St. Colomcille was born on 7 December ca. 521 A.D. to Fedhlimidh and Eithne of the Ui Neill clan in Gartan near Lough Gartan, Co Donegal. On his father’s side he was great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish high king of the 5th century.
As a young man, Colomcille soon took an interest in the church, joined the monastery at Moville, and was ordained a deacon by St. Finnian. After studying with a bard called Gemman, Colomcille was ordained a priest by Etchen, the bishop of Clonfad. Colomcille entered the monastery of Mobhi Clarainech, and when disease forced the disbanding of that monastery, Colomcille went north and founded the church of Derry.
Tradition has it that after founding several other monasteries, Colomcille copied St. Finnian’s psalter without the permission of Finnian, and thus devalued the book. When Finnian took the matter to High King Dermott for judgement, Dermott judged in favour of Finnian, stating “to every cow its calf; to every book its copy”. Colomcille refused to hand over the copy, and Dermott forced the issue militarily. Colomcille’s family and clan defeated Dermott at the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561. Tradition further holds that St. Molaisi of Devenish, Colomcille’s spiritual father, ordered Colomcille to bring the same number of souls to Christ that he had caused to die as pennance.
In 563, Colomcille landed on Iona with 12 disciples, and founded a new monastery. After founding several more monasteries, confounding the local druids, and participating in another battle (this time against St. Comgall over who owned the church of Colethem), Colomcille died on 9 June 597 on Iona and was buried by his monks in the abbey he created. He was later disinterred and is reputed to be buried in Downpatrick, County Down, with St. Patrick and St. Brigid.
Photo: St. Colomcille’s Holy Well, Dublin