|Credit: Museum of Free Derry|
Here is an excerpt from my manuscript about the process, and reasons, for doing so.
The celebrations of the thirteen hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Columba scheduled to be held in Gartan, Donegal, provided the catalyst for Father Willie to expand his vision of Derry as a city inspired by Columba, and to invite the city’s Catholic population to join together in reverence for their religion and in pride for their cultural heritage. Father Willie served as a conduit, providing the stimulus and organization that enabled local Catholics to express publicly a broader Irish community identity in a way that was respectable, even pious. Invented traditions rarely thrive on the strength of one person; they only take root in ground that supports and sustains them. For Derry, though Father Willie proposed the idea, celebrating Columba was a way to celebrate themselves.
Born in Gartan, Donegal, and reputedly the descendant of a high king of Ulster, Columba is one of the most important Irish saints. It is believed that he founded a monastery in Derry, the Dubh Regles, or ‘Black Church.’ He left Derry and Ireland to establish a monastery at Iona, where the famous Book of Kells was produced in 800, possibly for the two-hundredth anniversary of the saint’s death. In an effort to contextualize the events of the 13th centenary, Derry Journal reporter Thomas O’Kane explained Columba’s wider significance:
Far and near, wherever the Irish race had a home, and their Celtic eloquence found a platform, in the cities of America, as well as in the hills of old Tyrconnell by his native Gartan, learned tongues spoke of and saintly pastors dwelt on the life and career of Ireland’s great saint, patriot and poet.