Columba and his twelve disciples landed his 18metre coracle on the southern tip ofIonaat Port na Churaich in 563 AD He established a monastery about 400 metres north of the present day cathedral. Columba brought with him the traditions of the Celtic Christian Church. The resulting school of learning which evolved through his influence, not only attracted scholars and pilgrims and the practice of writing which influenced the immediate surrounding area, but spread “monkish evangelism” far and wide throughoutEurope. Could a man known to be descended from “Niall of the Nine Hostages” and allegedly fleeing his homeland wanted for murder, have such a vast influence on the present day?
Between 784 and 986,Ionawas pillaged by invading Norsemen six times, probably in search of the gold and other treasures normally to be found in Irish churches of the time. The abbey church, restored in the eleventh century, was the site of establishing a Benedictine monastery, convent and nunnery by about 1200, only to be razed again after 1561 when the Reformed Church inScotlandhad passed an Act for “destroying all the abbeys of monks and friars, and for suppressing whatsoever monuments of idolatrie were remaining in the realm.” Beautiful archives of remote antiquity, revered buildings and the learning and records of ages were eradicated.
There is little evidence of this tiny island’s tumultuous past as you wander through it’s ancient ruins and pastoral atmosphere. A body of voluntary workers founded in 1938 under the inspiration and direction of Rev. George MacLeod began to undertake restoration of the abbey buildings, eventually bringing them to be the fine edifice you see today.
Strangely, St Columba was reputed to have no time for women or cattle on his island. This saying was attributed to him:-
“Far am bi bo bithidh bean;
Is far am bi bean bithidh molluchadh!”
“ Where there’s a cow there’s a woman;
And where there’s a woman there’s mischief”
(Milking of cows throughout the era would have been women’s responsibility)
While Iona became a place of interment for great men including 48 Scottish Kings, monarchs, clan chiefs and dignitaries from as far off as Norway and France, it’s more up to date claim is as the burial place of the late John Smith, the revered and respected leader of the Labour Party from July ’92 until his untimely death in May ‘94