Wednesday 23 August 2023

Saint Columcille the Dove of the Church - Alice Curtayne

Saint Columcille the Dove of the Church
Alice Curtayne
Anthonian Press

I first encountered the works of Alice Curtayne in 2018, since then I have read works by her a titles of 27 times. I have been slowing tracking down all her volumes. If my research is accurate she wrote 22 books, 10 booklets or tracks, she was an editor and translator of 2 volumes. She also contributed numerous articles to various newspapers, magazines and religious publications. Some of her volumes I have read a number of times. I read this one with great anticipation. Most of Curtayne’s works never had North American editions. I have had a hard time finding them. Recently I discovered that the National Library of Ireland will scan out of print books for a price. 

I have no description or dust jacket information from this volume. The back cover is an advertisement for Anthonian’s volume Saint Brigid of Ireland by Curtayne. There are 10 full page pen and ink illustrations in the volume, including the inside of the back cover. I highlighted several passages my second time through the volume. Some of them are:

“Ireland's Great Triad of Saints-Patrick, Brigid and Columcille-arose in that period where begins certainty in our record. They stand at that boundary on which abut all our history, literature, art architecture, and even topography, They are the first, as they are still the proudest, boast of Christian Ireland.”

“Columcille, who comes third in order of time, stands apart from the other two in certain important differences. The first of these is his royal blood. his aristocracy. Patrick, though of good Roman family, had been sold into slavery in Ireland and had lived in this condition through all the most impressionable year of his youth, from the age of sixteen to twenty-two. Brigid the daughter of a slave-girl But in the veins of Columcille ran the bluest blood of the Celts. He was eligible for even the High Kingship of Ireland.”

“Moreover, Columcille had the good fortune to an excellent biographer within a comparatively short interval after his death. I refer to Adamnan. The sources of the life of Columcille are, therefore, unusually perfect and they are offered to us with every imaginable guarantee.”

“There us a third quality about Columcille, which distinguishes him from his two great predecessors in saintliness and especially endears him to his people, a quality that can be best described as his Irishness. Not his pure and ancient lineage only accounts for this. Columcille was typically Irish in every facet of his complex and intriguing personality. He was generous-hearted, vehement, with a proud bearing, mercilessly ascetic, artistic in temperament, chivalrous to the point of folly. This poet-saint lived in exile and the pain of it him, all but killed him. For this, he has become the special patron of generations of emigrants. The highest ideal of every Irish Christian, since the sixth century, is mirrored to some extent in Columcille, as in a universal Irish model.”

“Such was the ancestry of Columcille, who was born on the 7th December 521, about three years before the death if Brigid. His birthplace was gartan, in Donegal. Columcille himself could have aspired to the High Kingship of Ireland, had he not rejected it to dedicate himself to the service of God..”

“The biy’s first teacher was St. Finnian at the latter’s famous school at Moville. It was here that Felemidh’s son received the sobriquet of Columcille, or “Dove of the Church,” on account of his unceasing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. And Columcille he has remained to posterity. From Finnian, he passed under the tutelage of German, a renowned bard. Thence he proceeded to the school of another St. Finnian, that of Clonard. And finally Columcille went to Mobhi, at Clasnevin, where training was completed.”

“After establishing a monastery at Derry, Columcille laboured at missional work in Ireland for a period of seventeen years, and founded two other famous monasteries, one at Darrow and the other at Kells. In addition, he founded some thirty-four lesser monasteries and churches.”

“Iona, the Island in the waste of seas to the west of Scotland, which he made his missionary headquarters, was rocky. barren, treeless, fiat, and about two miles in length. Columcille loved the pleasant pastoral scenery of Ireland, its rivers and woods, the rich and changeful colours of its mountains. Henceforth, his landscape was grey rock, surrounded by monotonous grey seas, under a greyer sky.”

“Thanks to the labours of Columcille and his monks, Iona soon became a humming hive if industry. They built themselves clay and wattle cells; a fine church of oak, roofed with thatch as was then the custom.”

“He pushed his coracle up to Inverness in order to preach the Gospel to King Brode, whom he converted. He walked hundreds of miles on foot until the whole of Pictland was brought into the orbit of the Faith; and he ventured on voyages of exploration into hitherto uncharted seas, visiting the Hebrides. the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Faroe Islands and even Iceland, establishing everywhere bis monastic foundations. And so numerous was the rush of disciples to Columcille at Iona, that he was soon able to send brother missionaries, whom he himself had trained, to points as far distant as Northumbria, the Isle of Man, and Southern Britain.”

“Sometimes he eased the pangs of exile in the writing of poetry. The most famous of his compositions is the Columcille Cecenit, of which this is the very fine version by Dr. Douglas Hyde:

O, Son of my God, what a pride, what a pleasure
To plough the blue sea!
The waves of the fountain of deluge to measure,
Dear Eire, to thee.

