide of an entire people to eternal life." The synod gracefully withdrew the sentence of excommunication, but Columbkille was charged to win to Christ, by his preaching, as many pagan souls as the number of Christians who had fallen in the battle that he had occasioned. 

The soul of the Saint was troubled. The voice of an accusing conscience touched his manly heart. He wandered from solitude to solitude, from monastery to monastery, seeking masters of Christian virtue, and asking them anxiously what he should do to obtain the full pardon of God for the blood of those who had fallen on the field of Cul-Dreimhne. At length he found a holy monk named Abban, to whorn he poured out the troubles of his sad soul. To Columbkille's earnest enquiries Abban assured him that those killed in the battle enjoyed eternal repose; and, as his soul-friend, or confessor, he condemned him to perpetual exile from Ireland. It is now that the second and grandest part of the Saint's life commences. He took a loving leave of his warlike kindred, to whom he was in- tensely attached, and directed his course towards Scotland. The new scene of his toils was to be among its pagan inhabitants. Twelve of his de- voted monks accompanied him; and thus, at the age of forty-two, Columbkille bade a last farewell to his native land. 

The bark of the holy exiles of Erin put in at that little isle which our Saint immortalized, and which took from him the name I-Colm-Kill, now, perhaps, better known as Iona. [11] On that small spot, surrounded by foaming, sombre seas, over- shadowed by the bare and lofty peaks of other islands, and with a wild, romantic scenery greeting the eye in the far-off distance, Columbkille, poet, prince, monk, and missionary, founded the first monastery in Scotland, and began the gigantic labors of a new life more than heroic, more than apostolic. Over thirteen hundred years ago this became the monastic capital and centre of faith, learning, and Christian civilization in North Britain. In the midst of his community the Saint inhabited, instead of a cell, a sort of hut built of planks and placed upon the most elevated spot within the monastic enclosure. Up to the age of seventy-six he slept there upon the hard floor with a stone for his pillow. This hut was at once his study and his oratory. It was there that he gave himself up to those prolonged prayers which excited the admiration, and almost the alarm, of his disciples. It was there that the princely Abbot retired after sharing the outdoor labor of his monks, like the least among them, to consecrate the rest of his time to the study of Holy Scripture and the transcription of the sacred text. [12]  

It was in the same hut that he received with un-wearied patience and gentle courtesy the hundreds of visitors of high and low degree who flocked to see him. Sometimes, however, he was obliged to complain mildly, as of that indiscreet stranger who, desirous of embracing him, awkwardly over- turned his ink on the border of his robe. But who shall describe his labors as a great missionary? For over a third of a century he traversed the wild regions of Caledonia — regions hitherto inaccessible even to the Roman eagle. At his preaching and miracles the fierce pagan Picts [13] bowed beneath the cross. Skimming Loch Ness with his little skiff, the Saint soon penetrated to the chief fortress of the Pictish king, the site of which is still shown upon a rock north of the town of Inverness. Brude was the name of the hardy and powerful ruler. At first he refused to receive the Catholic missionary, and gave orders that the gates of the fortress should be closed on the unwelcome visitors. But the dauntless Columbkille was not alarmed. " He went up to the gateway," says Montalembert, "made the sign of the cross upon the two gates, and then knocked with his hand. Immediately the bars and bolts drew back, the gates rolled upon their hinges and were thrown wide open, and the Saint entered like a conqueror. The king, though surrounded by his council, was struck with panic; he hastened to meet the missionary, addressed to him pacific and encouraging words, and from that moment gave him every honor." Thus obstacles vanished at the very glance of the illustrious Irish Abbot.

He accomplished the conversion of the entire Pictish nation, and destroyed for ever the authority of the Druids in that last refuge of Celtic paganism. Before he closed his glorious career he had sown their forests, their defiles, their inaccessible mountains, their savage moors and scarcely-inhabited islands with churches, schools, and monasteries. Out of the many monasteries which he founded in Scotland — over which Protestantism afterwards passed its devastating hand — the remains of fifty-three are to be seen to this day. 

 No pen can describe the great, gentle, loving heart of Columbkille. It is told that a poor man once sheltered him under his roof for the night. In the morning the Saint enquired what worldly goods his host possessed. He was informed that the whole capital was five cows, poor and small ; "but," added the man, "if you bless them they will increase." The Saint requested the cows to be driven into his presence. It was done. "Your cattle," said he, "will increase to one hundred and five, and you shall be blessed with many good children." It happened just as he predicted. One morning at Iona the Abbot hastily called a monk. He told him to prepare at once for a voyage to Ireland. A good young lady named Mangina, he explained, had fallen in returning from Mass and broken her thigh-bone. " She is now," said he, " calling on me earnestly, hoping that she may receive some consolation from the Lord." 

