Organisations across the North West are gearing up for events that will mark the 1500th anniversary of Colmcille’s birth on 7th December. Marking the historic year, Donegal County Council and Derry City & Strabane District Council, are co-ordinating a full line-up for ‘Colmcille 1500,’ to celebrate the anniversary of one of Ireland’s three patron saints.
Whilst the ongoing COVID restrictions may limit the number of physical events that can take place, Colmcille 1500 organisers have worked diligently to ensure that there is plenty happening online, as well as church services and exhibitions that will be open to the public.
Deirdre Harte, Colmcille 1500 Project Manager with Donegal County Council, said:
“We’re excited to deliver such a wide range of events to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of this revered saint who has so many connections to the North West. Colmcille’s influence has spread around the world so it’s appropriate that we mark such a historic anniversary celebrating his life and work.”
Celebrations for Colmcille or Columba, who is also the patron saint of the city of Derry, kick off in earnest on December 6, with ‘Colmcille 1500: A Journey Through Ireland & Scotland.’ The online event will mark Colmcille life’s journey from his homeland in Gartan, Co. Donegal to Derry and onwards to Scotland.
The event will be a mixture of pre-recorded videos from each area as well as live panel discussions and will be chaired by Áine Ní Bhreisleáin of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta – broadcast from the Great Hall at Magee to a global online audience. A panel of esteemed experts discussing the saint’s impact on Irish and Scottish culture will also join the event.
Lots more is planned for the saint’s birthday on Tuesday December 7, including celebrations to be held at a cross-border event in Colmcille’s birthplace in Gartan, Co. Donegal. An Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council, the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, and church leaders will be in attendance.
The celebration will include the premiere of animations created through the Schools Digital Folklore Project – showcasing how St. Colmcille’s legacy has been kept alive by a new generation, using digital animation to capture his life and legacy. This Donegal Library Service project has been delivered in partnership with schools and libraries in Donegal, Derry, Meath, and Sligo. The children’s animations are also being developed into a beautifully illustrated comic, and a Colmcille colouring book will also be launched at the event.
December 7 will also see the unveiling of a new Colmcille sculpture near Kilmacrennan in Donegal, reflecting its strong connection with the Saint, funded by Transport Infrastructure Ireland as part of the N56 Coolboy to Kilmacrennan Road Scheme. Artist Niall Bruton who also created the iconic sculpture of Colmcille located in St Columb’s Park in Derry, has once again been asked to capture the essence of the Saint.
In partnership with Foras na Gaeilge, there will also be a series of images projected onto important sites linked to Colmcille across Ireland and Scotland. The images will be seen in many locations from Colmcille’s birthplace in Gartan to his final resting place in Iona in Scotland – locally people will be able to see them in Guildhall Square in Derry as well as at the Colmcille Heritage Centre and Colmcille’s Abbey in Gartan. As part of ‘Coinneal Cholmcille’ (Columba’s Candle) – the public have been invited to light a candle at 5.21pm to reflect the year of his birth in 521. The projections will also be switched on at 5.21pm and will be in place until 9 p.m. Whilst between 6.30 p.m and 8.30 p.m ‘Light of the Dove’ will see the grounds of the Long Tower in Derry come to life with light installations, dance, poetry, and music to create a walk-through experience themed around hope. The adjacent Aras Cholmcille will also be open.
Throughout December 7, there will also be various church services held to honour the saint. Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown will celebrate Mass in St Columba’s Church Long Tower at 10.00am. Mass will be broadcast on RTÉ News Now at 10:30 a.m. from St Colmcille’s Chapel, Glendowan in Gartan, and there will also be mass held at 7 p.m. at St Columba’s Church Massmount, Fanad, Donegal, that includes an unveiling of a new statue of St. Colmcille. At 7.30pm, there will be a special service of Choral Evensong in St Eunan’s Cathedral, Raphoe with the primate, the Most Reverend John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh, and music by the Choir of St Columb’s Cathedral, Derry.
In addition, there will also be Colmcille-related events happening throughout the day on Tory Island in Donegal. These include a history and folklore tour with Antóin Ó Míonáin, a talk on Colmcille with Dr. Brian Lacey and exhibition of an art piece in honour of the saint by Sarah Lewtas.
Closing out the saint’s birthday on December 7, there will be a drama-documentary broadcast on BBC Alba and TG4 at 8.30 p.m. entitled: ‘Colmcille the Bold Saint/ Colmcille An Naomh Dána’.
Other cultural events will also take place further into the week. For example, on Thursday December 9, there will be an evening of music, film and song exploring Colmcille’s influence on the North West by the Atlantic Orchestra Project at the Colmcille Heritage Centre in Gartan. Friday December 10 will see a book launch and cultural night in Loch Altan Gortahork, Co. Donegal.
Throughout the week, you can also see the exhibition ‘Colmcille – Man & Myths’ at Donegal County Museum and see the permanent light installation at St Augustine’s Church Old Graveyard in Derry.