Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Donegal's saint, Colmcille (or Columba) has left his mark on many places around the county.  He was born at Gartan in 521 AD, christened at nearby Temple Douglas and had his first education at Kilmacrennan.  (As an aside to this blog post, it makes me wonder why then the film being made about his life is not to have even one scene filmed here?  Norman Stone and Jeremy Irons please take note!).

Painting of St. Colmcille from St. Eunan's Cathedral, Letterkenny
I have a fascination with Colmcille.  His life was so interesting and he was so talented and clever that it is hard not to be fascinated by him.  I have visited all the sites in Donegal connected in any way with St. Colmcille, from all of the obvious ones (Gartan and Temple Douglas) and the more obscure, for instance a large Colmcille cross in a derelict church near Falcaragh, and of course, the beautiful and rugged Tory Island to where Colmcille brought Christianity.

I went back yesterday evening to the place Colmcille had his early education at Kilmacrennan.  Just a couple of minutes outside the little village of Kilmacrennan there is a path that takes you to a place steeped in history.  Colmcille was educated in the area around 528 AD by his teacher, Cruthnechan, and he later founded a monastery there (6th c-1129), a Franciscan friary was built there (1537-1610) and one of the walls remain to this day, the O'Donnell chieftans had their religious rites of inauguration here (1200-1603), and the ruins of the old Church of Ireland of Kilmacrennan (1622-1845) are still there.

The path between the Franciscan friary ruins and Church of Ireland ruins
My mission was mostly in connection with St. Colmcille and wandering along the little path between the ruins of the Franciscan friary and the old Church of Ireland ruins it felt strange to think that Comcille as a child and later as an adult probably walked along this very ground.

The river Lennon where it rises at Gartan Lake
The river Lennon, which runs through Kilmacrennan, rises at Gartan Lake and for the first time it struck me that perhaps Cruthneachan (Colmcille's first teacher) and the young Colmcille had travelled between Gartan and Kilmacrennan in a currach rather than on foot?

Franciscan friary ruins, Kilmacrennan
In the grounds of the friary ruins there are many graves, some ancient and some marking the final resting place of more recently deceased locals.  The graveyard meananders along for a little distance and then seems to disappear.  Walking to the end of the graveyard I saw that it didn't actually disappear, or end where I thought it did but rather it dropped down a steep slope with even more graves.  It is so steep that I wonder how on earth they manage to get coffins down the slope at all.  But they do and have as there are quite a few graves, again both ancient and modern, there.

The steeply sloped graveyard at the Franciscan friary, Kilmacrennan
I (very) carefully walked down the steep slope, between the graves to the old stone wall at the bottom of it.  Looking out over the wall with nothing but countryside and sheep to be seen, I thought that the landscape was probably more or less (other than for a few fences) what Colmcille would have looked at nearly fifteen hundred years before.

The view which St. Colmcille probably saw nearly 1,500 years ago
It was quite awe inspiring to think this.  And also how perfect that there are still places uncluttered by modernity?  I paused here for a while, thinking of the boy that was St. Colmcille and how happy he was at this place.  He wrote of it later:

'Half of my name from the church,
This I cannot deny.
Kilmacrennan my holy rest,
Leave it willingly not I.'

(The reference to his name ~ "Half of my name from the church" is the "cill" in Colmcille, the gaelic (Irish) for Kilmacrennan being Cill Mhic nÉanáin).

The warm spring evening and my thoughts of the early life of St. Comcille caused such a peace to descend around me.  I happened to glance down and there at the base of the old stone wall, at my feet, were a little crop forget-me-nots.  If I were a more fanciful person, it would have felt almost like St. Colmcille had somehow read my thoughts and placed them there just to let me know ... okay, I admit, I am a more fanciful person and I did think exactly that!

Forget-me-nots at Kilmacrennan
FOOTNOTE: For those interested in reading more about the life of this fascinating saint, I am working on adding a lot more about his life on our WeLoveDonegal website.


  1. Excellent photography!! Thanks for sharing!

    I learned about this from Irish Emigrant Forums:


    thanks for drawing our attention to it