F. A. (Frances Alice) Forbes.

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Nihil Obstat.
Censor Deputatus

Vic. Gen.

_die 7 Octobris_, 1913.




"The Kingdom of Heaven, O man, requireth no other price than thyself:
the value of it is thyself: give thyself for it and thou shalt have


THOUGH more than 1300 years have gone by since the death of St.
Columba, there are few saints whose memory is so living and so strong.
This is partly due to his vivid and attractive personality, but in a
great measure also to the fact that we have his Biography or Life
written at great length by Adamnan, ninth abbot of Iona, who was born
only twenty-seven years after Columba's death. Adamnan, who was very
young when he entered the community at Iona, could have gathered the
materials for his book from the lips of those who had personally known
the great Apostle of Scotland, and who had been eye-witnesses of the
events recorded. We know that these friends were many, and drawn from
all classes, for Columbcille, above all the men of his time, had the
gift of being loved, and many instances are related of the passionate
devotion of the monks of Iona to their great abbot, no less than that
of the multitudes with whom in his long and busy life he had come in
contact. Adamnan is considered to be a sober and trustworthy author,
and has not exaggerated, as many of the later writers undoubtedly have,
the miraculous element in the life of the Saint.

Carlyle, who cannot be considered as an advocate of the supernatural,
remarks of the Life of St. Columba: "You can see that the man who wrote
it could tell no lie. What he meant you cannot always find out; but it
is clear that he told things as they appeared to him."

There are many interesting relics of Columba still in existence. An
ancient stone chalice which he is said to have used at Mass is still
preserved in Ireland, together with the flagstone which formed the
flooring of Eithne's room the night that he was born. A pathetic custom
exists amongst the poor Irish emigrants of sleeping the night before
they leave their country on this stone, in the hope that he who made
himself an exile from his country for the love of God will by his
prayers make the burden of their sorrow easier to bear. The stone which
he used for so many years as a pillow is still to be seen amongst the
ruins of the cathedral of Iona, which was erected in the twelfth
century near the site of the old abbey church of Columba's building,
while the ruins of St. Oran's chapel near at hand enclose the very spot
where the Saint breathed his last upon the altar steps.

But perhaps the most interesting of all the Columban relics are the
three manuscripts which are said to have been written by the Saint's
own hand. That Columbcille was an indefatigable scribe we know from the
witness of many of his contemporaries, and one of the greatest of
modern authorities (Mr. Westwood) sees no reason for setting aside the
tradition that the "Book of Kells" and the "Book of Durrow" are both
mainly, if not altogether, Columba's work. The "Book of Durrow,"
indeed, bears an inscription stating that it was written by "Columba
the scribe in the space of twelve days," while the "Book of Kells" has
always borne the title of the "Great Gospel of Columbcille." To the
objection that a busy man like Columba would not have had leisure to
execute the exquisitely minute decorations which are the astonishment
of all admirers of Celtic art, it can be urged that many old
manuscripts which still exist in an unfinished condition bear witness
to the fact that it was customary for the initial letters and
ornamental parts of the manuscript to be sketched roughly in, and
finished by another hand. This is especially to be noted in the "Book
of Kells," the decorative work of which is certainly of a later date.
Both the "Book of Durrow" and the "Book of Kells" are to be seen in the
Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

The third manuscript, the famous Psalter which gave Columbcille to
Scotland and which is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy, fell, after
the battle of Cuil Dreimhne, into the hands of the O'Donnells,
Columba's own clan, who treasured it as their most precious possession.
It was called the "Cathach" or "Battler," and if borne into battle by
"one of pure heart and of clean hands" was believed to ensure them the
victory over their enemies. It is the least ornamental of the three,
and bears traces of the haste with which it was executed. The existence
of these pages, written with laborious care by the hand which has long
since mouldered into dust, makes a living link across the centuries
with Columbcille the Beloved, the great Apostle of Scotland.
















