St Colmcilles Monastic Site

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Name St Colmcilles Monastic Site County Donegal Nearest Town Letterkenny Access Road R251 About This ancient monastic site is built inside a hill fort that is said to have been given to St.
Colmcille to build his monastery in.



The remains today consist of a graveyard, the foundations of an early church and a small chapel-like church.
There are also two crosses and a holy well.


A large stone plaque shows details of the pattern stages around the complex.

The upper cross is now unaccessible, because the farmer has erected a fence just outside the graveyard that blocks the way to it.

There is a good sized car park that makes a great place to stop for lunch and enjoy the views across the valley below.

Saint Columba (7 December 521 9 June 597), better known as Colmcille and sometimes referred to as Columba of Iona, or, in was an outstanding figure among the Gaelic Missionary monks who, some of his advocates claim, introduced Christanity to the Kingdom of Picts during the early Medieval period.


He was one of the Twelve apostles of Ireland. He was born to Fedlimid and Eithne of the Cenel Conaill in Gartan, near Lough Gartan, County Donegal.



On his father’s side he was great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish High King of the 5th century. As the spread of the new Christian faith continued, the study of Latin learning and Christian theology in monasteries flourished.


Columba became a pupil at the monastic school at Clonard Abbey, County Meath.
He became a monk and was ordained as a priest.



Tradition asserts that, sometime around 560, he became involved in a quarrel with Saint Finnian of Moville over a psalter.
The dispute eventually led to the pitched Battle of Clonard Dreimhne in 561, during which many men were killed.

A synod of clerics and scholars threatened to excommunicate him for these deaths, but St.
Brendan of Birr spoke on his behalf with the result that he was allowed to go into exile instead.


Columba suggested that he would work as a missionary in Scotland to help convert as many people as had been killed in the battle.
He exiled himself from Ireland, to return only once again, several years later.



Later in 563 he travelled to Scotland with twelve companions, where according to his legend he first landed at the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula, near Southend.
However, being still in sight of his native land he moved further north up the west cast of Scotland. In 563 he was granted land on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland which became the centre of his evangelising mission to the Picts. However, there is a sense in which he was not leaving his native people, as the Irish Gaels had been colonizing the west coast of Scotland for the previous couple of centuries.



Aside from the services he provided guiding the only centre of literacy in the region, his reputation as a holy man led to his role as a diplomat among the tribes; there are also many stories of miracles which he performed during his work to convert the Picts.

He visited the pagan king Briedei, king of Fortriu, at his base in Inverness, winning the king’s respect.



He subsequently played a major role in the politics of the country.
He was also very energetic in his evangelical work, and, in addition to founding several churches in the Hebrideas, he worked to turn his monastery at Iona into a school for missionaries.


He was a renowned man of letters, having written several hymns and being credited with having transcribed 300 books.

One of the few, if not the only, times he left Scotland after his arrival was toward the end of his life, when he returned to Ireland to found the monastery at Durrow.

He died on Iona and was buried in the abbey he created.

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