Scots and Irish share Columba’s story in TV show on his 1,500th birthday

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Warrior, poet, holy man: the revealing life story of one of Ireland and Scotland’s most important saints is told in a new documentary celebrating 1,500 years since the birth of Calum Cille: An Naomh Dàna | Columba: The Bold Saint.

The documentary is available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days, after its broadcast on BBC ALBA and TG4 on December 7 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of the Irish and Scottish saint’s birth,

Though known by many as the Dove of Peace, he was at the centre of bloody battles, before founding a monastery on Iona, laying the foundations for the island to become a beacon of civilisation in the Early Middle Ages – he’s even said to have taken on the Loch Ness Monster.

Viewers will journey from Donegal to Iona, uncovering the truths behind the myths surrounding the troublemaker, copyright infringer, warrior and exile, who came to be one of the most revered individuals in Scottish and Irish history, as well as gaining international renown over the centuries.

Dramatic reconstruction is interwoven with expert accounts as we rediscover the achievements of this most uncompromising of saints.

Dr Duncan Sneddon from the University of Edinburgh spoke of Columba’s legacy: ‘There’s a difference between Columba the man who lived on Earth and the historical figure who was recreated in the generations after his death – and they all create their own Columba. But they all tell us something important. They all put together a Columba who was powerful, brave and important in different ways.’

Dr Niamh Wycherley of Maynooth University said in the programme: ‘Arguably Colmcille’s most important and lasting legacy is the great swathe of ecclesiastical foundations that he established across Ireland and parts of western, now, Scotland. Iona of course was his primary foundation, the one he’s most rightly famous for.

‘However he also founded other major ecclesiastical institutions – Kells and Durrow. These primary foundations of Colmcille produced some of our most precious and famous historical artefacts – the Book of Kells, The Book of Durrow, early collections of the Irish Annals. These are incredibly important texts in their own right, but also physical objects.’

Alan Esslemont, Director General of TG4, said: ‘Addressing the Scottish Parliament in 2016, President Michael D. Higgins reflected on the relationship between Ireland and Scotland, “given our shared and complex history, it has often been difficult to say where the Irish ends and where what is Scottish begins. Or the other way round.”

‘Colm Cille, warrior-cleric-politician, was in the vanguard of what was consciously the Irish colonisation and plantation of Scotland, spreading Irish Christianity throughout Scotland and using the names for Ireland, Éire, Fódhla, Banbha, Ealg to symbolically stake out Irish ownership of key places in Scotland, Strathearn (the Valley of Ireland), Glenelg (the Glen of Ireland), Atholl (New Ireland), Banff (Ireland) and Elgin (Little Ireland).

‘I am delighted to mark the 1,500th anniversary of his birth, that TG4 and our Scottish sister channel, BBC ALBA, are bringing a fresh and compelling documentary to screens in both of our countries on the life of this most obstinate, avant-gardist, bold and influential Gael who permanently changed both Ireland and Scotland.’