Throughout 2020 and 2021 we delved deep into the life and stories of the rich and significant historical figure of St. Colmcille, also known as St. Columba in Scotland. Along with Brigid and Patrick, Colmcille is one of three patron saints of Ireland. We put together a series of online poetry workshops to contribute towards Colmcilles’ 1500 birth year anniversary celebrations. These workshops created space for inspiration, reflection and the exploration of cross cultural perspectives of Colmcille, asking questions like – how can the poet draw from the themes and stories of Colmcilles life and how have poets previously responded to Colmcille?
“Of noble birth, Colmcille was regarded as a person of authority who could adjudicate in the political disputes between Ireland and the growing kingdom of Dalriada. As a poet, he is a representative of a society which took the role of the poet seriously. “—President Mary Robinson
These workshops, hosted by The Song House, designed and facilitated by Irish Poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin and Scottish Poet Charlie Gracie, encouraged students to identify resonant poetic themes from the life and legacy of Colmcille and to gain insights into the dynamics at play in the making of a poem.
Inspired ourselves by the poems that came out of these workshops, we put together a series of poetry showcase videos. Here you can watch and hear these poems from the poets themselves along with some snippets of the workshops:
Colmcille Poetry Showcase – Part 1: Exploring the Influence of Landscape
In this workshop, poets drew inspiration from the traces of Colmcille that remain in the physical landscape today. We discussed how Colmcille is viewed and celebrated differently in Ireland and in Scotland and we also looked at questions of ecology within the context of Colmcille’s story.
Colmcille Poetry Showcase Part 2: The Battle of the Book -Power & Conflict in the Story of Colmcille
The Battle of the Book is said to have taken place in the 6th Century, when a dispute broke out between Colmcille and a scholar named Finnian. In a landmark ruling, King Diarmait mac Cerbaill gave his judgement on what is known as the first copyright case ever, “To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.” Today, many of the questions concerned with this part of Colmcille’s story remain relevant. Who owns language? Who owns narrative? In this workshop we looked at how we can begin to consider themes of conflict, violence and resolution in our poems. What aspects of The Battle of the Book could we draw inspiration from?
Colmcille Poetry Showcase Part 3: Making a connection with the story of Colmcille
How can we find ways of connecting in poetry to Colmcille? How can we connect with an identity that is meaningful to us? In this workshop we will draw inspiration from perspectives and mythologies related to Colmcille who was, variously, depicted as a prince, scholar, saint, and who even featured in creature form. This workshop will provide a space to consider mythologies, symbolism and identities formed out of an intersecting pagan Ireland and Christian Ireland.
Annemarie & Charlie
Annemarie Ní Churreáin is a poet & writer from the Donegal Gaeltacht. Her publications include Bloodroot (Doire Press 2017) and The Poison Glen (The Gallery Press 2021). She is a recipient of the Next Generation Artist Award from the Irish Arts Council and a co-recipient of The Markievicz Award. Ní Churreáin is a former literary fellow of Akademie Schloss Solitude, Germany and a former artist-in-residence at Jack Kerouac House Orlando, Centre Culturel Irlandais Paris and Maynooth University of Ireland. The Yale Review surmised that “Ní Churreáin often captures a whole world of cultural and historical implications in a single, simple, but metaphorically rich image.” The Los Angeles Review of Books states “that Ní Churreáin can condense the prototypical life of a young Irish woman into half a page while sustaining the poem’s impact is testament to her ability as a storyteller, the vividness of her language, and the universality of the portraits she is painting…”. An Irish Times review noted Ní Churreáin’s voice full of ‘musicality’ ‘sensuousness’ and ‘fearlessness’. www.studiotwentyfive.com
Charlie Gracie grew up in Baillieston, Glasgow. His poetry collections, Good Morning, (2010) and Tales from the Dartry Mountains (2020), were published by Diehard Press. His first novel, To Live With What You Are (2019) was published by Postbox Press. He has strong links to Donegal, Leitrim and Belfast. His new poetry pamphlet, Belfast to Baillieston, will be published in 2021. His work has appeared in a range of anthologies and journals, with some listed for literary prizes, including the Bath Novel Award, Cambridge Short Story Prize, Fish Poetry Prize, and Bridport Short Story and Poetry Prizes. Charlie was the 2020 official Scriever for the Federation of Writers (Scotland) and is a former Chair of the Scottish Writers’ Centre. He now lives on the edge of the Trossachs. Visit www.charliegracie.scot for more on Charlie.
Podcast about Colmcille with Brian Lacey
In this special edition episode of the song house podcast, Sinead meets with Brian Lacey who is an archaeologist, historian, lecturer, author and educator. This episode is especially dedicated to the subject of Colmcille/Columba – the historical figure who’s 1500 birth year anniversary is marked and celebrated this year. Brian himself celebrates 50 years of Colmcille study and we thought it fitting to invite him to share some of his wealth of knowledge in relation to Colmcille with us.
This project has been supported though the Colmcille1500 Grant Scheme which is funded by the North West Development Fund and Creative Ireland, in conjunction with and supported by The Executive Office and The Irish Government.