Stories and illustrations of Colmcille’s life and legacy. Artwork by the Nerve Centre as a part of a Colmcille Exhibition for Derry City and Strabane District Council & Donegal County Council.
520/521 AD. Giving birth to Colmcille, Eithne’s blood spills onto the ground. From now on the clay from that spot is as white and fine as flour. It is believed that anybody who eats it or carries it with them will never be burned or drowned. Only someone from Gartan can dig and distribute it. Today that is the Friel family, said to be descendants of Colmcille’s brother.
THE SAINT AND THE HOLY WELL
While Colmcille is in Derry, a child is brought to him to be baptised but there is no water to be found. Colmcille makes the sign of the cross over a stone and water flows from it.
Today, each June 9, a priest leads a procession down the hill from the Long Tower Church to St Columb’s Well, the stone from which water flowed, before blessing the well and asking for protection for the followers of St Columba. Water from this well, decorated with oak leaves, is said to cure diseases of the eye.
COLMCILLE AND THE DEMONS
After St Patrick banished the evil spirits from Croagh Patrick, they fled to Glencolmcille which they filled with a deep mist. Much later, when Colmcille arrives to banish these angry demons, the devil throws a spear at his party, killing his servant an Chearc. Enraged, Colmcille hurls the spear and his holy bell back into the valley. He banishes the demons to the sea, where they became red fish, blind, harmless and inedible.
ROCK OF THE HOUND
The king of Tory Island, Oilill, will not allow Colmcille land to build his monastery but agrees when Colmcille asks him for just the land his cloak covers. But when Colmcille opens it up his miraculous cloak spreads out over the whole island. Furious at this trickery, Oilill orders his dog to attack the saint but at the sign of the cross the dog leaps into the sea to his death, leaving a footprint on the rock.
MONSTER FROM THE LOUGH
Travel back to a summer’s day, 565 AD. Colmcille needs to cross a huge lough and river in Scotland. As he wades into the water a terrifying beast looms up before him. Making a sign of the cross, Colmcille shouts, ‘You will go no further, go back at once’. The monster flees. The astonished local people ask Colmcille to make them Christians. This is the first sighting of a famous monster. Which one?
COLMCILLE AND THE SLAVE GIRL
Colmcille was always upset when he saw a sad child. One day, when visiting a Scottish druid, he notices a thin little girl with a ghostlike face. When told she is an Irish slave he asks the druid to free her. He refuses. She is only a slave girl, after all. Soon after, the druid becomes ill and sends for Colmcille, who is famous for his healing powers. But Colmcille will not cure him until he frees the girl. At first the druid says no but, as his pain becomes unbearable, he finally relents. The slave girl is released.
TALKING WITH ANGELS
One day Columba tells his monks he is going to the machair (a fertile plain on Iona) and wishes to go alone. One monk, however, follows him and discovers Columba praying with his arms spread out towards heaven. Suddenly he is joined by a host of holy angels, dressed in white, who talk with him before, realising they are being spied on, quickly return to heaven. This story is from the Life of Columba by Adhamhnán of Iona.
THE BATTLE OF DÚN CEITHIRN
The great battle Colmcille predicted is thought to have taken place at what is known today as the Giant’s Sconce. It is 632 AD. From the fortress of Dún Ceithirn the defenders can see past the River Bann to the sea beyond. Desperate cries fill the air as the forces of Congal Caoch, from east Ulster, and Domhnall Mac Aodha, a relative of Colmcille’s and king of Tara, meet in fierce warfare. Domhnall wins, but the cost is terrible.