Northern Ireland news

President Higgins to address St Columba anniversary events

President Michael D Higgins will deliver a keynote address on the life of St Colmcille tomorrow, Thursday. Picture by Jane Barlow/PA Wire.
Seamus McKinney

President Michael D Higgins will tomorrow mark the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of Irish saint, Colmcille.

His address is one of a series of events leading up to the saint's feast day on June 9, which also include contributions from the Irish and UK ambassadors to the US and the premiere of a new musical composition, featuring Clannad singer, Moya Brennan.

From Gartan in Co Donegal, St Colmcille – also known as St Columba – founded his first site at Derry's Long Tower, establishing the city as a key monastic settlement. The saint gave his name to Derry's city title, Doire Cholmcille (Colmcille's oak grove). Following his self-imposed exile from Ireland, St Columba established a monastic centre on the Scottish island of Iona, from where his followers helped spread the Christian faith throughout Europe.

Celebrations marking his 1,500th anniversary start today with the 2021 American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS) at Ulster University's Magee campus.

President Higgin's keynote address to the conference will be live streamed to the public at at 5pm on Thursday. Speeches by the Irish and UK ambassadors to the US will be live-streamed on Saturday.

The programme of events has been jointly organised by Donegal county council and Derry and Strabane council. Project manager, Deirdre Harte said that while Covid restrictions had limited numbers attending physical events, the programme was available online.

“We're delighted with the number and range of events that are taking place around the Feast Day across the north west,” Ms Harte said.

RTE will broadcast Mass live from Saint Colmcille's birthplace at Gartan this Sunday (11am) with a Church of Ireland Service of Holy Communion at 12.30pm on

Other events will include a virtual series on Colmcille's life and legacy by the Raphoe diocese. A new musical composition, Alone with None but Thee by Margaret McAteer will be premiered with the Colmcille gospel choir, guest featuring, Moya Brennan of Clannad (

Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown will celebrate Mass from St Columba's church, Long Tower on June 9 (10am) before blessing water from the nearby St Columba's Well.

An exhibition 'Colmcille – Man and Myth' is continuing at Derry's Tower Museum while a limited edition of the 'Faksimile Verlag Luzern' Book of Kells is on display at Donegal Central Library in Letterkenny.

Full details of all events are available at

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