Early Christian Inishowen

St. Columba’s Church Straid – Early Christian Inishowen

Rosemarie Doherty

When we think about the site of St. Columba’s Church Straid, Clonmany, we think about the ruins of the Church of Ireland church and the old graveyard, we think of a site that is around 300 years old. What we fail to realise is that the last 300 years is possibly only the most recent phase of a site whose life may have spanned from early Christian times and formed part of an Inishowen-wide monastic complex.

While we have no physical evidence of this at the moment, we do have oral accounts and some early map evidence of early Christian activity in Clonmany Parish and indeed at Straid. Our main oral source was Charles McGlinchey who told us that ‘This parish took its name from a small three cornered piece of ground out beside the old church in Straid‘ and he said that that was most likely the place where the old monastery was. He also remembered the older people talking about the large number of monks that were there and even recalled that ‘the monastery well was in one of the three corners, the one next to the church wall‘. Other sources such as the Ordnance Survey Memoirs make reference to the site at Straid stating ‘it is supposed to be the site of an old monastery founded by Columkill‘. In terms of map evidence, some maps dating from the 1600s mark the site with either a cross or a church and in some instances there is also a castle marked nearby. We at least know from this that there was a well established Christian site at Straid previous to the church we see today.

While the site is today associated with Colmcille, it is not clear whether the sites origins were linked to St. Patrick or to Colmcille. Unfortunately there is little evidence to link the site to either saint. On one hand it is believed that the Maine part of Cluain Maine, may have been a Patrician deacon who founded a monastery in the Parish. While in terms of tradition there is a stone said to have Columcille’s knee prints on it within the graveyard.

Whether the site at Straid was Columban or Patrician, we do know that Clonmany in general was part of the early Christian movement. We also know that Inishowen was in general a hive of activity in the early years of Christianity with monasteries at Carndonagh, Carrowmore, Cloncha, Cooley and possibly many more areas. Unlike the other areas Clonmany does not have a high cross to mark the site of the monastery, however modern technology in the form of geophysics can help identify monastic activity below the ground. It is hoped that during the St. Columba’s Conservation Project, along with the help of the Bernician Studies Group and the Lands of Eoghan, that further investigations will be carried out to locate and give us some further insight into the parish’s early Christian activity.