Description: St. Colmcille, born nearly a half century after St. Patrick, performed many feats of outstanding importance to the history of the Church. Born in the small village of Gartan in 521 AD, he was descended from royal blood, and by social standards, ranked as high as the king of Ireland. His nobility would prove an important tool later in his life for laying the foundations of his churches.
As a boy, Colmcille was sent to live with the priest who'd baptized him. Later, he moved to live and study with the Christian poet Gemman, and it was at this time that the young man's love of discipline, poetry, and knowledge came to life. King Diarmiad came into power a few years later. He was an enemy to Colmcille's father and thus to him. Soon, Colmcille's cousin offered him a site of a royal fort on the banks of the Foyle River, and in 546, the first Columban monastery (Doire Cholmkille, the oak grove of Colmcille) was founded.
The Heritage Centre, overlooking Garten Lake (three huge stones rising from it are called Colmcille's footsteps) depicts the life of early Celts, Patrick, and Colmcille through a series of illustrated graphic posters. Details of the history and life of Colmcille are highlighted in well written audio visual presentation, and throughout the Centre are replicas of artefacts uncovered near sites where Colmcille lived and worked, the most striking a 12 feet high Celtic Cross that dominates the first floor display room.
Colmcille, in his day, caused much controversy (and even a bloody war) because he copied, without permission, a Book of Psalms. Copying the illuminated manuscript entailed hours of tedious labour in the freezing temperatures with little light. These manuscripts proved especially difficult because of the richly colourful intricate designs. But Colmcille was so taken with the book that he labored for well over a year in the most extreme conditions to make his own copy.
On display in the back room are several white oyster shells, each with a different coloured powder and each with a description of where and how colours for use in illuminated manuscripts were obtained.
Colmcille was eventually convicted of the first copyright infringement with this ruling: "To each cow its calf, to each book its owner." The ruling, in effect, exiled Columcille to Scotland where he lived, thrived, and created many monasteries.
The last display of the Centre is a wax-figure likeness of Colmcille as he might have looked. He has a Celtic tonsure (specific way of shaving head), wears a linen sheath, a woollen cloak, and leather shoes, all representative wear of the time.
Colmcille's story is told through a series of banners, stained glass panels, illustrations, and displayed artefacts. A visit will prove interesting, informative, and definitely worth the scenic drive around Gartan Lake.
Hours: May - September, Mon-Sat, 10:30 -6, Sun 1-6 (arrangements for groups can be made outside these times).
Admission: €3 adults, €2 students
How to get there:
From Dublin: N2/A5 thru Omagh to Lifford. From Lifford, N14/N13 to Letterkenney, then R250W to jct R251towards Churchill and follow signs to Colmcille Heritage Centre.
From Belfast: A6 to Derry, N13 to Letterkenney, R250W towards Churchill and follow signs to Colmcille Heritage Centre.
St. Colmcille Heritage Centre
Gartan, Churchhill, Co. Donegal
T: 074 913 7021
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007