Book of Saints and Wonders – Columcille, The Friend of the Angels of God

[portrait of Saint Columba]
The Golden Moon

It is noble indeed was the race of Columcille as to this world; and he had a right through his blood to the kingship of Ireland but he put it from him for the sake of God. One time Fintain had a vision, and he saw in the vision two moons that rose up from Cluan Eraird, the one a silver moon and the other a golden moon. The golden moon went on towards the north till it lightened Scotland and the northern part of Ireland; and the silver moon went on till it stopped by the Sionnan and lightened the middle part of Ireland. ColumclUe now was the golden moon with his high race and his wisdom; and Ciaran was the silver moon with the brightness of his virtues and his pleasant ways. And the place where he was born was Gortan in the north; and it was on a Thursday he was born, that has from that time been a lucky day. And indeed it was a wonderful child was born that day, Columcille son of Fedilmid son of Fergus son of Connall Gulban son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. There was not a man of higher race or of greater name born of the Gad. And he was brought for baptism to Cruithnechan the noble priest; and it was he fostered him afterwards at the bidding of an angel; and it was angels that gave him his name.

He learns his Letters

And when the time for reading came to him, the priest went to a knowledgeable man that was in the country and asked him when would it be right for the little lad to begin. And when the knowledgeable man had looked at the sky he said “Write out the letters for him now.” So the letters were written out upon a cake, and it is the way Columcille ate the cake, one part to the east of the water and the other part to the west of the water. And the knowledgeable man said then through his prophecy “It is the same way the sway of this young lad will be, one half to the east of the sea in Scotland, and the other half to the west of the sea in Ireland.”

His Helpers the Angels

After he left his fosterer he went from place to place for a while until he came to where Fintain was at Cluan Eraird, and he built a cabin there. And at that time every one of the twelve saints of Ireland used to take his turn to grind meal in a quern through the night; but it was an angel of God in heaven used to grind for Columcille. That was the honour the Lord gave him because of the nobleness of his race beyond the others. For as to angels it is often they were about him, and it is often they helped him from the beginning of his life until the end. One time he was put Out of the brotherhood for no just cause, and the brothers were all gathered together at Tafiltin holding a meeting against him, and he himself came to the meeting. And Brenden that was there rose up when he saw him coming and when he came near he kissed him with great respect. Some of the old men in the gathering took Brenden on one side then and they were faulting him and saying “Why did you rise up before a man that has been put out of the brotherhood and why did you kiss him?” And it is what Brenden said “If you had seen today what the Lord thought fit to show to me, you would not have dishonoured him that God holds in such honour.” “What was it you saw?” said they. “It is what I saw” said Brenden “a very bright pillar with fiery hair about it going before this man that you make little of; and the company I saw travelling over the plain with him were the angels of God.” One night a very beautiful young man in shining clothes came to Columcille in the night time and said “God be with you, and be strong now and steadfast, for God has sent me to keep you for ever and always from all the sin of the world.” But Columcille was afraid, and asked him who he was. “I sin Axal” he said “that is a helper, an angel of the Lord; and it is to help you and to protect you from every danger and trouble of the world I am come.” And from that time there were many angels used to be coming to his help, but it is likely Axal was the one that was always at hand. One time Columcille was sitting in his little cell, and he writing, and of a sudden his looks changed and he called out “Help! help! “Then two of the brothers that were at the door asked the cause of that cry. And Columcille told them that of a sudden he had seen one of the brothers falling from the highest point of a high house that was being built in Doire. “And I bade the angel of the Lord” he said “that was just now standing among you to go to his relief. And with all the land and sea that lay between” he said “the angel that had but left us as he began to fall was there in time to support him before he reached the ground, so that there was no hurt or bruise upon him at all. And that was wonderful help” he said “that could be given so very quickly as that.”

Doire the Plain of the Oakwood

Aedh King of Ireland gave up the dun he had in Doire to Columcille and he made his dwelling there. And he had so great a love for Doire, and the cutting of the oak trees went so greatly against him, that he could not find a place for his church the time he was building it that would let the front of it be to the east, and it is its side was turned to the east. And he left it upon those that came after him not to cut a tree that fell of itself or was blown down by the wind in that place to the end of nine days, and then to share it between the people of the townland, bad and good, a third of it to the great house and a tenth to be given to the poor. And he put a verse in a hymn after he was gone away to Scotland that shows there was nothing worse to him than the cutting of that oakwood:

“Though there is fear on me of death and of hell, I will not hide it that I have more fear of the sound of an axe over in Doire.”

A Praise he made of Doire and he going over the Sea

“It is delightful to be on Beinn Edair before going over the white sea; the beating of the waves against its wall; the bareness of its border and its strand.

“It is great is the swiftness of my currach and its back turned to Doire; it is a fret to me my journey over the high sea, travelling to Scotland of the ravens.