FOURTEEN hundred years ago, in the sweet days of autumn, when the woods
of Gartan are clothed in crimson and gold, and the still waters of
Lough Veagh reflect the deep blue of the skies above, Eithne, the wife
of Fedhlimidh, Prince of Tir-Connell, had a strange dream. It seemed to
her that an angel of God stood beside her, bearing in his hands a veil
scattered all over with the Bowers of Paradise, and that, spreading it
out, he bade her admire its beauty. Eithne was a daughter of kings, but
never before had she seen so marvellously fair a web; she stretched out
her hands to grasp it, but even as she touched it, it rose and
fluttered lightly into the air. Over hill, mountain, and lough floated
its shadowy loveliness, till it rested at last on the moors and
mountains of a land that lay far away in the moaning seas. Then Eithne
wept for the loss of the beautiful veil, but the angel comforted her.

"It is but a symbol," he said, "of the son that shall be born to thee
in the days to come. He shall be a prince and a prophet; the world
shall be perfumed by his holiness; and he shall bear the flower of the
faith among the heathen far over land and sea."

When morning came Eithne told her husband of the dream, and the two
took counsel together. That his son should be a great prince in no way
surprised Fedhlimidh. Was not he himself a grandson of the great king
Niall of the Nine Hostages, so called because he had subdued nine Kings
of Ireland to his will and made them his vassals, and was not the
reigning king of all Ireland his near kinsman? No strange thing would
it have been in those turbulent days, when the lives of kings were
short and uncertain, were the son of Fedhlimidh himself to be set on
the throne as High King of Ireland.

But Eithne's dream seemed to point more to a heavenly supremacy than an
earthly; was it an indication of God's will that they should dedicate
their child to Him? They thought it was, and a few months later, when
heaven sent them a fair and beautiful little son, they earnestly prayed
to the Giver of all good gifts that He would take the child, if it
seemed well to Him, for His service.

At Teampall-Douglas, a few miles from Gartan, there lived a holy old
priest called Cruithnechan; to him they took the babe that it might
receive at his hands the holy rites of Baptism. He was given the name
of Columba, a not uncommon name in Ireland at the time, and while yet a
little child was sent back to the saintly Cruithnechan that the old man
might train him in the ways of wisdom and holiness.

In this Columba's parents but followed the custom of the time, for it
was usual for the sons of chiefs to be brought up from their earliest
youth by some great bard, soldier, or priest, according to their
destination in life; and it was the duty of these foster parents to
train their charges in all that had to do with their future profession.

The little Columba was an apt pupil. It was his delight to accompany
his master to the Church, there to listen to the chanting of the Divine
Office; and so keen of ear and quick of memory was the boy that he had
learnt some of the psalms by heart before he could spell them out in
the Psalter - the lesson-book of every young reader of his time.
Cruithnechan himself was unaware of this until one day when he took the
child with him on a visit to a brother priest near Derry. The two
clerics went together to the Church to chant the Divine Office, and
Columba, as was his wont, knelt to pray before the altar.

Now it came to pass that Cruithnechan lost his place, and was in great
distress because he could not find it again. The office came to a
standstill, and the pause would have been a long one had not the boy's
clear treble voice taken up the psalm Where the old man had halted, and
chanted sweetly the alternate verses until the missing place was found.
It was Columba's love of the Church that won for him among his
companions the name by which he became famous in after-days -
"Columb-cille" or "the dove of the Church." He would slip away from
their games whenever he could, but they always knew where to find him.
"He nestles beside the altar like a dove in its nest," they would say.

In spite of the boy's name, however, underneath the strong faith and
love, the true and deep devotion that were always his chief
characteristics, lay a nature that was in no wise dovelike. Loyal,
great-hearted, and compassionate as he undoubtedly was, the blood of
the fierce and haughty Hy-Nialls flowed in his veins. To be quick to
take offence and slow to forgive an injury is a characteristic of the
Celtic race all the world over, and Columba was no exception to the
rule. Long and sharp was to be the struggle before that quick and
imperious nature was wholly conquered by the grace of God, but great
was to be the victory at last.

