St Columba was born at Gartan, outside Letterkenny, in Co. Donegal, on December 7th, 521. He was a member of the reigning family of Ireland and of British Dalriada. He was educated by St Finnian of Movilla, and later at Clonard in Meath. His most famous Irish Foundations were at Durrow, and Derry in 545. Censured by a Synod for having caused warfare, he sailed from Derry with 12 companions in 563 and founded Iona, off the coast of Scotland, which became the greatest missionary centre for the evangelisation of Scotland and Northern England. In 575 he was the leading figure in a great Synod which lasted for months, held at Drumceatt (Roe Park, Limavady), an account of which may be seen in Montalambert's "Monks of the West. Here he pleaded for the independence of Scottish Dalriada from Irish Suzerainty and for toleration for the Irish bards who had ben bannished by the King for their exactions and turbulence. To this end he loved his Derry above evry other place and his poems often show it. Thus he writes-
"Were the tribute of all Alba mine,
From the centre to the border,
I would prefer the sight of one house
In the middle of fair Derry.
My Derry, my little oakgrove,
My dwelling and my little cell.
O eternal God in heaven above,
Woe be to him who violates it."
St Columba died in 597 but, for centuries after, the religious houses he founded were inspired by his splendid missionary spirit and played a noble part in the evangelisation of the world. His Church in Derry called Duv-Regles was on the west, at the Long Tower, a spot so called from a round tower which stood beside the Church. In 1164 the "Temple More" (The Great Church) was built in the same locality. About 1218 a Cistercian Nunnery was founded on the South side of the City. A Dominican Abbey and Church were built on the North side in 1274. An Augustinian Friary and Church, founded late in the 13th century, occupied the site of St Augustine's Church and the Palace Garden. A Franciscan Friary anciently occupied a site in Abbey Street, William Street, and Rossville Street although the date of its foundation is not known.
On the other side of the river are the ruins of three ancient Churches: St Brecan's (inside the grounds of St. Columb's Park) where Primate Colton held a visitation in 1937: St Columb's at Enagh Lough; and St Canice's, at Gransha, anciently Dearg-bruach, plundered by Rotsel Pitun in 1197.
Of St Columba, Dr. Simpson, the Scottish Historian writes: "For Scotland the figure of St. Columba stands luminously forth as the most vivid, real and commanding in the whole range of her early history". A Prince by descent, a Priest by choice, a Saint by grace; few indeed are they who have so long and so widely influenced for good the three Kingdoms.
Stained Glass Windows from St. Columba's Chapel, to the right of the sanctuary, St Columb's Cathedral, Londonderry.