Saint Columba


For my third consecutive post about favorite saints I’m writing about a saint I associate with a place I visited on my travels in Ireland and Britain in 1998 (see Bede and Kevin).  This time the saint is Columba (also known as Colmcille and numerous other variations) and the place is Derry (also known as Londonderry) in Northern Ireland.  Saint Columba (521-597) is attributed with founding Derry by placing a monastery there in the 6th century.  Doire as it is spelled in Irish means “oak grove” and Columba wrote fondly “Derry mine! my small oak grove/Little cell, my home, my love!”  Colm Cille means “dove of the Church” and this imagery of doves and oak groves gives a sense of a pastoral history to a city ravaged by sectarian violence the past four centuries.

Columba was born in County Donegal in Ireland of royal descent and was ordained as a priest by the age of 25.  Possibly as the result of a conflict with Saint Finnian over a psalter (which led to a family feud and many deaths), Columba exiled himself to Scotland as a missionary. In 563, Columba and his followers established a missionary center at Iona to help bring Christianity to the Picts.  The Iona Abbey helped revitalize monasticism in Europe and became a place of pilgrimage.  Columba himself was a man of prayer, study and letters writing hymns and transcribing 300 books.
Much of what is known about Columba comes from Vita Columbae, a detailed life of the saint by Adamnan of Iona.  The work contains many legendary details such as the  first written appearances of King Arthur and the Loch Ness Monster. Columba’s legacy is long lasting and today he is one of three patron saints of Ireland along with Bridgid and Patrick.

Learn more about Saint Columba at:

4 thoughts on “Saint Columba

  1. Hello,

    I enjoyed reading your history of St. Columba, patron saint of my home town, Derry.

    Can I make one small, but very important point ? You refer to Derry/Londonderry as being in “Northern Ireland” and Donegal as being in “Ireland, ” implying, perhaps inadvertently, that Derry is not in “Ireland.”

    Derry is in Ireland. The Irish word for Ireland is Eire. It does not mean “The Republic of Ireland,” which is a state in its own right, nor “Northern Ireland,” which history proves is part of the United Kingdom as the result of massive Gerrymandering in 1921.

    Donegal and Derry are two of the 9 counties of the ancient province of Ulster. When the British Government partititioned the country of Ireland in 1921, it chose to leave 3 of the counties (Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan) behind in the Irish Free State, because, if they had remained under Britain, their majority catholic population would have chosen not to be under Briitsh control.

    When I leave my home in Derry and travel the 3 miles to Donegal, I can assure you, I don’t feel that I am travelling to a foreign.

    I feel strongly about this, as you can tell !

    With kind regards,

    John Bradley

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  2. John, thanks for your comment. Derry was my absolute favorite city in Ireland so I’m honored to have a native from Derry visiting and commenting.
    You are certainly right about Ireland. The other day I was actually trying to remember when I had crossed international borders by land as opposed to air or sea. It took me a while to recall that my train from Dublin to Belfast technically crosses the border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, but I didn’t really feel I left Ireland until I sailed for Scotland.
    Thanks again for dropping by.

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  3. The story of St. Columba exiling himself or being exiled is largely mythic. More recent scholarship indicates that Columba travelled back to Ireland several times and was welcomed.

    In regard to the question of Derry, I was raised in Donegal and visited Derry as a child and on numerous occasions from the fifties through the nineties went through customs into Northern Ireland. It was a bitter pill for a Republican family to be accosted by border patrols going into what we all considered the oldest city of Donegal. At one time Derry was part of Donegal and at other times it was connected with Tyrone. In the sixties to the nineties we continued to go through customs to enter Derry, Northern Ireland. My cousin was a custom agent on the border to Northern Ireland and died young from a heart attack from what we considered the stressful conditions of partition and “the troubles”. There continues to be a political state called Northern Ireland and Derry is part of it. John Bradley is correct if he is thinking of the geographical location of Derry and how he views the situation which is rapidly changing and making it very much easier to enter Derry from Donegal. But the political issues still remain even though border realities are much more flexible. I have not heard of Northern Ireland being included in Eire, and it won’t as long as the majority “planter stock” remain in power. Personally I consider Eire to be all of Ireland and hope more and more people of N. Ireland think of it as such.
    Hugh Curran

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