1500 years ago, one of Ireland’s most famous sons was born in Gartan, Co. Donegal. With strong roots in the North West of Ireland, Colmcille (or St. Columba) went on to blaze a trail of cultural and social change around the world. He became one of Ireland’s three patron saints, the patron saint of Derry and his influence extends to this day. You can get to know more about the man by scrolling through the historical timeline below.

Donegal County Council and Derry City & Strabane District Council came together, with support from the North West Development Fund, to commemorate Colmcille’s remarkable life and legacy. Celebrations took place from 7th December 2020 to 7th December 2021, with some activities extending into 2022, and with Colmcille’s legacy brought to life through music, spirituality, heritage, literature, language, drama and art. This website provides some highlights and resources of the year including:

  • A short souvenir bookletA Year in Highlights’
  • A short highlights video which incorporates beautiful drone footage from Gartan, Gleann Cholm Cille and Derry
  • A list of all events that took place for Colmcille 1500 (local, regional and national partners)
  • Online or legacy resources that were created for Colmcille 1500
  • A map of key places in Ireland and Scotland linked to Colmcille.

History of Colmcille

Born into Irish royalty, Colmcille may always have been destined to do great things. The Cenél Conaill clan of the Uí Néill dynasty welcomed him into their family on 7th December 520 or 521 AD in Gartan, Co. Donegal. His father was Feidhlimid, a highly respected Tir Conaill chief, while his mother Eithne was a princess descended from aristocratic circles in Leinster. The legendary and fierce pagan king, Niall of the Nine Hostages, is said to be Colmcille’s great-great grandfather – he is arguably most famous for capturing a young slave in Wales and bringing him to Ireland, with that slave turning out to be none other than St. Patrick. Despite his illustrious family and having a legitimate claim, Colmcille had no intention of taking up the Uí Néill throne.
The most affluent at that time traditionally gave their children to foster parents to be educated and Columba was no different. He was taken in by a priest called Cruithnechán, the same man who baptised him and who then provided the youngster’s first taste of religious education, although he had previously been training in the poetic arts as a bard. He found his calling, however, when it came to Christianity and was educated firstly in Kilmacrennan, and later under Finnian of Movilla and Finnian of Clonard. Coincidentally, he also studied alongside others who would go on to become saints - most notably Kenneth and Comgall - and in 551 he was finally ordained as a priest.
Founding of Derry monastery
Colmcille is said to have planted the first seeds along the River Foyle’s west bank which led to the eventual sprouting of the modern-day City of Derry. A community grew in the area after Colmcille built a monastery in 545 which attracted many settlers given the cultural significance of the religious institution. The location was originally called Daire Calgaich which translates as ‘oakwood of Calgaich’ but it later became known as Doire Colmcille, meaning ‘oakwood of Colmcille’, a testament to the high regard Columba was held in. Derry and the North West continue to honour Colmcille to this day – in fact, he is so highly thought of that in recent times an enormous statue of the man was proposed to be built on the bed of the River Foyle, not unlike the iconic Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
Tory Island & Glencolmcille
Following the founding of Derry’s monastery, Colmcille is estimated to have established between 55 and 66 Christian sites throughout Ireland. These include monasteries in Drumcliffe, Kells and Durrow, but there were also several in County Donegal such as Raphoe, Kilmacrennan and Drumhome. Of special significance however are Glencolmcille, where he is said to have resided for two years, and Tory Island, where upon landing he was met with the pagan king Oilill. Oilill allowed Colmcille to build his monastery on a piece of land the same size as his cloak, but the cloak miraculously spread over the entire island. Angered, the king set his dog on the visitor but Colmcille made the sign of the cross, and the dog leapt into the sea to its death but left its footprints on a rock, which has been immortalised as the ‘Rock of the Hound.’
The Battle of CÚL Dreimhne
Colmcille became embroiled in an infamous scandal when Finnian of Movilla returned from Rome with a text entitled “Vulgate” which Colmcille wanted to copy. Finnian, however, refused to give him permission, but he copied it anyway, leading to a dispute that went to court and to Diarmuid, High King of Ireland. Diarmuid ruled in Finnian’s favour, declaring the immortal words: “To every cow its calf, to every book its copy.” Colmcille did not take the verdict well, and his sense of injustice led to him enlisting the Uí Néill clan’s help, which culminated in the violent Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in Sligo in 561. Over 3,000 men died fighting as Colmcille claimed victory over Diarmuid, allowing him to keep his copy (The Cathach). The bloodshed caused outrage among the church’s hierarchy, and Colmcille was banished from Ireland.
Settling in Iona
Upon his banishment, Colmcille set sail across the Irish Sea for Dál Riata in Scotland in 563 alongside 12 companions. He was a man who had friends in high places - probably helped by his royal lineage – so he reached out to his cousin, the Scottish Gaelic king Conall mac Comgall, who gifted him the island of Iona shortly after their arrival. It was here that Colmcille built his most famous monastery which went on to become one of the most renowned cultural and religious powerhouses in Britain and Ireland and was the catalyst for converting much of pagan Scotland, northern England and even parts of Europe to Christianity. Iona’s significance remained long after Colmcille’s death with the island’s monks creating numerous manuscripts, including the exceptional Book of Kells which is around 1200 years old.
Mythical encounter with the Loch Ness Monster
It is said that Colmcille was the first to happen upon the fabled Loch Ness monster in 565, three years after moving to Scotland. While he was traversing the Highlands on his mission to spread Christ’s word, the beast is said to have risen from the loch’s depths and hurtled towards Lugne, one of Colmcille’s disciples. Upon seeing the monster, Colmcille is said to have performed a miracle, telling it to “go back with all speed” in the name of God. The infamous figure immediately descended back from whence it came, sparing the life of Lugne. This legendary account comes from the writings of Adomnán, who documented Colmcille’s life over a century after his death.
The Convention of Drum Ceat
Colmcille returned to his Irish homeland for the legendary Convention of Drum Ceat in 578. Limavady was the location for this royal gathering of nobility involving Áedán mac Gabráin, King of Dál Riata and the Irish Cenél Conaill king Áed mac Ainmerech. Colmcille is said to have been the brains behind the occasion, devising a plot against their common enemy Báetán mac Cairill, the king of East Ulster. The convention’s main aim was probably to display ‘strength in numbers’ and all parties realised an alliance would be to their benefit. It is said that Colmcille attached sods of Scottish soil to his shoes as he didn’t want to stand on Irish turf, while he also launched a stark defence of the bards who were coming under fire for their ‘twisted words.’
Death & Legacy
Following an eventful and dramatic life, Colmcille most likely died on the 9th of June, 597 aged in his mid-seventies. Despite being buried by his loyal followers on Iona, some of his relics now lie in Downpatrick, Co. Down alongside illustrious company – his fellow Irish patron saints St. Patrick and St. Brigid. Colmcille’s legacy endures to this day – 1,500 years later, St. Columb’s Park in Derry, Glencolmcille in Donegal and St. Columba’s Parish in Edinburgh are just some of the hundreds of places worldwide that bear his name in tribute to his achievements.