To Cruithnechan it was evident that the blessing of God rested in no
small degree on the child of his fostering. Returning home one night he
saw his house lit up as it were with a great fire, and fearing for the
safety of his little charge he entered in haste. All was in darkness
within, save over the head of the sleeping child, where there hung a
globe of fire. The old man fell on his knees, not knowing what the
portent might mean; but God reassured him, showing that the light of
His Holy Spirit had been poured out abundantly upon Columba, who was to
labour fruitfully in His service.

It has always been acknowledged by the Celtic races that among the
children of men there are a chosen few who are gifted with the second
sight. Strange instances are given of mortal eyes that have seen the
invisible, and of men and women who have known things that are not to
be discerned by the senses. A little corner of the veil that hides the
spiritual world from the world of sense has been lifted. From the
earliest ages, to those who are exceptionally pure of heart and holy,
this contact with the spiritual world has been given in a supernatural
degree. The materialist may scoff, but the voice of the Ages is louder
and clearer in our ears than his.

From his childhood Columba seems to have possessed this gift in a very
marked manner. His guardian angel, we are told by his biographers,
appeared to him frequently, and the child would talk to him familiarly,
and ask him if all the spirits in heaven were as radiant and beautiful
as he. One day the angel bade the boy tell him what he would choose if
any virtue might be his for the asking.

"I would choose purity and wisdom," answered he.

"Well hast thou chosen, Columba," said the angel, "they shall be
thine, and God will add to them yet another gift."

So it came to pass in the course of time that there appeared one day
before Columba three beautiful maidens, who would have embraced him,
but he pushed them roughly away.

"Dost thou not know us, Columba?" asked one of them, and a celestial
radiance shone from her face and garments as she spoke. "We are three
sisters sent to thee from our Father, that we may abide with thee for

"I know you not," said Columba. "Who is your father?"

"Our Father is God, the Lord and Saviour of the world," answered the
maiden, and her voice was like the music of heaven.

"Truly a noble parentage," said the boy. "By what names do men call

"Our names are Purity, Prophecy, and Wisdom," she answered, "and we
have come never to leave thee more, and to love thee with an
incorruptible love."

So among the peaceful hills and lakes of Donegal the boy Columba grew
into manhood. Tall and fair and straight of limb was the son of Eithne
and Fedhlimidh, with a voice clear and sweet as a trumpet-call, and a
heart that was fearless, pure, and true. Cruithnechan had done his work
well; he had taught Columba all that he knew of earthly lore and of
heavenly; but the time of his fostering was over. He must go forth now
into the great world that lay beyond the quiet mountains, the world of
strife and of tragedy, of joy and of sorrow.

A strange world and one of many contrasts, that of Ireland in the sixth
century. To the unanimous voice of Christianity she owed her name of
the "Island of the Saints." From the days of St. Patrick the monastic
schools, veritable cities of God in the midst of the strife and
barbarism of those early days, exerted their influence on the life
around them in favour of piety, learning and civilization. Here were
being formed a whole population of writers, theologians, architects,
sculptors, poets, historians, and above all of missioners and
preachers, who were to carry the light of the Gospel far and wide into
other lands. The founders of these schools were mostly of the noblest
blood in Ireland, and kings and princes did not disdain to come to them
for advice and help, or even to listen to their reproofs. Most powerful
for good was the influence of the Church in Ireland, and well for her
that it was so, for the times were wild and lawless.

To the Hy-Nialls, the kinsmen of Columba, belonged the whole north-west
of Ireland. The sovereign rule over the entire country was theirs, in
the Irish colony of Dalriada in Caledonia over the seas, as well as in
the mother-country of Erin.

They exercised authority over the provincial kings, but an authority
that was often hotly contested, and stormily maintained at the cost of
much bloodshed. The king was elected from either branch of the great
Niall family or clan, the Hy-Nialls of the North, to which Columba
belonged, or the Hy-Nialls of the South, and the two branches were
continually at war. Into the midst of these discordant elements the law
of Christ brought peace and justice, and the Saints of Ireland were the
pillars of the law of Christ.