“My foot in my sweet-sounding currach; my sorrowful heart pleading. It is a weak man that is not a leaderrall that are without knowledge are blind together.

“There is a grey eye that is looking back upon Ireland; it will never see from day to day the men or the women of Ireland. I stretch my sight over the salt waters from the strong oaken planks; there is a big tear in my eye when I look back on Ireland; my mind is set upon Ireland, on Loch Lene of Magh Line; on the country of the men of Ulster; on smooth Munster and on Meath.

“It is plentiful in the east are tall fighting men; plentiful the troubles and the sicknesses; plentiful the men with scanty clothes; plentiful the hard jealous hearts.

“Plentiful in the west are the apples; plentiful the kings and the makings of kings; plentiful the wholesome sloes; plentiful the oaks with acorns.

“Sweet voiced her clerks; sweet voiced her birds; her young men gentle her old men wise; her great men are good to look at; her women noble, of good rearing.

“Take my blessing with you beautiful boy, my blessing and my benediction; the half of it for Ireland seven times over; the other half once for Scotland. Take my blessing over the sea to the nobles of the island of the Gael; let them not give heed to their enemy’s words, or to his threat of harming them.

“Take my blessing with you to the west; my heart is broken in my body. If death should overtake me suddenly it is through great love of the Gael.

“Gael, Gael, dear dear name, my one shout and my call! Dear is soft haired Cuimin, dear are Caindech and Comgall.

“If I had the whole of Scotland from the middle out to the borders I would sooner have a place and a house in the middle of pleasant Doire.

“It is the reason I love Doire, for its quietness for its purity; it is quite full of white angels from the one end to the other.

“It is the reason I love Doire, for its quietness for its purity; quite full of white angels is every leaf of the oaks of Doire.

“My Doire my little oakwood, my dwelling and my white cell; O living God in heaven, it is a pity for him that harms it!

“Dear are Durrow and Doire; dear is Rathboth in its whiteness; dear is Druimhome of delicate fruits; dear are Sord and Cenacles.

“Dear to my heart in the west Druimciab at the strand of Culcinne; to see white Loch Febhail, the shape of its harbour is delightful. “Delightful is that and delightful is the sea where the gulls are crying; going a long way from Doire it is quiet and it is delightful!”

Columcile’s little Kinsman

Baothan that was afterwards a saint of the Gael was of the kindred of Columcille, and it was Columcille sent him when he was a little lad to be taught by Saint Colman Ela. But although Baothan had good wits enough his memory failed him, and it was hard for him to keep in mind what his master taught him. And it happened one day that Colman was vexed with him at his task and struck him. Then Baothan went away into the wood to hide himself and to avoid his tasks, and while he was there he saw a man alone and he building a house; and according as he came to the end of weaving one rod into the wall he would set the head of another to it, and so he worked on from rod to rod setting one only at a time. And that seemed very tedious to the young lad till he saw the wall rising as he watched; and he said to himself then “If I had worked at my learning as this man works at his building it is likely I might be a scholar now.” Then a shower of rain fell and he took shelter from it under an oak tree and he saw a drop of rain falling from a leaf of the tree on one spot, and he pressed his heel on that spot and made a little hollow, and it was not long till it was filled by the dropping of the one drop. And Baothan said then “If I had worked at my task and my learning even little by little like that drop without doubt I would be a scholar now. And I make my vow” he said “that from this out to my life’s end I will never give up my learning however hard it may be to me.”

His Farewell to Aran

Columdille made a round of the whole of Ireland and he sowed the faith and did what he had to do. And before he went to Scotland he stopped in Aran of the Saints for a while, and there is a spot in the island where he used to be walking and that is always green to this day. And when he left Aran he made this complaint:

“A farewell from me to Aran; a sorrowful farewell as I think; I myself sent eastward to Hii, and the sea between it and Aran.

“A farewell from me to Aran; it is it that vexes my heart; I not to be westward on her waves among troops of the saints of heaven. “A farewell from me to Aran; my faithful heart is vexed; it is a lasting leave taking; Och! this parting is not of my will.

“A farewell from me to Aran; it is that is the sorrowful parting; she to be full of white angels and I without a lad in my currach. “Och it is far, Ochone it is far I am put away from Aran in the west; sent out towards the hosts of Mona to visit the men of Scotland in the east.

“The Son of God, O,the Son of God, it is He sent me out to Hu; it is He gave, great the profit, Aran as the dwelling-place of prayers and of teaching.

“Aran my sun, O Aran my sun, my affection is lying in her to the west; it is the same to be under her dean earth as under the earth of Paul and Peter.

“Aran my sun, O Aran my sun, my love is lying in her to the west; to be within the sound of her bell, it is the same thing as to be in happiness.

“Aran my sun, O Aran my sun, my love is lying in her to the west; whoever goes under her clean earth, the eye of no bad thing will see him.

“Blessed Aran, O blessed Aran, it is a pity for anyone that is against Aran; it is what he will get on the head of it, shortening of life and the grave.

