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Life of iconic warrior saint set to feature in BBC Alba documentary

By Alan Beresford

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WARRIOR, poet, holy man: the revealing life story of one of Ireland and Scotland’s most important saints is told in a new documentary celebrating 1500 years since the birth of Columba: The Bold Saint.

Colmcille – St Columba – on high.
Colmcille – St Columba – on high.

Broadcasting simultaneously on BBC ALBA and TG4 on December 7 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of the Irish and Scottish saint’s birth, this documentary echoes his very own pilgrimage taken all those years ago.

Though known by many as the Dove of Peace, he was at the centre of bloody battles, before founding a monastery on Iona, laying the foundations for the island to become a beacon of civilization in the Early Middle Ages – he’s even said to have taken on the Loch Ness Monster!

Viewers will journey from Donegal to Iona, uncovering the truths behind the myths surrounding the troublemaker, copyright infringer, warrior and exile, who came to be one of the most revered individuals in Scottish and Irish history, as well as gaining international renown over the centuries.

Archaeologists Dr Ewan Campbell & Dr Adrián Maldonado, at the site of Columba's Cell, in grounds of Iona Abbey.
Archaeologists Dr Ewan Campbell & Dr Adrián Maldonado, at the site of Columba's Cell, in grounds of Iona Abbey.

Dramatic reconstruction is interwoven with expert accounts as viewers rediscover the achievements of this most uncompromising of saints.

Calum Cille – An Naomh Dàna is produced by Abú Media and MacTV with funding from Northern Ireland's Screen's Irish Language Broadcast Fund, TG4 and MG ALBA.

The documentary will air simultaneously on Tuesday, December 7 at 9.30pm on BBC Alba and TG4, and will be available on the BBC iPlayer within the UK for up to 30 days after broadcast.

In Calum Cille: An Naomh Dàna Dr Duncan Sneddon, from the University of Edinburgh shares his views on the iconic figure.

On St Columba’s legacy, he said: “There’s a difference between Columba the man who lived on Earth and the historical figure who was recreated in the generations after his death - and they all create their own Columba.

"But they all tell us something important. They all put together a Columba who was powerful, brave and important in different ways.”

Alan Esslemont ,Director General of TG4, added: "Addressing the Scottish Parliament in 2016, President Michael D Higgins reflected on the relationship between Ireland and Scotland [said] 'given our shared and complex history, it has often been difficult to say where the Irish ends and where what is Scottish begins. Or the other way round'.

"Colm Cille, warrior-cleric-politician, was in the vanguard of what was consciously the Irish colonisation and plantation of Scotland, spreading Irish Christianity throughout Scotland and using the names for Ireland, Éire, Fódhla, Banbha, Ealg to symbolically stake out Irish ownership of key places in Scotland, Strathearn (the Valley of Ireland), Glenelg (the Glen of Ireland) Atholl (New Ireland), Banff (Ireland) and Elgin (Little Ireland).

’I am delighted, to mark the 1500th anniversary of his birth, that TG4 and our Scottish sister channel, BBC Alba, are bringing a fresh and compelling documentary to screens in both of our countries on the life of this most obstinate, avant-gardist, bold and influential Gael who permanently changed both Ireland and Scotland.”

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