See a list of Colmcille 1500 events and links to online events hosted during the 1500th anniversary.

Online resources and useful links.

See Press releases from Colmcille 1500.

Find out about the projects awarded funding through the Colmcille 1500 Grant Scheme.

Stories and illustrations of Colmcille’s life and legacy.


The Gallery section also includes links to Instagram posts and you can find a table of historical and background information used for social media here.


We’ve had about 30 returns for our survey and would love to see more! If you haven’t had a chance to complete it yet, it would be great to have your feedback.

Click on the link above to tell us what you thought in terms of Colmcille 1500 events, online content, marketing and legacy. The survey is related to any/all aspects of the wider Colmcille 1500 programme (i.e. organised across local, regional and national partners). It should take only a few minutes and all answers are anonymous.


Did you attend any events, participate or follow the Colmcille 1500 programme in any way? We would love to get your feedback on your experience of the year. Click on the link above to tell us what you thought in terms of events, online content, marketing and legacy. The survey is related to any/all aspects of the wider Colmcille 1500 programme (i.e. organised across local, regional and national partners). It should take only a few minutes and all answers are anonymous.

#colmcille1500 @donegalcountycouncil @dcsdcouncil

Did you know that 15th August was one of the traditional days to visit a St Colmcille Holy Well or is part of a traditional ‘Turas’ (journey or pilgrimage) period running from the saint’s Feast Day on 9th June?