“Blessed Aran, O blessed Aran, it is a pity for him that is against Aran; wasting on his children and on his cattle; he himself in bad case at the end.

“Blessed Aran, O blessed Aran, ‘it is a pity for anyone that is against you; angels coming down from Heaven to visit you every day of the week.

“Gabriel comes every Sunday as it is Christ gave the order; fifty angels, not weak the cause, putting a blessing on her Masses. “Every Monday, O every Monday, Michael comes, great the advantage, thirty angels, good their behavior, come blessing her churches.

“Every Tuesday, O every Tuesday, Raphael comes, of high power; to give a blessing on her houses attending on the prayers of Aran.

“Hard Wednesday, O hard Wednesday, Urial comes, great the advantage; he comes to bless three times over the high angelic churches.

“Every Thursday, O every Thursday, Sariel comes, great the advantage; dividing God’s good increase from heaven on the bare stones.

“Every Friday, O every Friday, Ramael comes, his ranks with him; the way every eye is satisfied with white very bright angels.

“Mary comes, Mother of God, having her women in her keeping; angels are in their company; they bless Aran every Saturday. “If there was no other life but listening to the angels of Aran, it would be better than any life under heaven to be hearing their talk together!”

The Island of Hii

And when he left Ireland for Scotland he did good service there; for it was he brought many of the men of Scotland from darkness to the light of belief and of good deeds. It was to the island of Ha he went first and when he reached to it he said to his people “It would be well for us to put roots into the earth in this place. And there is leave for one of you” he said “to go under the earth of this island to consecrate it.” Odhran rose up quickly then and it is what he said “I am ready for tha1. if you will take me.” “You will get your reward for that Odhran” said Columcille “for no asking will be granted to anyone at this place unless he will ask it first of you.” Then Odhran joined the company of Heaven, and after that Columcille laid the foundation of his church. And he bade the brothers to have a mind prepared for red martyrdom and a mind strong and steadfast for white martyrdom; forgiveness from the heart to everyone; constant prayer for all that troubled them. “And let you be as much in earnest saying the office for the dead” he said “as if every one of the faithful dead was your own near friend.” But if it was in Hii he had his dwelling-place, he went every Thursday to Heaven at the call of the King of the Three Peoples.

The Crane from Ireland

One time when Columcille was living in the island of Hil he called to one of the brothers and said “In the morning of the third day from this go down and waft on the shore to the west of the island, for at the ninth hour there will come a stranger, a crane from the north part of Ireland, that has been driven here and there by winds and it will lie down on the strand tired and worn out. And bring it into some neighbouring house” he said “where it will get a welcome, and where you can be minding it and feeding it for three days and three nights. And when it is refreshed” he said ‘with the three days’ rest and has no mind to stay longer with us it will fly back to the pleasant part of Ireland it came from. And I give this bird to your special care” he said “because it is from our own country it comes.” And the brother did as he bade him and tended the crane. And at the end of the third day the crane rose to a great height in the air and stopped for a little while marking out its path to its home. And then it went back across the sea to Ireland as straight as it could fly on a calm day. For Ireland was never out of Columcille’s mind and it is what he used to say “The Gael are more to me than all the rest of the men of the world

Ireland was more to him than any other Place

Columcille made this hymn one time, praising Ireland:

“It would be delightful Son of my God, to travel over the waves of the rising flood; over Loch Neach, over Loch Febhail, beyond Beinn Eigne, the place we used to hear fitting music from the swans. The host of the gulls would make a welcome with their sleepy music if my currach the Red Dewy One should come to the harbour of joyous anger.

“I have my fill of riches if I thought it enough, wanting Ireland, in the strange country where I have chanced and I tired. It is a pity the journey that was put upon me O King of mysteries!

“It is happy the son of Dima is, he of the faithful church, when he is listening in Durrow to the desire of his mind; the sound of the wind against the elms; the laughter of the blackbird clapping his wings; to listen at break of day to the lowing of the cattle in Rigrencha, to listen at the brink of summer to the cry of the cuckoo from the tree.

‘There are three things dearest to me on the whole of this peopled world, Doire and Doire-Ethne and Doire the high country of angels. My visit to Comgall, my feast with Cainnech, it is they were honey sweet to me. I have loved Ireland of the waters, all that is in it but its government.”

