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Gartan - County Donegal
Gartan, County Donegal © Gerard McAteer

Gartan – County Donegal

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.

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’


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

more on…

Gartan – County Donegal

  • 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 and describe the spread of early Christianity in Ireland and Scotland, giving details of monastic and religious life. There...

  • 3.2 Leac na Cumhaidh

    This flagstone at Lacknacoo is one of the places where Colmcille’s mother Eithne is said to have given birth to him. The other place is at nearby Churchtown. The flagstone is dotted with small ‘cupmarks’. The origins of this ancient monument aren’t known but it may date to the Bronze Age....

  • 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. The site is still used as a turas by pilgrims who walk barefoot between the five marked stations....

  • 3.4 Doon Fort & Holy Well

    Until the 16th century, the Rock of Doon was the inauguration site of the O’Donnell chieftains. There were two ceremonies - one civil ritual here and one religious ritual which took place at Kilmacrenan. It is likely that this was the site of a fort belonging to the O’Donnells. Manus O’Donnell...

  • 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. This site formed part of...

  • 3.6 Tulach Dubhglaise

    Temple Douglas was an ancient monastic site which used to stand on the old road out of Letterkenny, the main route for travellers passing through the area. Colmcille is said to have been baptised here as a Christian in 521 by his foster father Cruithneachán mac Ceallachán. It was common...

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Northern Ireland

(+44) 028 9089 0970


Foras na Gaeilge, An Chrannóg
Na Doirí Beaga
Gaoth Dobhair
Donegal, Ireland. F92 EYT3

(+353) 074 9560113