Tuesday 13 December 2022

Saint Colum of Terryglass at Inishcaltra

December 13 is the feast of Saint Colum of Terryglass, County Tipperary. He is also credited in the Life preserved in the Salamancan Codex with being the founder of the monastery at Inishcaltra, an island off the western shore of Lough Derg, County Clare. Professor Pádraig Ó Riain has translated The Life of Colum of Terryglass in his 2014 collection Four Tipperary Saints and below are three short extracts which deal with Saint Colum's time on the holy island of Inishcaltra. In the first we see a familiar trope from hagiography, where a saint is directed to a particular location by an angelic messenger. Then once there a source of sustenance is miraculously provided for him in the form of a sweet-tasting tree sap which also has 'the inebriating quality of wine'. Finally, we have a sample of Saint Colum's spiritual wisdom prompted by a question from one of his faithful monastics:

...An angel of the Lord then appeared to him, to say 'Arise and go to Inishcaltra'. There he found an old man by the name of Mac Reithe, to whom the angel said: 'Relinquish this island to Colum and go somewhere else as a monk of his', which he did.

Then, on the day of Colum's arrival on Inishcaltra, the Lord made a meal for him, for there was a certain tree on the island by the name of lime-tree whose sap, on dripping down, filled a vessel and had the taste of honey. The fluid had the inebriating quality of wine, and Colum and his followers were sated by this excellent liquid.

Colum then lived on Inishcaltra for a long time, and the birds of the sky clung intimately to him there, flying about his face and playing. At this, his disciple Nadh Caoimhe said: 'Why, master, do the birds not take flight from you: they truly avoid us?' Colum replied: 'Why should birds avoid a bird? Just as the bird flies, so does my mind never cease from flying to heaven'.

 P. Ó Riain, ed. and trans., 'The Life of Colum of Terryglass' in Four Tipperary Saints, (Four Courts Press, 2014), 15~ 16~ 17~, p. 13.

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