WHILE Columba was growing into manhood among the mountains of
Tir-Connell, St. Finnian, "Finnian of the Heart Devout" as the old
writers love to call him, was founding his great monastic school of
Moville on the northern side of Lough Cuan.

Not on his piety and sanctity alone did the renown of Finnian rest. He
had been educated at the famous monastery of Whitehorn, founded by St.
Ninian in the fourth century in the British kingdom of Galloway across
the sea. St. Ninian was the friend of St. Martin of Tours, and it was
from him that he obtained masons to build the Candida Casa or White
House, the first stone church erected in Britain. Later, St. Finnian
went on pilgrimage to Rome, a difficult and dangerous undertaking in
days when ships consisted for the most part of a framework of willow
overstretched with ox-hide; and famine, pestilence, wild beasts and
barbarians were only a few of the perils that beset travellers by land.
There he remained for three months, when he returned to Ireland,
bringing with him a precious and priceless treasure.

This was a copy of the sacred Scriptures, translated and corrected by
the hand of St. Jerome himself, and formally sanctioned by the Pope as
the authentic text. No copy of this first edition of the Vulgate had as
yet found its way into Ireland, and to the scholars and scribes of the
day it was of untold worth.

The school of Moville was founded in 540, and St. Columba must have
been one of its earliest scholars, for he was born in the year 521, and
was about twenty years of age when he left Tir-Connell. Here he was
ordained deacon, and here also, at his prayer, was worked the first of
a long series of miracles that were to continue throughout his life.
One festival day, to the consternation of St. Finnian, it was found
that there was no wine for the Holy Sacrifice. It was the turn of
Columba to draw the water that was to be used in the sacred mysteries,
and kneeling at the brink of the well he prayed earnestly to that Lord
who had changed water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana to have
pity on their distress. His prayer was heard; even as he carried the
water to the church the miracle was worked.

"Here, my Father, is wine that God has sent us from heaven," said the
young deacon, as he gave the vessel to his master, and Finnian
marvelled greatly and gave praise and glory to God.

From Moville, Columba went to the great school of Clonard, there to
pursue his studies under another St. Finnian - Finnian the Wise, the
"Tutor of the Saints of Erin." Clonard was the most famous school in
Ireland at the time, and even bishops and abbots, old in years and
experience, did not disdain to come to learn wisdom at the feet of its
holy founder. St. Finnian of Clonard had been himself the pupil of
three great saints, St. David, St. Gildas, and St. Cadoc, at the
College of Llancarvan in Wales. When Columba came to the school of
Clonard it numbered, as the old writers tell us, three thousand

The problem of accommodation was very simple in an Irish school of the
sixth century. A few precious manuscripts formed the whole library. The
instruction was mostly oral, and given in the green fields round the
moat of Clonard. A little hill or eminence formed the professor's
chair, and the scholars sat on the slopes about his feet. They built
their own little huts of clay and wattles in the surrounding meadows,
and took their turn at herding the sheep and grinding in the quern, or
handmill, the corn for the daily bread. They prayed and studied, learnt
the exquisitely fine transcription that gave to the world the only
books that were then to be had, and listened to the interpretation of
the Holy Scriptures expounded by St. Finnian with a power and eloquence
that drew men from all parts of Ireland to listen.

The son of the Hy-Nialls took his turn with the rest at grinding the
corn in the quern and in the humble daily labours, but he accomplished
his task so rapidly and skilfully that his fellow-scholars, who may
have heard the story of the celestial companion of his boyhood, would
assert that he had been helped by an angel. When the daily work was
finished, he was always to be found, as of old, before the altar,
absorbed in prayer. Even the elders treated him with deference. There
was something so noble and commanding in his bearing, so high and holy
in the glance of his keen grey eyes, so strong and compelling in the
clear tones of his voice, that half unconsciously men bowed before him.

But there was one at Clonard who long withstood his influence. To the
gentle-hearted Ciaran "Mac In Tsair," or the son of the carpenter,
temptation had come in the shape of an envious thought.