The Poor Man and the Stake

There came to Columcille one time a poor man of Scotland that was in great misery and had no way of living. And when Columcille had given him all he had to give of alms he said to him “Go now into that wood beyond and bring me a branch from it.” The poor man did as he bade him and brought the branch and Columcille took it and made a sharp point on it and he gave it back to the poor man and he said “Take good care of the stake and so long as you have it you will never be without plenty of venison in the house. But it will not harm men or cattle” he said “but only wild creatures, beasts and fishes.” The poor man was well pleased when he heard that, and as he went home he fixed the stake in a lonely place where the wild creatures of the wood used to be going. And at the early light of the morrow he went to look at the stake and it is the way it was, a very large stag had fallen upon it and it had gone through him. And from that out not a day would pass but he would find a stag or a doe or some other wild creature fixed upon the stake the way his house was full of meat, and all that himself and his wife and his children could not use he would sell it to the neighbours. But after a while his wife said to him “Take out that stake out of the ground, for if men or cattle should chance to fall upon it, yourself and myself and our children would be put to death or we would be led mto bondage.” And it is not as a wise woman she spoke that time but as a woman that had lost her sense. “That is a thing will not happen” said the husband “for when the holy man blessed the stake he said it would never harm men or cattle.” But for all that he did as his wife bade him and in his folly he took the stake out of the ground and put it against the wall. And not long after that, his house dog fell upon it and was killed. And his wife said to him then “One of the children will be the next to fall upon it and to be killed.” So when she said that he took the stake out the house, and brought it to a very large wood and put it in the thickest of the scrub where as he thought no beast could be harmed by it. But when he came back next day what he saw was a deer that had fallen upon it and got its death. So he brought it away from there and thrust it in under the water by the edge of a river; and the next day he found on it a salmon so big that it is hardly he was able to lift it out of the river to bring it home. And that time he brought the stake up from the river and put it outside on the roof of his house. But it was not long till a crow got its death by it, where it was coming to pitch on the house. And upon that the foolish man giving in to the advice of his wife took down the stake from the roof and took an axe and cut it in a great many pieces and threw it in the fire. And after doing that, he that had been rich fell into poverty again and it is well he had earned it. And all he had to do, and his wife and his children for the rest of their lives, was to fret after the stake the blessed man had given him, and that he himself had done away with.

The Nettle Broth

One time he was making his rounds in Hii and he saw an old woman and she cutting nettles to boil down for food. “What is the cause of that misery?” said Columcille. “O dear father” she said “I have one cow only and she is in calf, and this ‘is what serves through the time of waiting.” When Columcille heard that, he made his mind up he would use no other thing than brdfh of nettles so long as his life would last. “For if it is waiting for the one cow this woman is, in this great hunger” he said “it would be more fitting for us to be in hunger; for it is a better thing we ourselves are waiting for, the everlasting kingdom.” And he said to his cook “Bring me broth of nettles every night and bring no milk with it.” “I will do that” said the cook. But it is what the cook did, he bored a hole through the stick he stirred the broth with, till it was like a pipe, and he used to pour the juice of meat down through the pipe so that it was mixed with the broth. And that kept a good appearance on Columcille, and the brothers saw by his looks he was well nourished and they were talking about it among themselves. And when Columcille knew that he said “That those that come after you may be always grumbling. And what is it you are giving me?” he said to the cook. “You know well yourself” said the cook “that if ‘it does not come through the iron of the pot or through the stick the broth is mixed with, I know of no other thing in it but only nettles.” “That there may be good luck and a good appearance to those that come after you for ever” said Columcille. And it is likely he took but nettles only after that, for he lost flesh till the track of his ribs used to be seen on the strand when he used to lie out there through the night time.

The Cranes of Druim Ceta

Columcille went back one time to Ireland to the great gathering of Druim Ceta to bless the people, and to get leave for the troops of the poets that were being driven out for their burdensomeness, to stop in Ireland. For it is what he said, that the rewards they got were not lasting but their praises would last for ever. Then Aedh King of Ireland gave leave for them to stop, but there was anger on him and on Conall his son, Columcille to have come to the gathering. And Conall stirred up the rabble of the gathering against Coluincifie’s people that they made an attack on them and took some and wounded others. And when Columcille knew that, he put a curse on Conall and rang three times nine bells against him and took the kingship from him, and his reason and his wits. And when the Queen heard that, and she washing her flower-face at the time, she said to her serving maid “Go to Aedh and say to him that if he shows respect to this crane-clerk I will not be peaceable towards, himself.” And when Columcille was told that, it is what he said, that the Queen and her serving maid should be put into the shape of cranes of Druim Ceta from that day to the day of judgment, and she having one of her wings broken and but half a tail. And so it happened, and if they are not in it yet they were long enough in it, the two old cranes of Druim Ceta.

