Colmcille 1500

St. Colmcille’s Chapel in Gartan is an archaeological monument that is protected under the National Monuments Acts and will undergo conservation works in 2021.
St. Colmcille’s Chapel in Gartan is an archaeological monument that is protected under the National Monuments Acts and will undergo conservation works in 2021.

Colmcille 1500 Commemorations

December 7, 2020 - December 7, 2021


St. Colmcille, also known as St. Columba, is one of Ireland's patron saints, a distinction that he shares with St. Patrick and St. Bridget.  St. Colmcille was born in Gartan, County Donegal on December 7, 521 A.D. or 520 A.D.  There are many sites associated with his life and many more that are dedicated to him.  In 545 A.D., St. Colmcille founded his first monastery in Derry / Doire Cholm Cille.  St. Colmcille and twelve monks sailed from Derry to the island of Iona in Scotland in 563 A.D.  He died on Iona on June 9, 597 A.D. and his feast day is commemorated on that date every year. 


Donegal County Council and Derry City & Strabane District Council have projects and events planned to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St. Colmcille between December 7, 2020 and December 7, 2021.  The programme has been developed based on extensive consultation undertaken for the Audit of Columban Cultural Heritage* by Abarta Heritage and commissioned by Donegal County Council, Derry City & Strabane District Council, Foras na Gaeilge and The Heritage Council as part of the implementation of the County Donegal Heritage Plan.  The programme includes:

  • Appointment of Colmcille 1500 Project Manager to coordinate the Colmcille 1500 commemorations with support from the North West Regional Development Fund;
  • Conservation works to selected Columban archaeological and built heritage sites including St. Colmcille’s Chapel, Gartan and Kilmacrennan Abbey;
  • Launch of a free downloadable Colmcille audio heritage guide of Columban heritage sites in County Donegal and the publication of a Colmcille colouring book commissioned under the County Donegal Heritage Plan;
  • Public art commission on the N56 between Letterkenny and Kilmacrennan;
  • Major cross-border exhibition and accompanying events programme exploring a variety of themes associated with the saint, his life and legacy in the Tower Museum, Derry (April – September 2021) and Donegal County Museum (September 2021 – February 2022);
  • Colmcille Digital Schools’ Folklore Project coordinated by the Donegal Library Service and Libraries NI in association with The Nerve Centre. Children from five primary schools in Donegal and five primary schools in Derry will gather folklore about Colmcille on a cross-generational basis. A selection of the stories will be recorded and transformed into an animated story on the life and lore of Colmcille that will culminate in a showcase event in April 2021;
  • Production of an educational resource pack for primary schools on the life and legacy of Colmcille commissioned by the Donegal County Archives.  The pack (consisting of an illustrated information booklet and worksheets) will be available in both English and Irish and will be distributed to schools in early 2021;
  • Academic conference at the Magee College campus of Ulster University;
  • Cross-border production by An Grianan Theatre of Brian Friel’s play ‘The Enemy Within’.  Set on the island of Iona in the autumn of 587 A.D., the play examines a period in the life of St. Colmcille as a man having worked in his ministry for many years and settled in his monastery in Iona, is still subject to the demands of his turbulent family clan in Donegal.  The production directed by Caitríona McLaughlin will run for one week in Letterkenny before undertaking a three-week tour of Dublin, Belfast, Sligo, Longford and Derry City in May - June 2021.
  • Composition and arrangement of a Colmcille-related suite of musical works for orchestra and voices by Donegal Youth Orchestra conductor and composer Vincent Kennedy in partnership with Donegal Music Education Partnership.  The premier performance of the newly-commissioned work will take place in the latter half of 2021;
  • Production of a select bibliography of titles relating to Colmcille available in the Library Service’s Donegal Studies Collection;
  • Display of facsimile copy of the Book of Kells in the Central Library, Letterkenny; and
  • Selected on-line and live cultural events.


Note: All events will comply with COVID-19 public health guidance and hence plans may be subject to change.


Alongside the work of the two Councils, there is a wide range of other stakeholders at home and abroad, many of whom organised events for the launch date of 7 December 2020, and will deliver a Colmcille-related programme throughout the year.  The Colmcille~Columba 1500 Steering Group brings together many of these stakeholders.  Work on creating a single point with information on all initiatives is underway.