columba: dealing with bardic misconduct

…The island was Iona, in the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. And the monastery he finally founded there was to be the longest lasting and the most influential of all the Celtic abbeys. From that base he converted the pagan Scottish people of the mainland, as well as the islanders. From it, too, went forth the most successful of the pioneering monks into Britain. And also there Columba tamed his own defiant spirit into a gentleness still lauded by his countrymen. He tuaght scholars. He worked in the fields with his monks and protected the beasts and wild fowl, which, the legend tells, flocked about him. It is said that when he was dying even his old horse shed tears of sorrow.

—Rogier van der Weyden – St. Columba Altarpiece
—Read More:

He left Iona only once. in his sole journey back to the Ireland he had forsworn he did not, however, break his vow. He kept his word by a ruse worthy of wily Odysseus.

In his absence the bards had become national nuisances. Brimming over with pride of office, they had begun to drive hard bargains for their services. They meddled with politics, asked enormous prizes for presiding over a victory or a marriage, and in general paraded their power like officials- and poets- in every generation. The always prickly natives rose against them. At tara, the regal hill fortress, they besought the king to put a stop to bardic misconduct.

—St Columba Landing at Iona
by Frank Brangwyn
Date painted: c.1920
Tempera on canvas, 228 x 227 cm (estimated)
Collection: Christ’s Hospital Foundation—Read More:

The current occupant of the High Seat must have been a man as impulsive as the young Columba. Instead of merely reproving the bards, the king decided to exile them.Terrified by the sentence, the bards could think of nothing to do except enlist Columba on their side.

“You are one of us,” they told him by messenger. “Without you we perish.”

The came the problem. The saint in his tolerant solitude could realize better than his exploited countrymen how Ireland would miss its praisers. Besides, he loved a well-turned verse. But how could he “look again on Ireland’s shores” when he had made that solemn pledge.


(see link at end)…Columba refused to hand over the copy, and Dermott forced the issue militarily. Columba’s family and clan defeated Dermott at the battle of Cooldrevny in 561. Tradition further holds that St. Molaisi of
Devenish, Columba’s spiritual father, ordered Columba to bring the same number of souls to Christ that he had caused to die as pennance. In 563, Columba landed on Iona with 12 disciples, and founded a new monastery. After founding several more monasteries, confounding the local druids, and participating in another battle (this time against St. Comgall over who owned the church of Colethem), Columba died on June 9, 597….Read More:

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