I, Peterwill, stimulated by Anne Hamilton’s book God’s Poetry, having already presented the two Irish breastplate prayers or songs in Past Poet Reflections, St Patricks breastplate (The Lorica) and Be Thou My Vision. But I was so moved by the role of St Columcille (or St Colmcille or St Columba) and Anne’s searches in Northern Ireland including for the site of the Convocation Drum Ceatt that St Columcille needed to also be honoured here on Red Thread Poets.
I am staggered at the stature of the man and his influence bringing Christianity to the Picts in Scotland and thus to England, and his influence in blocking the anger of the Irish high King from shutting down the bards and their music and song.
So here is some of his story from two sources, first The Irish Post, and second from Anne Hamilton from her glorious book God’s poetry (The Identity & Destiny encoded in Your name):
‘St Colmcille is one of Ireland’s three patron saints. The other two are St Brigid and of course, St Patrick.
His feast day is June 9, the day he died in the year 597 AD at age 75, on The Island of Iona, Scotland.
Colmcille was born in Gartan, near Lough Gartan in Co. Donegal on December 7, 521.
He was also known as Columba, (Dove in Latin), a Latin version of Colum. The ‘cille’ suffix that was added to the end of his name means ‘of the churches’. On his father’s side, he was great-great-grandson of the famed Niall of the Nine Hostages – an Irish high king of the 5th century.
A young Colmcille entered the priesthood at the age of 20 when he became a pupil at Clonard Abbey, situated on the River Boyne in modern day Co. Meath. When a prince cousin gave him some land at Derry, he decided to start his own monastery. This allowed him to travel throughout Northern Ireland teaching the pagans about Christianity.
Colmcille founded some 30 monasteries in just 10 years, inspiring many people with his personal holiness.
Nevertheless, Colmcille was no angel. His strong personality and forceful preaching ruffled feathers and in 563 AD at the age of 41, he was accused of starting a war between two Irish tribes. After the death of Prince Curnan of Connaught – who Colmcille was meant to protect – a number of clerics and scholars threatened to excommunicate him.
Instead, Colmcille was sentenced by the high king never to see Ireland again, and was exiled to Scotland with 12 companions. He settled on a bleak Scottish island called Iona where he would spent most of his remaining years.
On August 22, 565, St Colmcille is said to have encountered the Loch Ness Monster – which has been interpreted as the first ever reference to the mythical Scottish beast.
In 575 aged 53, Colmcille was persuaded to visit Ireland to mediate a dispute between the high king and the league of poets. Insisting on remaining faithful to the terms of his exile, that he never ‘see’ Ireland again, he travelled blindfolded.
His considerable reputation was respected by everyone in Ireland. He spoke to the assembled nobles and clergy with such force and authority that the king was persuaded to calm hostilities.
Colmcille spent the rest of his life on Iona praying, fasting, and teaching his monks to read and copy the Scriptures.’
From The Irish Post. June 9, 2017 by Aidan Lonergan
Anne Hamilton from her book God’s Poetry (see also St Patrick’s The Breastplate and Be Thou My Vision also under Past Poet Reflections) about her adventures tracking down the origin of her name and the location of the Convocation of Drum Ceatt:
‘Columcille returning from Iona, wearing a blindfold because he had sworn never to look on his homeland again and also wearing clods of Scottish turf tied to his feet because he had sworn never to set foot there again either. Columcille had come to plead on behalf of the bards of Ireland who were about to be exiled, one and all, by King Aed (Áed mac Cináeda).
As a group, the bards had become arrogant and avaricious. After one particular recital, the king’s usual largesse wasn’t enough. One of them asked for the royal gold torc around his neck. When he refused, some of the bards threatened to satirise him. To curse him in verse. Like the Hebrews, the Celts believed in the power of words. So a satire was worse than a death threat. King Aed was outraged and decided to exile every last one of them. Their attitude was no better than that of the druids. In fact, as far as King Aed was concerned, they probably were druids with a thin Christian veneer. The situation was immensely serious. Ireland without song or poetry—imagine it!
Over in Iona, Columcille heard of the problem and, creatively thinking up a way to get around the exact wording of his vow never to return to Ireland, came to the Convocation of Drum Ceatt to plead with King Aed.’ Anne Hamilton, God’s Poetry.
Delightful would it be to me to be in Ulster
On the pinacle of a rock,
That I might often see
The face of the ocean;
That I might see its heaving waves
Over the wide ocean,
When they chant music to their Father
Upon the world’s course;
That I might see its level sparkling strand,
It would be no cause of sorrow;
That I might hear the song of the wonderful bar
Source of happiness;
That I might hear the thunder of the crowding
Upon the rocks;
That I might hear the roar by the side of the church
Of the surrounding sea;
That I might see its noble flocks
Over the watery ocean;
That I might see the sea-monsters,
The greatest of all wonders;
That I might see its ebb and flood
In their career;
That my mystical name might be, I say,
Cul ri Erin;
That contrition might come upon my heart
Upon looking at her;
That I might bewail my evils all,
Though it were difficult to compute them;
That I might bless the Lord
Who conserves all
Heaven with its countless bright orders,
Land, strand and flood;
That I might search the books all,
That would be good for my soul
At times kneeling to beloved Heaven-
At times psalm singing;
At times contemplating the King of Heaven
Holy the chief;
At times at work without compulsion
This would be delightful.
At times plucking duilisc from the rocks
At times at fishing;
At times giving food to the poor;
At times in a carcair:
The best advice in the presence of God
To me has been vouchsafed.
The King whose servant I
Both poems are taken from the book Lyra Celtica, c. 1894
Columcille fecit. – Latin for: Columcille is ‘dove of the church’ and fecit is ‘he made.’
Cul ri Erin : In 563, Columba, accompanied by twelve followers, sailed from Derry in a frail coracle of wicker and hides. After visiting his kinsmen in the Scottish Dalriada, he continued his journey northwards. According to tradition, he landed first on Oronsay, but, on discovering that his fatherland was still in sight, he re-embarked, and set his prow for Iona. On the hill a little westward of Port na Curaich, the Bay of the Coracle, where Columba landed, is a small cairn, called Carn Cul ri Eirinn, the Cairn of-the-back-to-Erin. Here, it is said, Columba scanned the southern horizon, and, satisfied that his beloved land was out of sight, buried the coracle on the beach, and entered into possession. Taken from Iona: A History of the Island. https://electricscotland.com/history/iona/chapter04.htm
Duilisc : dulse, (Palmaria palmata) is a great seaweed to begin with when you’re just starting to learn forage. It has a distinctive maroon red colour and has been likened to a collection of gloves. https://www.superfolk.com/stories/2019/5/16/guide-to-seaweed-foraging#:~:text=Dillisk
Audio by David Davidson. Click here to see David’s poems: https://www.redthreadpoets.com/category/100-poets/david-davidson/
See the link below to Anne Hamilton’s book God’s Poetry and her website: