UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Columba : patriarch, prophet and politician. An analysis of the figure of Columba in Adomnán's Vita Columbae and Manus Ơ Donnell's Betha Colaim Chille O Farrell, Aoife


St. Columba is an iconic figure in the early Irish Christian Church. His life and works are testament to the spread of Irish monasticism and the success of Christian colonization of the British Isles. His legacy in the literary canon is simultaneously soldier, scholar and saviour. Two biographies written nearly one thousand years apart are used to analyse the saint’s life as exemplar of spiritual and political probity. The Vita Columbae, penned in the seventh century C.E. by Adomnán, the abbot of Iona, presents the figure of Columba as an early Christian soldier and pioneer; a politically savvy individual conscious of his royal heritage and dynastic responsibilities. He is a figure who bridged the gap between the secular and the ecclesiastical realms of interest, demonstrating the potential for mutual benefit arising from the co-operation between church and state which resulted in the creation of a unique Gaelic Christian identity. In contrast, stands the sixteenth century life of Columba, the Betha Colaim Chille by Manus O’ Donnell who was a direct descendant of the saint. This account inverts the characterization of Columba to reveal him as a figure of resistance to English colonization, a soldier of destiny who will remind the Gaelic peoples of their history and bring about a renaissance in Irish culture and identity. For Adomnán this identity is tied to Columba and the monastery at Iona and articulated as synonymously Irish and Christian under the banner of Columbine monasticism. O' Donnell utilizes and builds on this legacy, depicting Columba as a revolutionary figure who combines the virtues and valour of his pre-Christian forbearers, the Gaelic chieftains. This image is one that all Gaelic peoples might ascribe to and thus avoid the colonisation and consequent Anglicization by the Tudor conquest of sixteenth century Ireland. Both works are important in the development of Irish Language, literature and culture upon which ideas of 'Gaelic Identity’ were articulated. The literary tradition of Columba is a part of a larger body of work that engages with these ideas and demonstrates the importance of Columba and his legacy in the historical record.

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