He then gave the monk a piece of blessed bread in a little casket of pine wood, and ordered him to have it dipped in water, and to let the water be poured on the injured limb. All was done as commanded, and the injured member was instant- ly healed. On the cover of the casket the Saint wrote the words twenty-three years, and to a day Mangina lived twenty- three years after her cure. On another occasion he suddenly stopped while reading, and said with a smile to his monks: " I must now go and pray for a poor little woman who is in the pains of childbirth, and who suffers like a true daughter of Eve. She is down yonder in Ireland, and reckons upon my prayers ; for she is my cousin and of my mother's family." Whereupon the great priest hastened to the church, and when his prayer was ended returned to his spiritual sons, saying: "She is delivered. The Lord Jesus, who deigned to be born of a woman, has come to her aid, and this time she will not die." [14]  

Another incident is suggestive of Columbkille's great veneration for the sign of the cross. A cer- tain youth was carrying home a vessel of new milk, and on passing the door of the Abbot's little cell, where, as usual, he was writing, he asked a blessing on his burden. But when the man of God made the sign of the cross, a strange commo- tion seemed to move the contents of the vessel ; the lid was suddenly flung off, and the greater part of the milk was scattered around. The youth laid down the pail, and, kneeling, he began to pray. The Saint, however, desired him to rise. " To-day you have acted unwisely," he said, " in not making the sign of the cross of our Lord on your vessel before you poured in the milk. It was this omission that caused the demon to enter there, but, being unable to bear the sign of the cross, he has now fled away." Columbkille then asked him to bring the vessel near, that he might again bless it; and no sooner had he done so than " the benediction of his holy hand " so in- creased the little milk which remained that the pail was once more filled to the brim.

Towards his last days a celestial light was occasionally seen to surround him as a garment. And once as he prayed his face was first lit up with beatific joy, which finally gave expression to a profound sadness. Two of his monks saw the singular change of countenance. Throwing themselves at the feet of the venerable Abbot, they implored him, with tears in their eyes, to tell them what he had learned in his prayer. " Dear children," said he, with gentle kindness," I do not wish to afflict you. But it is thirty years to-day since I began my pilgrimage in Caledonia. I have long prayed to God to let my exile end with this thirtieth year, and to call me to His heavenly country. When you saw me so joyous, it was because I could already see the angels who came to seek my soul. But all at once they stopped short down there upon that rock at the farthest limits of the sea which surrounds our island, as if they would approach to take me and could not. " And, in truth, the blessed spirits could not, because the Lord had paid less regard to my ardent prayer than to that of the many churches which have prayed for me, and which have obtained, against my will, that I should still dwell in this body for four years. That is the reason of my sadness. But in four years I shall die without being sick ; in four years, I know it and see it, they will come back, these holy angels, and I shall take my flight with them towards the Lord." 

 Dear old Saint! his last day on earth came. It was a Saturday in sunny June. Drawn in a car by oxen, the venerable Abbot passed through the fields near the monastery, and blessed his monks at their labor. Then, rising up in his rustic chariot, he gave his solemn benediction to the whole island — a benediction which, according to local tradition, was like that of St. Patrick in Ireland, and drove from that day all vipers and venomous creatures out of Iona. [15]  He then took his way to the granary of the monastery and gave it his blessing, remarking at the same time to his faithful attendant, Diarmid : " This very night I shall enter into the path of my fathers. You weep, dear Diarmid; but console yourself. It is my Lord Jesus who deigns to invite me to rejoin Him. It is He who has revealed to me that my summons will come to- night." 

 The holy Abbot departed from the store-house. On the road to the monastery he was met by a good and ancient servant, the old white horse, which came and put his head upon the shoulder of his kind master, as if to take a last leave of him. "The eyes of the old horse," says one of the Saint's biographers, " had an expression so pathetic that they seemed to be bathed in tears." But caressing the faithful brute, he gave it a blessing. 

 He now retired to his cell and began to work for the last time. It was at his dearly-loved employment — transcribing the Psalter. When the great old man had come to the thirty-third Psalm, and the verse, " Inquirentes autem Domimim non deficient omni bono" he paused. " I must stop here," he said; " Baithen [16] will write the rest." After some time spent in earnest prayer, he entrusted his only companion with a last message for his spiritual sons, advising them, like the Apostle of old, "to love one another."  As soon as the midnight bell had rung for the Matins of the Sunday festival, the noble old Saint arose from his bed of stone, entered the church, and knelt down before the altar. Diarmid follow- ed him, but as the church was not yet lighted he could only find him by groping and crying out in sad tones, " My father, where are you ? " He found Columbkille lying before the altar, and, placing himself at his side, he raised the Abbot's venerable head upon his knees. 

