Missionary Outreach in Britain
Colmcille’s departure at Iona
He left Ireland and sailed to the island of iona in 563. Adomnan in his life of colmcille dated this departure in the context of the Battle of Cul Dreimne, saying it was two years after the battle that Colmcille left Ireland, “planning to become an exile for Christ”. Adomnan is implying that the decision to leave Ireland was a voluntary on the part of Colmcille, and that his motive was to be an exile for the love of Christ.
Adomnan places the departure within the context of Cul dreimne, this gives the assumption that he was somehow involved in the battle. It is this involvement that may have had something to do with his departure from Ireland. Three theories abound to what that involvement may have been:
Columba in his eagerness to gain scriptural knowledge is said to have copied, without gaining permission from its owner of Finnain, a manuscript of the Psalter and Gospels which Finnain is said to have brought from Rome. Finnian claiming copyright on the document is said to have angrily demanded the copy made my Colmcille. Colmcille refused his request and an appeal was made to king Diarmuit at Tara. Diarmuit in keeping with the Brehon law, gave a verdict following the maxim, “to every cow belongs her calf, to every book its copy.”
Colmcille, allegedly incensed by the king’s decision, roused his clansmen, the northern Ui Neill, against Diarmuit and the southern Ui Neill. The battle took place at Cul Dreimne near Sligo and the northern Ui Neill was victorious, It is said that thereafter Molaise, the anamachara of Colmcille, assigned him the penance of expulsion from Ireland to convert as many souls to Christ as were lost in battle. Skene disputes the truth of the story claiming it to be inconsistent with the tradition, supported by Adomnan that there was huge affection between Colmcille and Finnian. However, Adomnan does say that Colmcille has been blameworthy “for some venial and quite excusable causes,” albeit that he doesn’t specifically mention this incident. Finlay is sure that Adomnan omits something here which was not to his liking.
Tradition suggests that this copy may well have been the Cathach attributed to the pen of Colmcille. Close studies of the text, surviving with half of its pages lost, leave open the possibility that the Cathach was written by Colmcille.
A second account, mentioned in the Annals of Tigernach, shows Colmcille’s involvement to be more politically motivated. Curnan had caused the death of his competitor at the games at Tara and had fled to Colmcille for protection and sanctuary. He was subsequently snatched and slain by Diamuit. Colmcille then found himself as Curnan’s protector – duty bound to avenge his death – and so rose up the force of his clan against Diarmuit.
A third possible reason for Colmcille’s involvement in the battle suggests that Colmcille was angered by the still-present pagan traditions observed…