Why should Columba, he asked himself resentfully, be loved and
privileged above all the other scholars? He was the son of the Prince
of Tir-Connell it was true, but in a monastic community such as Clonard
were not they all equal before God? He began to be jealous of the
influence exercised so unconsciously by his young companion, and
harboured bitterness in his heart. Ciaran's guardian angel grieved over
the havoc that was being wrought in that pure and gentle soul. He
appeared to him one day in a radiant vision, carrying the tools of a
carpenter in his hands.

"See, Ciaran," said he, "what thou hast left for the love of God, to
give thyself to Christ in the monastic life; but Columba has sacrificed
the throne which would have been his, had he not, forsaking the world,
chosen rather to follow his Lord in poverty and humiliation."

His words scattered the mist of envy from the heart of the carpenter's
son, who humbly asked pardon for his sin. From henceforth he became one
of the warmest friends of Columba, who in his turn loved the
gentle-hearted Ciaran with a true and tender affection. It was while
the two were at Clonard together that their master St. Finnian dreamt
that he saw two moons, one of gold and one of silver, shining in the
sky. The golden moon illuminated the north of Ireland, and its beams
shone over the sea as far as distant Alba, while the moon of silver
shed its soft light in the centre of the land. It was made known to
Finnian that the golden moon represented Columba, who was to carry the
light of the Gospel to another people, while that of silver typified
Ciaran, whose holiness was to be a light to many in his own country.

It was at this time that Columbcille showed the first signs of that
gift of prophecy that was to make him so famous in after days.

There came to Clonard an old bard called Gemman, who was a Christian.
Columba, who had a passionate love for poetry, put himself under his
tuition that he might not only study the old minstrel lore of Ireland,
but learn also to pour out his own heart in song. One day when the old
man sat reading at a little distance from his pupil in the green
meadows near Clonard, a young maiden, crying piteously for help, and
hotly pursued by one of the bloodthirsty barbarians who were the terror
of the more peaceful inhabitants of the country, fled towards him for
protection. Gemman called to Columba for help, but it was too late.
Even as he tried to hide the child under the folds of his long cloak
her savage assailant pierced her to the heart with his spear.

"How long, O Lord," moaned the old man, as he gathered the body of the
little maiden into his arms, "how long shall the blood of this innocent
cry unavenged to heaven?"

Columba turned to him with flashing eyes.

"Thus long," he cried in a voice that rang like the trumpet of the
avenging angel:

"Thus long, and no longer. The soul of that innocent child shall
scarcely have entered heaven before the soul of her murderer shall be
cast into eternal fire."

The words had scarcely left his lips when the barbarian, who was not
yet out of sight, fell dead, struck down by the sudden judgment of God.

On leaving Clonard, Columba went in company with the gentle-hearted
Ciaran to visit the school of another great master of the spiritual
life, St. Mobhi of Glasnevin. There they met St. Comgall and St.
Cannich, and formed with them a lifelong friendship. It was during his
stay at Glasnevin that Columba was sent by St. Mobhi to Etchen, Bishop
of Clonfad, to be ordained a priest, and it is characteristic of the
simplicity of the times that the holy bishop, who was Columba's own
cousin, and the son of a reigning prince, was found in the fields
guiding the oxen of his plough.

It must have been also about this time that Ciaran and Columba
journeyed together to the rocky Isle of Aran in the west, to visit St.
Enda the Holy, the tutor of both Finnian of Moville and Finnian of
Clonard. Aran was indeed a very nursery of sanctity, and Enda was
reverenced as a father by all the saints of Ireland. They learnt from
his lips the virtues and duties of a true monk, but they learnt still
more from his example. He and his community slept on the bare ground in
their stone cells, never warmed by a fire even in the coldest days of
winter. Their frugal food was the fruit of the labour of their hands,
but it was little enough that the barren rocks of Aran could furnish.
To these men, whose hearts were on fire with the love of God, their
desert island was a little paradise, where they lived in close
communion with the unseen world, and from whence the voice of praise
went up incessantly to the throne of God.

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