In Gleann Cholm Cille (Glencolmcille), the ‘Turas Cholm Cille’ is performed between 9th June and 15th August each year and is 4.8km long, taking about three hours to complete. Pilgrims visit 15 stations and perform specific prayers and rituals at each. You can take a virtual tour of the Turas at and see 3D models of the stations/ancient monuments at

Image credit: Oideas Gael

#colmcille #colmcille1500 #columba


Did you know that Glebe House, located near Colmcille’s birthplace, was originally known as St Columb’s? It was built in 1828 as the rectory to St Columba’s (Church of Ireland), Churchill, in the Parish of Gartan. It was later sold and opened as St Columb’s Hotel in 1898, running as a hotel until the 1950s when it was bought by landscape and portrait painter Derek Hill. In 1981, Hill donated St Columb’s, and his private art collection there to the Irish state and his former studio was converted to a gallery. Tours of the house are available and you can see an eclectic mix of works on display ranging from Pablo Picasso to Edgar Degas as well as Irish artists James Dixon, Jack Butler Yeats and Louis le Brocquy. You can find further information at

#colmcille #colmcille1500 #columba #GlebeHouse&Gallery

Monday 27th June 2022 at 2.30pm | Colmcille Heritage Centre, Gartan, County Donegal

An informal event to mark the end of the Colmcille 1500 programme being jointly delivered by Donegal County Council and Derry City & Strabane District Council is being held in Colmcille’s birthplace on 27th June. We will launch a short souvenir publication and Dr. Brian Lacey will join us to share some reflections of the past year as a very fitting wrapping up of the programme. Places are limited so booking is essential. If you are interesting in attending please RSVP by Wednesday 22nd June by emailing

#colmcille #colmcille1500 #columba


Donegal Heritage Office has produced a colouring book as part of the Colmcille 1500 commemorations which highlights some of the heritage sites, places, objects and archives associated with St. Colmcille’s life and legacy.

For the Feast Day, free copies are being made available from local libraries. You can also pick up a copy from the Donegal County Museum, County Donegal Heritage Office or download a digital version at

Copies have also been distributed to all 23 primary schools named after the Saint across the two Council areas.

#colmcille #colmcille1500 #columba


Happy St. Colmcille/Columba Feast Day! A reminder that you find further details of plans to mark the Feast Day across the North West region at

First up this morning, a special mass in St Eunan’s Cathedral in Letterkenny, celebrated by the Bishop of Raphoe, will be broadcast on the RTÉ News Channel at 10.30am. Whilst this evening, the Bishop of Derry will mark the Feast Day with mass at St. Columba’s Church, Long Tower, at 7.30pm followed by a blessing of St. Columb’s Well in Derry. A special ‘An Turas’ pageant will follow.

Meanwhile, St Augustine’s Church wil celebrate 150 years since it was consecrated on 9th June 1872 with a special Feast Day performance by Opera Hibernia at 7.30pm

#colmcille #colmcille1500 #columba


An tIarthuaisceart le ceilúradh a dhéanamh ar Lá Fhéile Colm Cille agus deireadh ag teacht le himeachtaí ceilúrtha 1500 bliain

Tá pleananna á ndéanamh le ceiliúradh a dhéanamh ar Lá Fhéile Colm Cille le sraith imeachtaí ar siúl ar fud an Iarthuaiscirt Déardaoin 09 Meitheamh.

#colmcille #colmcille1500 #columba


See below for details of events taking place for the Feast Day in Gleann Cholm Cille:
• Turas Colmcille Meán Oíche (Wednesday midnight) Meeting at Church of Ireland, Glencolmcille
• Aifreann as Gaeilge 10 i.n., Teach Phobal Naomh Columba, An Chaiseal, Gleann Cholm Cille. Mass in Irish at St. Columba's Catholic Church, Glencolmcille
• Turas Colmcille 12 noon, Community Led group to do the Turas Colmcille, Glencolmcille. Meeting at St. Columba's Church of Ireland, Glencolmcille.
• An information stand with tea/coffee/refreshments will be at St. Columba's Church of Ireland, Glencolmcille from 11am-4pm.

(083)025 0509

#colmcille #colmcille1500 #columba

An Turas- The Journey: A Celebration of Colmcille
📆 Thursday 9th June 2022 approximately 8.30pm
📍 St. Columb’s Well, Derry

The evening will explore Colmcille’s life and legacy. Featuring dance, theatrical poetry readings, installations and the finest of local traditional musicians, this is an experience not to be missed.

🌐More info:

𝐂𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐒𝐭. 𝐂𝐨𝐥𝐮𝐦𝐛𝐚'𝐬 𝐋𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐌𝐢𝐧𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐲
📆 Sunday 5th June 3pm-4pm
📍 St Colmcille's Abbey, Churchtown/Rath Cnó, Gartan, Co. Donegal

The Church of Ireland, Diocese of Derry & Raphoe, are holding a special event at St. Colmcille's Abbey in Gartan, County Donegal, to mark the Feast Day.

Bishop Andrew Forster (Bishop of Derry and Raphoe) will be speaking at the event at 3.00pm which will include music, prayers as well as children's activities.
Refreshments available afterwards. Everyone is welcome.

English (UK)