The whole community soon arrived with lights, and wept as one man at the sight of their dying chief and father. Once more the dear Saint opened his eyes, and turned them toward his children on each side with a look full of serene and radiant joy. Then with Diarmid's aid he raised, as best he could, his right hand to bless them all. His hand dropped, the last sigh came from his lips, and his face remained calm and sweet like that of a man who in his sleep had seen a vision of heaven. And thus died, or rather passed away, at the age of seventy-six, on the 9th of June, in the year 597, the glorious St. Columb- kille, Irish prince, poet, monk, and missionary— a man whose beautiful name and shining deeds will live for ever and for ever. [17]  

"The countenance of Columbkille," says his ancient biographer, St. Adamnan, " resembled that of an angel. In conversation he was brilliant; in work, holy; in disposition, excellent; and in council, distinguished. Though he lived on earth, his manners were those of heaven. Every hour of his life was passed in prayer, reading, writing, or some useful occupation." 


1. Columbkille signifies dove of the cell. The name is often written Columba. 

2. The birth of our Saint was foretold by St. Patrick. In blessing Fergus, son of Niall, he said, referring to Columbkille : "A youth shall be born of your race, Who will be a sage, prophet, and poet — A glorious, bright, clear light, Who will not utter falsehood." — Tripartite Life of St. Patrick. 

3. So named because of the hostages taken from nine powers, which he subdued and made tributary.

4. In the MS. life of St. Columbkille by O'Donnell it is asserted that the Saint in the year 544, being a prince of the royal family, was offered the crown of Ireland, and that Dermod MacCerball, his competitor, succeeded only because our holy abbot preferred the cowl to a diadem. — Butler. This was two years before he was ordained priest.

5. The Saint fed a hundred men daily, but his steward, or dispenser, did not quite appreciate the liberality of his master. He had a fixed time for giving the dole of food, and any one who came late was peremptorily dismissed. A poor man came one day late, and was, as usual, sent away. The next day he came in time, but was told there was nothing for him. For many days he came, but each time he met with some repulse. He then sent a message to Columba to tell him that he advised him for the future to put no limit to his charity while he had alms to give, except what God set on the number of those who came for it. Columba was struck by the message, and came down to the gate of the monastery, not waiting even to put on his cloak. He hastened after the beggar ; but when he had gone some distance he found not the poor man, but Christ, who had taken the form of a beggar. Then, as he fell down and adored his Lord, he obtained from Him a royal alms — new lights, new graces, new and yet more wonderful powers of miracle and prophecy. — Sister Cusack, Life of St. Columba.

6. "Le gach boin a boinin, le gach leabhar a leabhran"

7. The " Song of Trust" may be reckoned among the most authentic relics of the ancient Irish tongue. — Montalembert.
8. St. Columbkille was the author of many hymns and poems, both in Irish and Latin. See " The Prose and Poetry of Ireland," pp. 25-38, and the " Life of St. Columba," by Sister M. F. Clare. One of his celebrated Latin hymns is the Altus. The following is the first stanza as translated by the Nun of Kenmare : 

"Ancient of days, 
 Father most high, 
Who art and shall be 
As the ages go by, 
With Christ and the Spirit, 
In glory supernal, 
Who art God evermore, 
Unbegotten, eternal; 
We preach not three Gods, 
But the unity, One, 
The Father, the Spirit, 
And co-equal Son." 

The Noli, Pater is also a famous Latin hymn from the gifted pen of our Saint. Colgan says that two graces are believed to be granted to the recital of this hymn : (1) that those who recite it should be preserved from the effects of thunder and lightning ; (2) that those who recite it at night before going to rest and in the morning when they arise shall be preserved from all adversity. 


"Father, keep under 
The tempest and thunder, 
Lest we should be shattered, 
By Thy lightning's shafts scattered. 
Thy terrors while hearing, 
We listen, still fearing, 
The resonant song 
Of the bright angel throng, 
As they wander and praise Thee, 
Shouts of honor still raise Thee. 
To the King ruling right, Jesus, lover and light, 
As with wine and clear mead, 
Filled with God's grace indeed, 
Precursor John Baptist's words 
Told of the coming Lord, 
Whom, blessed for evermore, 
All men should bow before. 
Zacharias, Elizabeth, 
This Saint begot. 
May the fire of Thy love live in my heart yet 
As jewels of gold in a silver vase set," 
— Nun of Kenmare's translation. 

