Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 11


As to Columcille, when he had taken his leave of the assembly he proceeded to Duibheaglais, in Inis Eoghan, and on the next night, after nightfall, a brilliant flame of fire came upon the guards at the convention, who kept the cell in which Aodh had Scannlan Mor confined, bound by twelve iron chains, so that the guards put their faces to the ground because of the greatness of the blaze which they saw. And a bright dazzling flame came to Scannlan in the place where he was, and a voice in the flame said to him, ‘Arise, O Scannlan, and quit thy chains and thy cell, and come forth and follow me, and place thy hand in mine.’ After this Scannlan came forth with the angel in front of him. His guards observed him, and asked who was there. ‘Scannlan,’ said the angel. ‘If it were he, he would not tell,’ said they. Thereafter the angel and Scannlan went after Columcille; and when Colum was at matins, as he was passing through the sanctuary railing it was Scannlan who was taking off his shoes; and Columcille asked who


was there, and he replied that he was Scannlan. When Columcille asked news of him, he answered ‘a drink,’ so great was his thirst, for it was salted meat they gave him in the cell, with no drink after. From the frequency with which he gave that answer to Columcille, the latter left an impediment in speech on every king of his progeny who should rule in Osruighe. Now Columcille directed Baoithin to give three drinks to Scannlan, and then Scannlan told his story to Colum, as we have said above. Columcille directed Scannlan to proceed to Osruighe. ‘I cannot,’ said Scannlan, ‘through fear of Aodh.’ ‘Thou needest have no fear,’ said Colum; ‘take my staff with thee as a protection, and leave it with my community at Durmhagh, in Osruighe.’ Upon this Scannlan proceeded to Osruighe, and ruled over his own country during his life; because fear of Columcille prevented Aodh from troubling him thereafter.

In return for his liberation in this manner, Scannlan imposed a yearly tax of a screaball, or threepence, on every household in his country from Bladhma to the sea, to be paid to the community of Columcille at Durmhagh, in Osruighe, as we read in the Amhra Choluim Chille, which quotes the promise which Scannlan made to Colum:

    1. Thy share of my lands, of my house,
      Be they numerous as rushes or herbs,
      It is screaball from each house,
      The portion from Bladhma to the sea.

Columcille, moreover, gave his blessing to all the Ossorians on condition that they and their king should be obedient to himself and to his community at Durmhagh in succeeding times as regards the payment of the tax which Scannlan imposed on themselves and on their posterity, as we read in the Amhra:

    1. A blessing from me on the Ossorians,
      On their pure-handedness and wisdom;
      A blessing on sea and on land
      From me, because of their kings submission to me.


Criomhthann was the baptismal name of the Columcille we are treating of here, and Axal was the name of his guardian angel, and Demal was the name of the demon that specially troubled him, as we read in the Amhra. Thus it speaks:

    1. Criomhthann Ua Cuinn, fair consummation,
      Was the baptismal name of Columcille;
      Axal the name of his angel, without fault,
      And Demal his demon.

Now Columcille clung to him as a name, because when he was a child under instruction at Dubhghlaise, in Tir Luighdheach, in Cineal Conaill, he was permitted to go out into the village one day each week to play with his equals in age as a privilege, as he was of the royal blood. And as he was wont to go out thus a day in each week, the children of the district used to assemble to meet him on the day on which he was wont to go out, and, being together waiting for him, when they beheld him coming towards them from the monastery, they used to lift their hands for joy, and say with one voice, ‘Here comes the Colum or dove of the Church,’ and when the teacher heard that the children were in the habit of calling him Columcille he deemed it to be God's will that he should be always called by that name which was in the mouths of the innocent children, and that his baptismal name, to wit, Criomhthann, should lapse. And a change of name of this kind has often been the lot of the saints, witness the case of Mochuda, who was first called Carrthach, and of St. Caomhan, a disciple of Patrick, who was first called Mac Neise, and of Patrick himself, whose baptismal name was Sochet, and whom Germanus called Magonius, when he imposed hands on him, and whom Pope Coelestinus called Patrick on the occasion of his sending him to Ireland to propagate the Faith, and that of Fionnbharr, of Cork, whose baptismal name was Luan, and of the bishop of Iobhar, whose name was Loichead, and who lived


and blessed in Beigeirinn, in the lower part of Leinster, and of St. Connlaoch, bishop of Cill Dara, whose first name was Roincheann, and of Moling, whose first name was Dairchill, and similarly of many others like them; so that it cannot be doubted that Criomhthann was the baptismal name of Columcille, notwithstanding that Columcille clung to him as his common name for the above reason.

