St Columbkille

St Columbkille bids farewell to Dun Baile. (Fenagh)

St Columbkille now more affectionately know as St Colmcille of columba was a contemporary of St Caillin. They would have visited each often to seek advice and up date themselves on matters spiritual, events and intrigues in Ireland. But his visit to Fenagh on this occasion seems tinged with sadness and regret for St Columcille as a poem ascribed to him shows him bidding good bye to Fenagh. His visit to Fenagh probably was to seek the advice and help of St Caillin following the great battle of Cul dreimhne which took place in Sligo in the shadow of Ben Bulben. A battle with great slaughter that Columcille had some responsibility for.

The famous battle of cul Dreimhne is believed to have been the result of a dispute. Columcille was furious over what he considered to be an unfair judgment made against him by the high king of Ireland Diarmait Mac Cealbhaill. Columcille had made a copy of the book of psalms a book loaned to him by his former teacher St Finnian of Moville Co Down. Finnian ordered Columcille to return both book and copy. This outraged Columcille and he sought a judgment from the high king. In a very famous judgment which astonished Columcille Diarmuit said “Le gach bo a le gach leabhar a leabhran” “TO EVERY COW IT’S CALF AND EVERY BOOK IT’S COPY”

Columcille left Tara, The seat of the high king with a vengeance he consulted his clansmen, The northern ui neill who were traditional rivals of the southern ui neill to which the high king Diarmait belonged. On hearing of Columcille complaint his kinsmen Clnel Chonaill and the Cenel Eoghain along with wich Connacht. The son of the high king of Connacht had being put to death by Diarmuit. The two armies met in Sligo at the foot of Benbulben.

It was the scene of a terrible battle which three thousand men belonging to the high king were killed. It was said the high king a Christian went back to his pagan ways and ordered his druids to summon their pagan gods to gain him victory before the battle commenced. Fraochan his chief druid made a kind of magical circle or druids fence which appeared to have conjured up a magic mist to confuse Columcille side, As a verse to Columcille says.

“O god, wilt thou not drive off the fog which envelopes our number. The host which deprives us of our livelihood?”

All through the battle, Columcille stood praying with his arms extended in the form of a cross at the back of his army. His prayers were answered the high kings army was slaughtered and only one of Columcille side was killed a man who crossed over the airbhi druidh(mist). Columcille got back his copy of his book but he was very distressed at the great slaughter at the battle he decided to punish himself for causing the deaths of so many people. He decided to become an exile as a penance. It was probably at this time that he came to St Caillin his long time friend to seek his counsel and say good bye.

Farewell from me to baile dun (dun baile/Fenagh) A noble saintly place, Where I have found friendship, From The chief elder of Erin,

Dear to me that venerable town, Dear its men in orders, Dear each Stone and tree, Dear its lake and river.

Before leaving his native Donegal, Columcille returned the night before his departure to Gartan where he was born and spent a lonely night lying on leac na cumha (The flagstone of loneliness). People of that area who had to emigrate came here to pray in belief that the pain of exile will thus be easer to bear. It is said that on his sailing from Lough Folye the people were weeping and the birds of the air were wailing with grief. According to tradition, he was leaving for ever never again to see the men and women of Ireland not to set eye’s on Ireland again. Columcille sailed to Iona in Scotland where he founded a Monastery. He did return to Ireland to an important convention of Druim Ceatt in 574 probably near Limavaddy in Derry. It seems this was a great convention of kings and included many of the saintly abbots of Ireland ,including St Caillin of Fenagh very important and far reaching decisions had to be taken such as 1. should the Scottish Dal Riada be subject to the Dal Riada king of Scotland or should their allegiance be to the king of the Northern ui Neill. 2 The Future of the Bards,

It seems the wise old counsel of Columcille was sought. He came back to Ireland blindfolded and with sods of turf tied to his shoes because of his promise never to see Ireland again or to set foot on Irish soil. His counsel prevailed at Drum Ceatt issues involved at the convention were resolved. Columcille died in Iona in597 and was buried there but tradition tells us after his death on Iona his body was Miraculously transferred home to Ireland. Norse raiders sought out his shrine and finding no treasure there cast the coffin out to sea where it floated over to Ireland when his body was discovered by monks on the north east coast, they brought it to Downpatrick and interred it there alongside St Patrick and ST Bridgit. An account has it, that when Columcille coffin came ashore a cow licked it and her milk yield increased greatly. Also when the corpse was brought to Downpatrick, the graves of ST Patrick and ST Bridgit moved apart to allow room for Colmcille to be buried between them so it is in Downpatrick where lie together the mortal remains of 3 of Irelands greatest saints ST Patrick, ST Bridgit and ST Colmcille.

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