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From Down to Argyll: common saints in the Early Middle Ages

Comhall of Bangor, Finnian of Movilla agus Colm Cille

In the time of Colmcille the sea could be an information super-highway. As part of Colmcille 1500, a talk by historian Elva Johnston looked at communication across the Irish Sea: at the common languages, the two-way political currents, and particularly the shared saints.

St Patrick was not the only saint to come from Britain to Ireland; Finnian, who died in 579, also came and founded Movilla Abbey in the Ards peninsula in Ulster. Neither was Colm Cille the only saint to go to Scotland. St Comhall of Bangor was his contemporary, and Bangor had an extensive influence during his life. St Moluag founded an abbey at Lismore in Argyll, and St Molua later founded a monastery near the Isle of Slkye at Applecross, or Apor Crossan, a Pictish placename. Both were from Bangor.


These saints were powerful in their own lifetimes, said Professor Johnston, and powerful too after their death. They had a place within their own territories and internationally. Their monasteries were places of learning, of spirituality and of technical progress. The saints and their monasteries had ways of associating across country frontiers that the kings themselves did not. In the eyes of their followers, they brough heaven and earth together, and the cult of saints was closely linked to the development of countries, as was the case with Colm Cille, who became one of the patrons of both Ireland and Scotland.


This talk was organised in partnership with Belfast City Council, and was chaired by Professor Regina Ní Chollatáín. There was an online audience from both Ireland and Scotland, and representatives from both countries discussed the material afterwards from a modern-day viewpoint. The lecture is available online here.

Nhún na nGall
Derry City
Oideas Gael
Museum Nan Eilean
Comunn Eachdraidh Nis
Argyll Bute
colmcille 1500

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