Gleann Cholm Cille

Gleann Cholm Cille © Benny Lewis

Gleann Cholm Cille is a beautiful valley in the west of Donegal. This Irish-speaking area has a strong traditional link with Colmcille - the glen is named after him - and the saint is still commemorated during the annual turas or pilgrimage which takes place here.

In Gleann Cholm Cille, the Slí Cholmcille follows the route of the Turas Cholmcille. The turas - translated as the journey - is part of a strong Christian pilgrimage tradition in Ireland.

The turas links a number of ancient stones some of which date back to 3000BC. The standing stones which form the core of the turas probably date from 500-700AD.

The link between Colmcille and Gleann Cholm Cille dates back to the 'Life of Colum Cille' commissioned by Manus O’Donnell, a leading political figure in the north-west of Ireland in the 16th century. Completed in 1532, the book draws together accounts of the saint’s life and traditions associated with him. Local tradition says that Colmcille lived here for two years before he left Ireland to found his monastery in Iona.

The Turas Cholmcille is performed between the eve of 9th June - the saint’s feast day - and 15th August – feast of the Assumption, a major festival in Irish folklife. Many people perform the turas on more than one occasion - some following it two or three times in the first 24 hours.

Getting There

Gleann Cholm Cille is in west Donegal. From Donegal Town, follow the N56 west towards Killybegs. At Killybegs take the R263 towards Gleann Cholm Cille. The Slí Cholmcille starts at the Church of Ireland which sits in the middle of the valley.

There are maps, guides and booklets explaining the locations on the turas. A brief summary is available here. Further information is available from the Oideas Gael website.

 
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    1.1 Straid Court Tomb

    This is the ruined remains of a burial tomb dating from about 3,000BC. It was made and used by farmers who lived in Gleann Cholm Cille. It is pre-Christian but has been incorporated into the Turas Cholmcille pilgrimage trail around the glen.

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    1.2 Cross Pillar

    This cross is almost 2 meters tall and is decorated with carved designs on both sides. It is a Christian monument probably made around 700-800AD.

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    1.3 Garvecross Cairn

    Áit na nGlún - The Place of the Knees - is a cairn. To the side there is a flat stone slab with a round stone on top. After circling the cairn, pilgrims pass this smaller stone around their bodies as they pray.

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    1.4 Cross Pillar, Beefan

    Mullach na Croise - Height of the Cross - is a stone pillar carved with the feint outline of a cross. It stands in the centre of a cairn. The cairn and cross are found within the remains of a circular enclosure.

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    1.5 Colmcille's Chapel, Beefan

    According to local tradition, this is the site of Colmcille’s chapel in Gleann Cholm Cille where the saint prayed and worked on illuminated manuscripts. There are also three stone slabs with Christian carvings.

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    1.6 Colmcille’s Chair

    Legend has it that this is where Colmcille sat to rest, looking down at the valley below him. Some claim that a wish made here will come true.

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    1.7 Colmcille’s Well

    Tobar Colm Cille - Colmcille’s Well - is surrounded by a large stone cairn.

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    1.8 Colmcille’s Garden

    Garraí an Turais - the turas field - is also known as Colmcille’s Garden. The area contains a set of three upright stones, two of which are carved with a simple cross. Each stone is surrounded by a cairn and all are enclosed by a stone wall.

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    1.9 Cloch an Aonaigh

    The Stone of the Gathering - Cloch na Aonaigh - is nearly 2 meters tall and faces pilgrims as they arrive across the valley floor. The stone is carved on both sides with circular and linear patterns.

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    1.10 An Fhothair

    This turas station is a cairn with an upright stone slab standing at its centre. The cairn lies in the middle of field. The stone faces east/west and there are views down to the Church of Ireland church.

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    1.11 An Droim Rua

    Turas station 11 is an upright stone in a cairn. The stations at this point of the turas are near each other on either side of the road. It may be that the current road follows the line of an ancient pilgrimage route.

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    1.12 Baile na nDeamhan

    This stone is decorated on both sides with interlocking patterns. The Baile na nDeamhan - village of the demons - is where Colmcille is said to have been attacked by demons.

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    1.13 An Gaineamh

    This stone stands right beside the road. The original was damaged and a fibreglass replica made from the original pieces. It is carved only on one side and faces east/west.

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    1.14 An Caiseal

    This is a tall pillar carved with two circular patterns. Like many of the Christian cross slabs in Gleann Cholm Cille, this may date from the late 7th to 9th century.

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    1.15 An tSráid

    This cross slab is now in two parts with the upper part sitting on the ground to the left of the lower part. It is carved with three complex patterns, linked by a vertical line.