Missionary Outreach in Britain
1.Significance of ColmCille: According to Chadwick, “the greatest saint of the Celtic Church.”
Member of the Cenel Conaill and groomed for a political career. Very aware of his pagan roots and traditions. Singled out by Finnian and ordained a priest. Hagiography written by Adomnan. Left Ireland at 42. in 563, to go to Iona. (Colmcille at a glance pp 155-156)
Departue for Iona- It is Adomnan’s dating of Columba’s departure for Iona as two years after the battle of Cul Dreimhne which has led scholars to assume a connection between the two. Three theories are popular.
Columba illegally copied a book belonging to Finnian and when Diarmuit, king of the Southern O’Neill ruled against him he waged war on him.
Columba was the protector of Curnan who was killed by Diarmuit and Columba felt honour bound to avenge him.
Angered by the continuance of pagan practices at Tara, Diarmuit’s royal seat, Columba waged war to eradicate them.
The Annals of Ulster claim that victory in the battle was achieved through Colmcille’s prayers and Simpson and Finlay are convinced that he had some guilty associations with it.
Adomnan tells us that Columba was excommunicated after the battle but the decision was reversed at Teltown. It is said that his anamcara, Molaise, ordered him to leave but two years is a long delay for exile and Adomnan says he left “for the love of Christ”.
There is no definitive evidence either way and as McNeill and Skene suggest Columba may simply have followed the natural missionary path of exile.
2.The Mission of Columba: Prior to his departure the Dal Riata in Scotland had been defeated by the Picts. Iona was placed between the territories of the Irish Dal Riata and the Scottish sect and Colmcille may have seen an opportunity to negotiate a peace. One of his first moves was to journey to Bruide, king of the Picts Which Finlay describes as potentially “suicidal”. However Columba’s status and political skill seem to have served him well as Adomnan describes the visit as a success. Adomnan doesn’t claim he converted Bruide but Bede does. At any rate his tenure of Iona and his right to preach was secured and according to Skene and others relations between the Picts and the Dal Riata improved.
Extent of his mission- It is not clear how much missionary work Columba did beyond the frontiers of the Dal Riata and Adomnan does not provide definitive information.
Simpson doesn’t believe he preached among the Picts and argues that others like Ninnian had been…