The Legendary Colm Cille

The Church in Straid, is dedicated to Colm Cille (anglicised as Columba, Columcille or Columbkille 521-597 A.D), probably since the thirteenth century when parishes were first formed. This legendary Donegal man of royal lineage founded monasteries in Ireland and Scotland, the most famous on the island of Iona in the Hebrides. His life and work were recorded in Latin a hundred years after his death by Adhamhnán ( Eunan), Abbot of Iona (679-704) and in Irish almost a thousand years after his death by his kinsman Mánus Ó Dónaill, chieftain of Donegal. Vita Columbae and Beatha Cholm Cille respectively give much information about his early life in Ireland and his departure in 563 A.D. as a missionary to Scotland.

Folk memories of Colm Cille

Colm Cille’s biographers document more than the historical facts. Adhamhnán also deals with the saint’s miracles, his prophecies and his visions while Mánus Ó Dónaill highlights the rich oral tradition that was alive in sixteenth century Donegal and is still to the present day. His collection of stories and legends illustrate their affection and their pride in the many places in the county associated with him – Gartan, Glencolmkille, Tory Island, and also Derry. They named churches, holy wells etc. after him and composed numerous stories to broadcast his wisdom or explain phenomena in the landscape that they did not understand. Here in Clonmany parish, a stone with cup-marks in the Straid graveyard is said to bear the track of Colm Cille’s knees, and a holy well on the seashore at Binnion is also called after him.

How Colm Cille chose Straid, and not Binnion, for his Church.

Colm Cille was going to build a church in Binnion. His men cleared the site and started work after they assembled stones, lime mortar and timber. When they returned next morning the previous day’s work was found to have been knocked down. They built it up again but the same thing had happened the following morning. When it happened a third time Colm Cille told the men to stop because he saw that something was amiss. He looked around and spotted a white dove or pigeon on the heap of stones lifting three grains of stones in its beak and off he flew. The pigeon soon returned, landed on the heap of mortar, lifted three grains and off he went again. When he came back a third time he lifted three sticks from the heap of timber and again flew away. Colm Cille found this very strange so he followed the pigeon. He found it there on the height where the Old Church is today with the grains of stone, the mortar and the sticks beside it. Colm Cille then announced that this was the place where the Church would be built.

Scéal fán Teampall ar an tSráid (translated above) from the Schools Folklore Collection 1937-38 written by Mary Devlin, Dresden, a sixth class pupil at Gaddyduff Girls N.S. was collected from Caitlín Ní Shearcaigh , Tullagh, one of the last native speakers in Clonmany parish. Caitlín’s sister Peggy told the same story to Cosslett Ó Cuinn, a Protestant Minister, who collected the last remnants of Irish in Inishowen in the 1930s. It was published by Coiscéim in Scian a Chaitheadh le Toinn,and edited by Aodh Ó Canainn and Seosamh Watson.