Gartan, County Donegal

Lough Gartan, Co. Donegal. © Gerard McAteer

There are three lakes in the centre of County Donegal - Lough Nacally, Lough Akibbon and Lough Gartan. According to tradition, Colmcille was born, brought up and educated in the Gartan area.

The links between Gartan and Colmcille mostly come from Manus O’Donnell’s 'Life of Colum Cille' which was completed in 1532, almost 1,000 years after the saint’s death.

There was a medieval pilgrimage route which linked several places in the Gartan area that had a connection with the early life of Colmcille. Many of the Slí Cholmcille stops in this area were part of that pilgrimage.

Colmcille was born in Gartan. © Alan Sproull

Manus O’Donnell’s 100,000-word book in Irish brought together in one place all the existing traditions and stories of Colmcille. It provides the most detailed accounts of Colmcille’s birth and early life but there is little contemporary evidence to confirm much of the content.

Colmcille’s biographer, Adomnán who wrote 100 years after Colmcille’s death only mentions Colmcille’s early life briefly:
‘the holy Columba was born of noble parents
having as his father Fedelmith, Fergus’s son,
and his mother, Eithne by name, whose father
may be called in Latin “son of a ship”,
and in the Irish tongue Mac-naue’

Practicalities

The Gartan area is west of Letterkenny on the R250 towards Milltown. It is an easy drive from Londonderry.

 
  • Colmcille Heritage Centre, Gartan Lough, Donegal, Ireland.
     

    3.1 Colmcille Heritage Centre

    The Colmcille Heritage Centre sits on the shore of Gartan Lough on the edge of Glenveagh National Park. Displays in the centre tell the story of Colmcille’s early years in the Gartan area.

  • Dunadd Fort, Argyll.
     

    3.2 Leac na Cumha

    This flagstone at Lacknacoo is one of the places where Colmcille’s mother Eithne is said to have given birth to him.

  • Churchtown, Gartan, Donegal, Ireland.
     

    3.3 Churchtown

    Churchtown - Ráth Cnó - is said to be the place where Colmcille’s family lived. According to tradition they later gave over the land so that a monastic settlement could be created here.

  • Clootie Tree, Gartan, Donegal, Ireland.
     

    3.4 Doon Fort & Holy Well

    Until the 16th century, the Rock of Doon was the inauguration site of the O’Donnell chieftains.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs
     

    3.5 Kilmacrenan

    This is where Colmcille is said to have lived with his foster father Cruithneachán. There are two parts to the site - the left hand side is linked to Colmcille while the right side is the site of a 19th century Church of Ireland church.

  • Temple Douglas, Donegal, Ireland.
     

    3.6 Temple Douglas

    Temple Douglas was an ancient monastic site which used to stand on the old road out of Letterkenny and so was on the main route for travellers passing through the area.