His Strange Visitor

One time Columcille was at Cam Eolairg on Loch Febhail and there came a beautiful young man to him having a golden shoe upon his foot, and whatever foot he would put down it is on it the shoe used to be. “Where do you come from young man?” said Columcille. “I am Mongan son of Fiachra” said the young man “and I am come from countries unknown and countries known. And I am come” he said “to compare my knowledge and wisdom with your own, and to know from you the place where knowledge and ignorance were born, the place where they die and the place of their burying.” “A question to you” said Columcille, “what used this loch we are looking at to be in the old time?” “I know that” said the young man. “It was yellow, it was blossoming, it was green, it was hilly, it was a place of drinking, it had silver in it and chariots. I went through it when I was a deer before deer, when I was a salmon, when I was a very strong seal, when I was a wild dog. When I was a man I bathed in it, I carried a yellow sail, a green sail, it drowned a red sail under blood, women called out to me. Though I do not know father or mother I speak with the living and the dead.” Then Columcille said to him. “What is there beneath those islands to the west of us?” And it is what the young man said: “There are underneath them tuneful long-haired men; there are well-shaped people both men and women; there are cattle, white, red-eared, their lowJ.flg is sweet; there are herds of deer, there are good horses; there are the two-headed, there are the three-headed, in Europe, in Asia, in an unknown green country from its border to its river mouth.” “That is enough so far” said Columcille. And then he went apart with the young man to ask him the secrets of heaven and earth. And they were talking together from one hour on that day to the same hour on the next day, and Columcille’s people were looking at them a long way off. And when the talk came tuan end they saw the young man vanishing from them all of a minute, and it is not known where he went. And when they asked Columcille to give them news of his talk it is what he said, that he could not tell them one word of all he had heard; and he said it was a right thing for men not to be told of it.

The Breaking of Columcille’s Guarantee

Fergal King of Ireland that was of the race of the Ua Neills of the north was gathering his people one time to go against the men of Leinster. And it was a long time they took coming together, for it is what every man that was called in Conn’s half of Ireland used to say: “If Donnbo goes with the army I will go.” Donnbo now was the son of a widow-woman belonging to the men of Ross, and he had never gone away from his mother’s house for one day or for one night only; and there was not one in all Ireland more comely or better in face and in shape than himself. He was the best at singing merry verses and telling royal stories of all in the whole world; the best to ready horses or to rivet spears or to plait hair; the best in quickness of mind and in generosity. And his mother would not let him go out at the king’s bidding till she got the security of Columcille that he would come back to her in safety. So he went out with the king’s army, and they went on till they came to Almhuin and there they made their camp. And it was then Fergal said to Donnbo “Make mirth for us Donnbo, for you are the best of all the musicians of Ireland at pipes and at harps and at poems, and at the old stories and the royal stories of Ireland; and on the morning of tomorrow” he said “we will give battle to the men of Leinster.” “Och” said Donnbo “I am not able to make sport for you this night or to do any of those things that you say. But wherever you may be on the night of tomorrow” he said “I will make amusement for you if I am living. And let the king’s buffoon make sport for you to-night” he said. So Ua Maighlinne the king’s buffoon was called and he began his stories of the battles and the triumphs of Leinster from the destruction of Dind Righ down to that time. And it was not much sleep they got that night because of their great dread of the men of Leinster, and because of a storm that arose; for that was the eve of the feast of Saint Finnain in the winter. The battle was fought the next morning and the men from the north were beaten, and nine thousand of them got their death, and Fergal the king among them. And Ua Maighlinne fell into the hands of one of the men of Leinster, and he bade him give his buffoon’s roar, and he did that; and his head was cut off then, but the roar was heard in the air through the length of three nights and three days and it has stayed with the buffoons of Ireland to this day. And as to Donnbo, he lost his life defending the king, and his head was struck off, and the king’s head. The same night flow the men of Leinster were drinking wine and making merry, and every one telling the deeds he had done in the battle. And Murchad son of the king of Leinster said “I would give a good chariot and my own dress to any man that would go to the place of the battle and would bring me a token from it.” “I will go” said a Munster man that was among them. So he put on his battle dress and went on, and when he came to the place where king Fergal’s body was, he heard said as if in the air these words “Here is a command to you from the King of the Seven Heavens; make music to-night for your master Fergal the king; though all of you have fallen here, pipers and trumpeters and harpers, let no terror or no weakness keep you from making music for Fergal.” Then the messenger heard the music of singers and trumpeters and pipers and harpers, all sorts of music he heard, and he never heard better before or after. And from a bunch of rushes near him he heard a very wild song, the sweetest of all the music of the world. He went towards the rushes then and a voice said from among them “Do not come near me.” “Who are you?” said the messenger. “I am the head of Donnbo” it said “and it was bound in a bond to make amusement for the king to-night, and do not hinder me.” “Where is Fergal’s body?” said the messenger. “It is shining there before you” said the head. “Let me bring you away along with him” said the messenger, “for it is yourself I would sooner bring away.” “I would not wish any person to bring me away” said the head “unless it might be Christ the Son of God. And give me the guarantee of Christ now that you will bring me back to my body again.” “I will bring you surely” said the messenger. Then he went back to where the men of Leinster were drinking yet. “Have you a token with you?” said Murchad. “I have” said he “the head of Donnbo.” “Set it up on that post” said Murchad. Then they all knew it to be the head of Dunnbo, and it is what they all said: “It is a pity for you Donnbo, it ‘is comely your face was! And make amusement for us to-night,” they said “the same as you did yesterday for your lord.” Then he turned his face to the wall of the house the way it Would be darker for him, and he raised his wild song, and it was the sweetest or all the music on the whole ridge of the world. And all the men of Leinster were crying and lamenting, with the sorrow and the softness of that song.