9. Cul-Dreimhne is north of the town of Sligo. The " Annals of the Four Masters " state that " three thousand was the number that fell of Diarmid's people. Only one man fell on the other side." 

10.  This precious relic is now preserved in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. For a minute description of it see O'Curry's "Lectures on the MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History," p. 327. 

11. Iona is only three miles in length by two in. breadth, flat and low, bordered by gray rocks which scarcely rise above the level of the sea. Its highest hill is only 320 feet above the ocean. — Montalembert.

12. For Columbkille the work of transcription remained until his last day the occupation of his old age, as it had been the pas- sion of his youth. It had such an attraction for him, and seemed to him so essential to a knowledge of the truth, that three hundred copies of the Holy Gospel, written by his own hand, have been ascribed to him. — Montalembert, Monks of the West, vol. ii. 

13.  Butler ("Lives of the Saints," vol. vi.) thinks that the Picts were the original inhabitants of Scotland. Bede (" Eccles. Hist") tells us that they spoke a language different from their Celtic neighbors The original Scots were an Irish colony that conquered a portion of Caledonia and settled there. Ireland, it must be remembered, was called Scotia in early ages, and its inhabitants Scots. King Niall of the Nine Hostages, monarch of Ireland, was the first that gave the name of Scotia Minor, or "Little Scotia," to Scotland. Before tbat "Scotland" went by the name of Alba. The Scots (or Irish) and the Picts lived as good neighbors till about the year 840, when Kenneth II.. King of the Scots, defeated the Picts. About the year goo the Scots became masters of the rest of the country, and from that time all North Britain took the name of Scotland, or land of the Scots. At a somewhat later period Ireland gradually lost the name of Scotia, which was thus wholly transferred to the neighboring country that she had conquered and colonized. Such, in brief, was the origin of the name Scotland. Nearly all the great old Scottish families — as the MacDonalds, Campbells, Murrays, etc. — are lineal descendants of the ancient Irish that colonized and became masters of North Britain.   

14. "Prophecies," as they are called, of St. Columbkille have been published at various times and places during this century. They are all silly fictions. No man who respects truth, the memory of the Saint, or his own intelligence, can give any credit to such vile forgeries. The pious and learned O'Curry fully discusses this subject in one of his matchless "Lectures." "It is remarkable," he says, in concluding, "that no reference to any of these long, circumstantially-defined prophecies can be found in any of the many ancient copies of the Saint's life which have come down to us ... I feel it to be a duty I owe to my country, as well as to my creed as a Catholic, to express thus in public the disgust which I feel with every right-minded Irishman in witnessing the dishonest exertions of certain parties of late years in attempting, by various publications, to fasten these disgraceful forgeries on the credulity of honest and sincere Catholics as the undoubted inspired revelations of the ancient saints of Erin ... It is time that this kind of delusion should be put an end to. Our primitive saints never did, according to any reliable authority, pretend to foretell political events of remote occurrence." — Lectures on the MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History, p. 410. 

15. After the death of St. Columbkille, Iona became the most famous sanctuary of the Celts. It was the burying-place of kings, princes, and nobles. Seventy kings were buried at the feet of our Saint. Even Shakspeare, in his great tragedy of "Macbeth," does not forget to put the following dialogue into the mouths of his characters:
"Rosse. Where is Duncan buried? 
Macduff. Carried to Colmes-Kill, 
The sacred storehouse of his predecessors, 
And guardian of their bones." 

The ravages of the Danes first dimmed the light of Iona. They sacked its famous monastery in 801, and killed sixty-eight people, as is recorded by the " Annals of the Four Masters," vol. i. p. 411. For safety the sacred remains of Columbkille were transferred to Ireland towards the close of the same century. 

The ruin and plunder begun by the pagan Danes was completed by Protestant fanaticism in the dark days of the so-called Reformation. All the sacred edifices of Iona were pillaged by a horde of brutal ruffians. It was a desert in the eighteenth century. " The three hundred and sixty crosses which covered the soil of the holy island "had been thrown into the sea. " We are how treading," wrote Dr. Samuel Johnson when he visited this historic spot, '' that illustrious island which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion." Iona now belongs to the Duke of Argyll. It has a population of about 350 souls— all Presbyterians ! See " The Monks of the West," appendix, note i. 

16. Who became the Saint's successor. 

17. This great Saint has not been forgotten in the New World. There are churches in Newark, Cleveland, St. Louis, Boston, New York, and various other places, dedicated to divine worship under the patronage of St. Columbkille. 

John O'Kane Murray, Little Lives of The Great Saints (New York, 1880), 263-288.

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