We are rounding Moy-n-Olurg, we sweep by its
head, and
We plunge through Loch Foyle,
Whose swans could enchant ·with their music the
dead, and
Make pleasure of toil.

The host of the gulls come with joyous commotion
And screaming and sport,
I welcome my own Dewy-Red from the ocean
Arriving in port.

0 Eire, were wealth my desire, what a wealth were
To gain far from thee,
In the land of the stranger, but there even health
A sickness to me!

Alas, for the voyage! 0 High King of Heaven,
Enjoined upon me,
For that I on the red plain of bloody Cooldrevin
Was present to see.

How happy the son is of Dima, no sorrow
For him is designed,
He is having, this hour, round his own hill in
The wish of his mind.

The sound of the wind in the elms, like the
strings of
A harp being played, 
The note of the blackbird that claps with the
wings of
Delight in the glade.

With him in Ross-Grencha the cattle are lowing
At earliest dawn, 
On the brink of the Summer the pigeons are coomg
And doves on the lawn.

Three things am I leaving behind me, the very
Most dear that I know,
Tir-Leedach I'm leaving, and Durrow and Derry,
Alas. I must go!

Yet my visit and feasting with Comgall have
eased me
At Cainneach's right hand,
And all but thy government, Eire, has pleased me,
Thou waterfall land!”

“When Columcille was setting out on his self·
imposed exile, he wrote a poem of Farewell to
Ireland, rendered thus by Dr. Douglas Hyde:
Too swiftly my coracle flies on her way,
From Derry I moumfully turned her prow,
I grieve at the errand which drives me to-day
To the Land of the Ravens, to .o\lba, now.
How swiftly we travel ! There is a grey eye
Looks back upon Erin, but it no more
Shall see while the stars sball endure in the sky
Her women, her men, or her stainless shore.
From the plank of the oak where in sorrow I lie,
I am straining my sight through the water and wind
And large is the tear of the soft grey eye
Looking back on the land that it leaves behind.”

“Columcille lived the life of a Celtic monk, that is to say, he practised an asceticism of the very severest kind. Sometimes, as he stood on a knoll at Iona, praying within. view of his brethren, it is said that " the trace of his ribs through his raiment was manifest when the wind blew." He was never willing to be outdone by anyone in his powers of asceticism, and sometimes his brethren resorted to the most curious stratagems in order to mitigate the harshness of his self imposed penances.”

“Columcille is credited with the founding of three hundred churches in all. It appears that his labours as a scribe were on a numerical level with this record, and that he made a total of three hundred manuscript copies of the New Testament.”

“And thus he died without sigh or movement. It was the dawn of June 9th, m the year 597. That loving smile of reassurance, which he turned to the monks as they held the lamps over him, remained carved on Columcille s face in death, so that he looked like a man, not dead, but in some blissful repose.”

“He was interred in Iona but when , two hundred years later, this asylum of peace was threatened by the Danes, the remains of Columcille were removed to Ireland and placed in the same tomb as those of Patrick and Brigid.”

“I have already written elsewhere how the tragic unsuitability of this burial place strikes a chill on the heart and almost numbs the faculties. The temple of worship overshadowing the sire is discordantly cold, empty and smelling of disuse. But the whole grievance is a very old story now. This grave has been throughout the ages, in fact, a kind of resort for patriots who were tempted to break out into the hero-rage.”

This volume obtained both the Nihil Obstat and Imprimi Potest. Reading this was a great pleasure. And completed a trilogy of booklets by Curtayne on Brigid, Patrick and Columcille or Columba as I first knew him. Reading about the Irish saints of old both inspired and challenges. And makes one mourn for the current spiritual state of the emerald Isle. As a descendant of those shores it is hard to watch what has happened there over the last several years and watch the continued fall. We need new Irish saints. And we need to invoke the old ones, for our own conversion and growth and for that of their spiritual children. 

I hope those few samples give you a feel for this work. I have a wonderful Novena to Columba I try and pray each year. Having read this book I am certain I will do the novena with new eyes and hopefully a new heart. I love Curtayne’s writing style, I am just drawn in and taken back in time to the events when reading her works. This is another great little volume from Curtayne’s masterful pen, if you can lay your hands on it I highly recommend it.    

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books and Booklets by Alice Curtayne:
A Recall to Dante
Francis Ledwidge: A Life of the Poet
Lough Derg: St. Patrick's Purgatory
Patrick Sarsfield
Saint Anthony of Padua
St. Bernard Doctor of The Church 1933

Books Edited by Alice Curtayne:
The Complete works of Francis Ledwidge

Books Translated by Alice Curtayne:
Labours in the Vineyard by Giovanni Papin

Books Contributed to by Alice Curtayne:

Croagh Patrick  Alice Curtayne

Saint Patrick Apostle of Ireland Alice Curtayne

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