The Voyage of Snedgus

One time Snedgus and Mac Riaghta, clerks that were of the people of Columcille, got into their currach of their own will, and went out over the sea on a pilgrimage, and they turned righthandways and the wind brought them north-westward into the outer ocean. And at the end of three days a great longing and a great thirst came upon them that they could not bear; and it was then Christ took pity on them and brought them to an island where there was a stream that had the taste of new milk, and they were satisfied with it. They gave thanks to God then and they said “Let us leave our voyage to God, and let us put the oars in the boat.” And from that out they let the rudder alone and they put their oars in the boat. Then they were brought to another island having a silver paling over the middle of it, and a fish weir; and it is a plank of silver that weir was, and there were big salmon, every one the size of a bull-calf, leaping against the weir, and they were satisfied with them. After that they went to another island and in that island they found fighting-men having heads of cats on them. And there was one man of the Gael among them, and he came down to the strand and bade them welcome and he said “A boat’s crew of us came here, and there is not one left of it now but myself, for the rest of us were made an end of by the strangers of this island.” He put provision into the boat for them then, and they left a blessing and took a blessing with them. After that the wind brought them to an island where there was a great tree, and beautiful birds in it; and on the top of the tree was a bird having a head of gold and wings of silver; and it told them stories of the beginning of the world and it told them of the birth of Christ from Mary Virgin, and of his baptism and his passion and his rising again; and it told news of the judgment. And then all the birds beat their sides with their wings till blood dropped from them, with the dread of the signs of the judgment, and it is a very precious thing that blood was. And the bird gave to the clerks a leaf of the leaves of that tree, and it is the size of the hide of a great ox that leaf was and neither leaf nor stem of that tree withers. And he bade them to put that leaf on Columdille’s altar, and it is to Kells it was brought afterwards. It is sweet the music of those birds was, singing psalms and praising the Lord, for they were the birds of the plain of Heaven. Then they bade farewell to the birds, and they went on to a very fearful country where there were men having heads of dogs and manes of cattle. And by order of God a clerk came to them out of the island to relieve them, for they were in a bad way for the want of food; and he gave them fish and wine and wheat. Then they went on till they came to a country where there were men having heads of pigs; and there were a great many reapers reaping the corn in the middle of the summer. And from that they went on in their boat, and sang their psalms and prayed to God, till they came to a country where there were people of the Gael; and the women of that island sang a strain to the clerks and it is sweet they thought it. And one of them said “Sing on, for this is the music of Ireland.” “Let us go to the house of the King of the island” said the women to them then, “and you will get a welcome and good treatment.” So they went into the house, and the King gave a welcome to the clerks, and they rested themselves there and be asked them what was their race. “We are of the men of Ireland” they said “and of the people of Columcille.” “What way is Ireland now?” said the King “and how many of the sons of Domnall are living yet?” “There are three sons of Domnall living, and Fiachna son of Domnall fell by the men of Ross and for that deed two sixties of them were put out upon the sea.” “It is true that story is” said the King; “It is I myself killed the son of Domnall king of Teamhuir and we are the men were put out on the sea. And it is well that happened for us” he said “and it is here we will be till the time of our judgment; and it is good we are and without sin” he said “and it is good the island is where we are; for there are in it Eu and Enoch, and it is noble is the house where Eu is.” “We would like well to see Enoch” said the clerks. “He is in a hidden place till we all go to battle on the day of judgment” said he. And there was another thing he said to them: “There are two lakes in this country, a lake of water and a lake of fire; and they would have gone over Ireland long ago without Martin and Patrick praying for the Gael.” Then they went on from that country and they were in the shouting of the waves for a long time till great relief came to them from God, for it is tired out they were. And they saw a great high island and everything that was in it was beautiful and holy. It is good the king was that lived in that island, and holy and just, and it is great his army was and it is noble his dwelling place was, for there were a hundred doors in that house and an altar at every door and a dear man at every altar offering the body of Christ. And the two clerks went into the house and each of them blessed the other and after that the whole host, women and men, went to communion at the Mass. Then wine was given out to them and the king said “Tell the men of Ireland that a great vengeance is going to fall upon them across the sea and your enemies will make war on you and you will live in the halt of the island. And it is what brings this vengeance upon them” he said “the great neglect they show to the testament of God and to his teaching. And for a month and a year” he said “you will be on the sea, but you will land safely at the last, and then let you tell out all your news to the people of Ireland.”

A Hymn Columeile made and he going a Journey

Columcille made this hymn the time the King of Teamhuir had given an order to take him, and the justice of God threw a mist about him the way he would not be known as he went out. And it is a protection to anyone that will say it, and he going on his way.

