I gCoiscéimeanna Choilmcill - In the Footsteps of Colmcille

St Colmcille
St Colmcille of Ireland

On the 1400th anniversary of St Colmcille's death, President of Ireland, Mary Robinson retraced the saint's journey from Donegal to Derry to the Isle of Iona. Ending her pilgrimage on the Isle of Skye on his feast day, 9th June, 1997, she gave a lecture beginning with the following poem written by Colmcille himself over 1400 years before.

1. Aoibhinn dom bheith air cnoc oileáin
Ar barr carraige
Go bhféacha mé minic ar an fharraige ciúin.

Delightful to me to be on an island hill,
on the crest of a rock,
that I might often watch the quiet sea.

2. Go bhféacha mé na dtonnta troma
Os cionn an t-uisce geal mar canann siad
Ceol chig a n-Athair go síoraí.;

That I might watch the heavy waves
above the bright water, as they chant
music to their Father everlastingly.

3. Go bhféacha mé dtrá mín geal-chiumhaiseach,
Ní caitheamh aimsire dorcha go gcloise mé glór
na néan iasachta, glór taitneamhach é.;

That I might watch it's smooth, bright-bordered shore,
no gloomy pastime, that I might hear the cry
of the strange birds, a pleasing sound.

4. Go gcloise mé crónán na dtonnta fada
in aghaidh na gcarraigeacha, go gcloise mé
glór an fharraige mar chaoineadh ar taobh uaigh.

That I might hear the murmur of the long waves
against the rocks, that I might hear
the sound of the sea, like mourning beside a grave.

5. Go bhféacha mé na b-ealtaí é go hiontach
Os cionn na farraige lán d'uisce, go bhféacha mé
a míolta mora laidre, an t-iontas is mó.;

That I might watch the splendid flocks of birds
over the well-watered sea, that I might see
its mighty whales, the greatest wonder.

6. Go bhféacha mé a thrá's tuile ina nimeacht
Go raibh mar ainm orm - sé rún a n-innsím--;
"Séisean a chas a chúl ar Eirinn."

That I might watch its ebb and flood in their course,
that my name should be--it is a secret that I tell--
"he who turned his back upon Ireland."

Historical Note: Columcille (521-597 A.D.) is also known as Columba, which is the version of his name that most English speakers use. Columba, in Latin, means "dove." Colum Cill means "dove of the church." Columcille is the nickname that the Irish gave him, and call him by. He was forced to leave Ireland because of his reproducing a book in the scriptorium without permission. An Irish Celtic Monastic, he brought twelve monks with him, and founded the monastery on the island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland, where the book of Kells was written and he was the Irish Missionary Monk who led the Picts (Northern Scots) to Christ. There is an old rhyme that goes: "In County Down, three saints one grave do fill: Patrick, Brigid and Colmcille."

Rhyming Text: When Mary Robinson ended her pilgrimage on the Isle of Skye she began her talk with words attributed to St Colmcille himself in the rhyming version by Ulster poet, John Montague. The words she spoke are below and differ from the original above due to the fact that they rhyme, and are as follows:

On some island I long to be,
a rocky promontory, looking on
the coiling surface of the sea.

To see the waves, crest on crest
of the great shining ocean, composing
a hymn to the creator without rest.

To see without sadness the strand
lined with bright shells, and birds
lamenting overhead, a lonely sound.

To hear the whisper of small waves
against rocks, that endless
sea-sound, like keening over graves.

To watch the sea-birds sailing
in flocks, and most marvellous
of monsters the turning whale.

To see the shift from ebbtide
to flood and tell my secret name;
"He who set his back on Ireland."


Courtesy of Vivian and Jack Hennessey, IrishPage.com, April 2022.
Aistriúchán as Gaeilge le Seán Ó hAonghasa
Cuidiu ó Proinsias Osborne
Replay background music: Carolan's 151st Air

Filleadh Abhaile
Back to Poem Page