By Rev. Columba Edmonds, O.S.B.
St. Patrick’s work in Ireland was chiefly concerned with preaching the faith and establishing monasteries which served as centres of education. The great success that attended these efforts earned for Ireland the double title of Island of Saints and a Second Thebaid.
The monastic institutions organized by St. Patrick were characterized from their commencement by an apostolic zeal that knew no bounds. Sufficient scope was not to be found at home, so it was impatient to diffuse itself abroad.
Scotland: Hence in the year 563 St. Columcille, a Donegal native of royal descent, accompanied by twelve companions, crossed the sea in currachs of wickerwork and hides, and sought to land in Caledonia. They reached the desolate Isle of Iona on the day preceding Whitsunday.
Many years before, colonies of Irishmen had settled along the western parts of the present Scotland. The settlement north of the Clyde received the name of the Kingdom of Dalriada. These Dalriadan Irish were Christian at least in name, but their neighbors in the Pictish Highlands were still pagans. Columcille’s apostolate was to be among both these peoples. Adamnan says that Columcille came to Caledonia “for the love of Christ’s name”, and well did his after-life prove the truth of this statement. He had attained his forty-fourth year when King Conall, his kinsman, bestowed Iona upon him and his brethren. The island, situated between the Dalriadans and the Picts of the Highlands, was conveniently placed for missionary work. A numerous community recruited from Ireland, with Columcille as its Abbot, soon caused Iona to become a flourishing centre from which men could go forth to preach Christianity. Monasteries and hermitages rapidly sprang up in the adjacent islands and on the mainland. These, together with the Columban foundations in Ireland, formed one great religious federation, in which the Celtic apostles of the northern races were formed under the influence of the holy founder.