Celebrating a shared saint’s legacy


THE year of 2021 will see celebrations and events to reflect on the legacy of St Columba as Scotland and Ireland approach the saint’s anniversary in December.

The Colmcille 1500 partnership will see involvement from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Foras na Gaeilge, uniting speakers of Irish and Gaelic in both Ireland and Scotland and forging new links from the ancient cultural relationship across the Irish Sea.

Credited with spreading Christianity in Scotland following his arrival on the west coast of the country from Ireland, Columba made his life in Scotland and formed one of the earliest links which still bind the two countries to this day. Now, cultural associations are being supported in marking the 1500th anniversary of the saint’s birth with a new celebration of his legacy.

Running from December 2020 to December 2021, the celebrations will aim to bring a greater awareness of Columba’s life and legacy, with a particular focus on the Gaelic culture so closely associated with his life.

Consulate on Colmcille
“Last month saw the start of a year-long celebration of Colmcille leading to the 1500th anniversary of his birth in December 2021,” Jane McCulloch, Ireland’s Consul General to Scotland, told The Irish Voice. “Over the next year, we will reflect on his legacy, which reaches far beyond these shores and is truly international—Colmcille, with his particular connections to Scotland, was one of Ireland’s early internationalists.

“I am looking forward to learning more about how his influence, whether linguistic, cultural, spiritual, legal, or academic remains relevant to us in a 21st century context, and how we can respond to that, particularly artistically. The Department of Foreign Affairs will fund new creative works which will celebrate, take inspiration from, and explore, the Columban legacy in a contemporary context. Keep an eye on our social media @irlscotland throughout the year.”

Collaboration and exchange
In spite of the difficulties which still exist from the worsening Covid-19 pandemic, plans are already well underway to develop and nurture the links between Scotland and Ireland and to open up new avenues for collaboration and exchange.

“With so much emphasis globally on that which separates us, celebrating Colmcille’s legacy in 2021 presents us with a welcome opportunity to accentuate common linguistic and cultural linkages between Ireland and Scotland, and Ireland, north and south,” Seán Ó Coinn, Príomhfheidhmeannach Fhoras na Gaeilge said. “The commemoration planned for 2021 will also allow us to follow in Colmcille’s footsteps and celebrate his linguistic and cultural legacy beyond these islands.

“I look forward to new partnerships between schools, to new contacts between all generations, to new discoveries about the legacy of Colmcille, and to using that legacy of to further revival of local communities.”

Links, impact and legacy
With changes in the relationship between the two nations at a political level following Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the importance of fostering the cultural and personal links which are so strong in Irish and Scottish people—not least in our Irish community here—has never been greater.

Looking back on the saint’s life and journeys in Scotland and Ireland, organisers hope that many more people can learn about our shared links and make new discoveries about the impact and legacy of Columba.

“Saint Columba and his legacy have shaped the language, culture and history of Scotland and Ireland and as such, the year is an opportunity to strengthen the ties between the two countries,” Shona MacLennan, Ceannard (CEO) of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, said. “We look forward to more events throughout the year, with a key event being planned around the Feast of St Columba on June 9, 2021. I encourage everyone to take part in these and celebrate in any way they can.”

Unifying spirit
The unifying spirit of St Columba can already be seen in the cross-border co-operation in Ireland, which has seen Derry City and Strabane District Council collaborate with their neighbours and counterparts in Donegal County Council to launch a fitting year of celebrations in honour of the saint.

“We are delighted to be working with our colleagues in Donegal County Council and wider partners to mark the 1500th anniversary of the birth of Derry’s patron saint Colmcille by hosting a year of events to recognise the importance of this saint not only for our city and district but also for the islands of Ireland and Scotland and across the entire world,” Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Brian Tierney said. “It is hugely important that we celebrate St Colmcille and the significant role he played in shaping our historical and cultural heritage. St Colmcille’s connection with Derry and Donegal is evident from the many landmarks, churches and schools which have adopted his name and I am delighted that with funding from the North West Development Fund, the Irish Government’s Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht and both Councils, we have been able to put into place an extensive range of celebratory events for everyone to enjoy and be part of.”

With many events, online content, school programmes and publications associated with Colmcille 1500, the Irish community encouraged to participate in the celebrations however it can and play their part shining a light on, and exploring, the centuries old cultural exchange that continues to the present day.