“It is alone I am on the mountain, O King-sun of the lucky road, there is nothing for me to be in dread of. If I had three score hundreds of armies that would defend the body, when the day of my death comes there is no strong place wilt hold out against it.

“He that is spent may get his death in a church or in the island in the middle of the lake; he that has luck with him, his life will be safe in the front of a battle.

“There is no one could put an end to me though he should chance upon me in danger; there is no one could protect me the day my life will come to its end.

“My life, I leave it to the will of God. There will be nothing wanting to it; there will be nothing added to it.

“He that is in health falls into sickness; he that is out of his health grows sound again; he that is in misery gets right again; he that is in good order falls into misery. Whatever God has settled for any person, he will not leave the world until he meets it; although a high head goes looking for more, he will not get the size of a grain of it.

“A man may bring a guard with him on his road; but what guard has ever kept a man from his death?

“An herb is cut for the cattle, and they after coming from the mountain. What is the owner of the cattle doing that he does not cut the herb for himself?

“There is no son of a man knows for whom he is making a gathering; if it is for himself or for some other one.

“Leave out scarceness for a while; it is better for you to mind hospitality. The Son of Mary will prosper you when every guest comes to his share.

“It is often the thing that is spent comes back again, and the thing that is kept, though it is not spent it vanishes away.

“O living God! It is a pity for him that does any bad thing! The thing that is not seen comes to him; the thing that he sees goes away out of his hand.

“It is not with chance our life is; or with the bird on the top of the twig; or with the trunk of a crooked tree. It is better to put our trust in the Father, the One, and the Son.

“The share every evening in the house of God, it is what my king has made. He is the king that made the body; he will not let me go wanting to-night.

“I do not hold to the voice of birds, or any luck on the earthly world, or chance or a son or a woman. Christ the Son of God is my Druid; Christ the Son of Mary, the great Abbot; the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. My estates are with the King of Kings; my order is at Cenacles and Moen.”

The Ladder of Glass

One time Columcille went to Monaster Boite and it is there his staff struck against the ladder of glass by which Boite had gone up to heaven; and he showed where his grave was and marked out his church. Three hundred churches he marked out and he wrote three hundred books. And among the churches he left there were a hundred that had the waves for a neighbour.

Columcile keeps the Feast of Pentecost

And at last one day in the month of May, Columcille went on a cart to see the brothers that were ploughing in the north of the island of Hii; and he was comforting them and teaching them. “Well” he said “at the Easter that went into the month of April 1 was ready to go to Heaven, but I had no mind you to have sorrow or trouble after your heavy work, and so I have stayed with you from Easter to Pentecost.” When his people heard those words they were very downhearted; and Columcille turned his face westward and blessed the island, and drove away from it every bad thing. And then he came to his cell, and it was not long till there came the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of Sunday. And when he lifted his eyes he saw a great brightness, and an angel of God waiting there above him. And after that he went out, and his servant Diarmuid, whose life he had lengthened with his prayers one time he was sick, with him; and he blessed the barn and two heaps of winnowed wheat that were in it. And then he told Diarmuid he had a little secret word to tell him, that on this very night of the Sabbath of rest he would go to his own rest, on the invitation of the Lord Jesus. And he Sat down on the edge of the path, for all the length of his years came upon him. And there came to him the old spent white horse that used to be carrying the milk vessels from the cowshed in the island to the brothers, and it cried tears into his breast till his clothes were wet. And Diarmuid his servant would have driven the old horse away, but Columcille said “Leave him Diarmuid till he cries his fill, keening me. For you are a man having reason” he said “and you know nothing of the time of my death but what I myself have told you. But as to this beast that is without reason, God himself has made known to it in some way that its master is going to leave it.” And he gave his blessing to the horse then, and it went away very sorrowful. And on the night of the Sunday of Pentecost, Columcille was the first in the church and he knelt and prayed. And the brothers came in with their candles, but the whole church was full of light, and Columcille opened his eyes wide and looked about him on every side with a great blush in his face, and they knew he was looking at the angels. And the light of the angels filled the church on every side, and he blessed the brothers, and the life went from his body, and there was a welcome before him in the household of heaven. But there are some that say he was not old when he died but young, because he had made requests of Axal the angel one time, and one of the requests was that he might die in his youth. “For in old age” he said “the body is ugly.” And the angel granted him that and many other things.

How the News was brought to Ireland

It was at the hour of his death the fishermen that were out trying for fish in the deep holes of the river Finn, saw a great light to the east that lighted up the whole of the sky. And at Rosnaree the light of the angels was seen, and their hymns were heard in the high air. And at the same time the poets of Ireland were gathered at the yew tree at the head of Baile’s Strand in Ulster, and they were making up stories there of themselves. And the things that happened did not happen the way they told them, but it was to put them on the rough race, the men of Ulster, the poets made up those lying tales. Forgaill now that was a man of Connacht and of high race, was the chief of all those poets; and news was brought to him by an angel riding a speckled horse, that Columcille was dead.