Know, O reader, that Columcille was a genuine Irishman on his father's and mother's side, and not an Albanian, as some Albanians say. For it is evident that he was Irish on his father's side, as we read in the history of the saints of Ireland that Feidhlimidh, son of Fearghus Ceannfhoda, son of Conall Gulban, son of Niall Naoighiallach, who was high king of Ireland, was father to Columcille. Here is the seanchas statement of this, as we read in the poem which begins: The sacred history of the saints of Inis Fail:

    1. Columcille, of the land of Conn,
      Son of Feidhlimidh, over every tribe,
      Son of Fearghus, of the fierce action,
      Son of the very noble Conall Gulban.

It is also certain that Columcille was Irish on his mother's side, according to the account given in the Amhra, where it states that Eithne, daughter of Dioma, son of Naoi, of the race of Cairbre Nia Fear, king of Leinster, was his mother. Thus speaks the Amhra:

    1. Eithne, who is mighty,
      The queen out of the Dal Cairbre,
      Mother of Colum, who was thence pious,
      Was daughter of Dioma, son of Noe.

Columcille mortified his body by fasting and prayer and prostration to such a degree that he grew so emaciated through pious austerity that when he lay in the sand in his cell as the wind rushed in through the roof his ribs were distinguishable through his habit, as the Amhra says in this stanza:


    1. Plain he used to lie on the sand,
      In his bed was great suffering;
      The form of his ribs through his dress
      Was distinct as the winds blew.

Columcille's age when he died was seventy-seven years, as Dallan Forgaill says in Amhra Choluim Chille itself, which was written by Dallan soon after the death of Columcille:

    1. While Colum was in the fair world
      His body laboured beneath the yoke,
      He went to angels out of his body
      After seven and seventy years,
namely, forty-three years of his life he spent in Ireland, and after that thirty-four years in Alba, as the Amhra says in this stanza:
    1. He was three years and forty of them
      In Ireland, without anxiety,
      Four and thirty strong years
      In Alba after Erin.

The three places in which Columcille used to dwell are in I in Alba, in Derry, in Dun da Leathghlas where he was buried, as he says himself in this stanza, in which he reveals his love for these three places:

    1. My happiness in I, without fault,
      And my soul in Derry.
      And my body beneath the stone
      Under which are Patrick and Brighid.

When Columcille said Mass or sang psalms or preached, his voice was heard at a distance of a mile and a-half, and a demon could not endure his voice, but fled before it, as the Amhra says in this stanza:

    1. The sound of his voice, of Columcille's,
      High its melody above every company;
      As far as fifteen hundred paces,
      Mighty courses, was it distinct.


There was a priest in Tir Chonail in the time of Columcille who built or erected a church of precious stones, and he made an altar of glass therein, and he had images of the sun and moon set up in the church. Soon afterwards this priest fell into a deep swoon, after which a demon came to him and took him with him into the air. And when they came near Columcille overhead, he caught sight of them and made the sign of the cross above him in the air, and thereupon the priest fell down. And for that reason the priest made an offering of the church he had built to Columcille on account of his having rescued him from the hands of the demon, and he joined an order of monks himself, and led a good life thenceforward.

There was a saint in Ui Faircheallaigh, in Osruighe, called Coisfhionn, and Columcille went on a certain occasion to see him in the hope that he might let him see his books, for he was a very learned man and had many books. And he refused to let Columcille see them. And Columcille prayed God to grant that no person alive might be able to read any one of these books; and from that time not a word of them could be read, and they decayed.

Baoithin saw in a vision three chairs in heaven, namely, a chair of gold a chair of silver, and a chair of glass; and Columcille explained to him that the chair of gold was for Ciaran mac an tSaoir for his great hospitality to guests, ‘and the chair of silver is for thyself, O Baoithin, for the purity of thy piety; but the chair of glass is for me, for though my piety be pure, I am often frail and worldly.’

The following are the four rules of Ireland, to wit, the rule made by Patrick forbidding the killing of clerics; the rule of Adhamnan forbidding the killing of women; the rule of Doire Choluim Chille, forbidding the killing of milch cows; and the rule of Sunday forbidding a journey on that day.