Today, June 9th, we celebrate the feast of *St. Colmcille* who is one of the three patron saints of Ireland along with St Patrick and St Brigid. He initiated the movement known as the peregrinatio pro Christo – emigration in adventure for Christ – monks from Ireland went into voluntary exile and so became also missionaries in Britain and the continent.
Colmcille was born at Gartan, Co Donegal and belonged to the Cenél Conaill, a branch of the Uí Néill dynasty. His father was Feidhlimidh and his great grandfather was Niall Naoi nGiallach who brought St Patrick as a slave to Ireland and gave his name to the Uí Néill. His mother was Eithne, a princess from Leinster where Christianity was well established.
He was christened Criomhthann, meaning ‘fox’, and though he may have retained some fox-like traits, as a young boy he would often be found in prayer and so was soon given the name Colmcille (‘the dove of the church’). Fostered first to a holy man called Cruithnechan near Kilmacrennan, he then went to Leinster to a Christian bard called Gemman, which accounts for his later closeness to the filidh.
Ordained a priest around 546, Colmcille’s first monastic foundation was close to his home territory in Derry. His other major foundation in Ireland was at Durrow, Co Laois (both have the name doire, meaning “oak tree”). For the next seventeen years he continued teaching and preaching in Ireland. The other houses associated with his name may have been founded by monks of his community, either during his life-time or even centuries afterwards – Swords, Kells, Drumcliffe, Moone, and Tory Island.
In 563 Colmcille left Ireland and eventually settled on the island of Iona off the south-west corner of Mull, off Scotland. Colmcille remained in Scotland for most of his remaining thirty-four years. At the monastic settlement in Iona, he built up a large community devoted to prayer, study and physical work. It also became a place of learning with the copying and illumination of manuscripts that produced the Cathach of Colmcille (a 6th century copy of the psalms 30-150) and others like the Book of Kells.
Towards the end of his life, Colmcille spent his time transcribing books and writing poetry. His strength failed and even the monastery horse sensed this and began to mourn his approaching death. He died 9 June 597.
St. Colmcille, pray for us.