Forgaill’s Lament

This now is the poem of praise and of lamentation that was made for Columcille, Speckled Salmon of the Boinne, High Saint of the Gad, by Forgaill that was afterwards called Blind Forgaill, Chief Poet of Ireland:

“It is not a little story this is; it is not a story about a fool it is; it is not one district that is keening but every district, with a great sound that is not to be borne, hearing the story of Columcille, without life, without a church.

“It is not the trouble of one house, or the grief of one harpstring; all the plains are heavy, hearing the word that is a wound.

“What way will a simple man tell of him? Even Nera from the Sidhe could not do it; he is not made much of now; our learned one is not the light of our life now he is hidden away from us.

“He that used to keep us living is dead; he that was our rightful head has died from us; he has died from us, that was God’s messenger.

“The knowledgeable man that used to put fear from us is not here; the teller of words does not return to us; the teacher is gone from us that taught silence to the people. The whole world was his; it is a harp without its strings; it is a church without its abbot.

“Colum rose very high the time God’s companies rose to meet him; it is bright the angels were, attending on him. It is short his life was, it is little used to satisfy him; when the Wind blew the sheet against him on the sand, the shape of his ribs Could be seen through it. He was the head of every gathering; he was a dun of the book of the law; he put a flame in the district of the north, he lightened district of the west; the east was his along with it; he did not open his heart to every company. Good his death; be went with God’s angels that came to meet him.

“He has reached to Axal of his help and to the troops of the archangels; he has reached to a place where night is not seen; he has reached to a plain where music has not to be born; where no one listens to oppression. The King of priests has done away with his troubles.

“He knew the way he was going; he gave kindness for hatred; he learned psalms; he broke the battle against hunger.

“He knew seasons and storms; he read the secrets of the great wisdom; he knew the course of the moon; he took notice of its race with the branching sun. He was skilful in the course of the sea; to tell every high thing we have heard from Colum, would be to count the stars of heaven.

“A healer of the heart of the wise; a full satisfier of guests; our crowned one who spoke with Axal; a shelter to the naked; a comforter to the poor; he was eager, ice was noble, it is high his death was. We hope great honour will be given to him on the head of these deeds.”

And when Forgaill had made that lament he said: “It is a great shaping and a great finish I have given to these words, and I cannot make a praise beyond this, for my eyes have been taken from me.”

It was Aedh King of Ireland gave seven cumhals for his name to be given in the praising of Columcille; and Aedh laid it down to Forgaill that this song should be above every other song. But it was after death the reward and the praise were given to blind Forgaill; for it was Heaven that was given to him, as the price of the praising of the King.

Columcille’s Burying Place

It is an old saying in Ireland that if Columcille died in Hii, his soul I is in Doire and his body under a flagstone in Ardmacha beside Brigit and Patrick. But one time when some person that was looking at the church in Hii told that saying, the people of the island were very angry, and said the Irish were impudent liars to say such a thing, and that Saint Columcille had been buried in their island, and none had ever come to bring him away, and if they had they would not have got him. But it is what the people of Ireland I say to this day, that when he was dying he bade the brothers to put his body in a currach and to cut directions on a stick and to put the currach out to sea. So they did that and the currach floated to the north of Ireland, but not one knew of it being there. And there were a few cows that had pasture near the sea, and one of them used to be going down to the shore every day, and to be licking a brown stick that was lying there. And the boy that was minding them took notice that the milk that cow gave was three times more than the milk of every other cow, and he wondered to see the cow that was the scarcest of all giving milk and butter like that and it eating nothing, but only licking a bit of a stick. So they went and looked at the stick, and they read on it that Saint Columcille’s body was in the currach and they found it there; but whether it was only his bones they found, or whether he was embalmed, being such a great man, is not known. And the writing on the stick said he was to be buried in Ardmacha, between Saint Patrick and Saint Brigit. And they did not know where those graves were, but they brought the body to Ardmacha, and the ground opened of itself, and they knew it was to let him rest between those two it opened.

Columcille’s Valley

Bran, now, the hound of Finn son of Cumhail, stopped one time at the hunting, and would not follow a deer through a certain valley. And it was always said, she knew that to be a valley Columcille would bless in the time to come. And the people of Slieve Echtge say there will be a great war yet in the whole world and in Ireland, and the want will be so great that the father will disown his son and will not let him in at the door. And there will be great fighting on Slieve-nan-Or, the Golden Mountain, and in the Valley of the Black Pig. And when the war comes as far as the blessed bush at Kilchriest, a priest will put on his stole, and will read from his book, and lift a chalice three times, and that will weaken it for a while. But the fighting will never reach to the Valley of Columcille; and it will be well for all the people that will be in that valley at the time of the last great war.

- from A Book of Saints and Wonders by Lady Gregory, 1906