Saturday 11 June 2016

How Colum Cille Converted Tory Island

Ulster Journal of Archaeology (1853)

Saint Colum Cille is still vividly remembered in Gaelic speaking parts of both Ireland and Scotland, a connection which has been explored in recent years by organisations such as Slí Cholmcille.  He features prominently in the folk tradition of his home county, Donegal, and below is a story of how he converted the people of Tory Island/Oileán Thoraí off the Donegal coast. It comes from the archives of the National Folklore Collection of Ireland and was a collected in the 1930s from a 76 year old man living in County Mayo. It is interesting to see here echoes of the well-known story about Saint Brigid's cloak which similarly expanded miraculously to encompass enough land for the saint's needs when she was looking for a site on which to build her monastery at Kildare:
Columcille often tried to convert Tory island but the chief of the island would not let him. Then Columcille thought of a good plan and asked the chief to let him convert as much as his handkerchief could cover. The chief thought that wasn't much ground so he granted the request. Columcille put his handkerchief under his feet and it began to spread until it covered the whole island. The chief had to keep his word so in that way Columcille converted Tory island.
We will explore some more of the Colum Cille traditions of Tory Island as we continue with the series of posts to celebrate the octave of the feast.

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