We must turn our thoughts back to "the start of the sixth age" and allow ourselves to dream of the sound of an ancient chant coming from within the tiny church at Deer to find our friend Colm. He had come with Drostán, Fergus and Medan to establish a muinntir amongst the Picts of Buchan as the sixth century dawned upon the rolling countryside inhabited by the Taizaloi and Ce tribes.

But this gentle saint has been dealt a fearful blow by history. Much of what he accomplished has been ascribed to another! One of the most ancient books of Scotland, the Book of Deer, started what is a quite understandable problem. Centuries after Drostán, Colm and Fergus had obtained their heavenly reward, during the Gaidhealic ascendancy in Pictland, their names were removed from their proper historical setting, and woven into legends intended to create a belief in the priority of the Roman mission in Pictland, and to support the Romanized Gaidheals in the usurpation of the property of the old Pictish Church. In the famous legend, entered in the Book of Deer by an eleventh-century Gaidhealic hand, St Colm is boldly transformed into St Columba {the great Columcille} a Gaidheal; and St Drostán the Briton, and head of the mission at Deer, is subordinated to him. These reckless "fabulist" authors were probably blissfully unaware that Drostán laboured amongst the Picts of Buchan before Columcille had even begun his work in Ireland, let alone come to Hy {Iona}. Furthermore, in Columcille's time the Gaidheals regarded the Picts as their implacable foes, and were mediating to get back the parts of Dalriada out of which they had been hunted by the Pictish sovereign, and that, to this end, Columba had ordained to the Gaidhealic or Scotic throne of Dalriada, Aedhan, the arch-enemy of the Picts, and the man who betrayed the very Britons who had helped him to repair his broken fortunes when he was a wanderer from his own people. Now Drostán was, indeed, Aedhan's uncle, his sister being Aedhan's mother, but, in order to carry his mission to the Picts, he must have divorced this relationship as much as possible. Another legend, the Legend of Fergusiannus, credits the missionary work of Colm's colleague, St Fergus of Buchan and Caithness, to a certain Romanized Celt of late date bearing the same name. The object of this fabulist was evidently to make it appear that the beginnings of the Roman mission in Pictland were much earlier than was actually the case and, for many centuries, his ambition in part succeeded. If other evidence is needed it can be found in the names of the ancient dedications of the churches and holy wells. They are, largely, dedicated to St Colm which has been assumed to be a shortened form of St Columba. However, where authentic dedications to Columba are found they are invariably of the approximate form Kil-columcille. No, these ancient Pictish sites shout out the names of their founders to ears that are only now becoming aware of the ancient Pictish Christian traditions which far outdate any Romanized form of Christianity in these parts.

It is stunning to see scholars today being tempted into swallowing the same fabulism and wantonly ascribing swathes of early church sites in the north-east to the alien St Columba (see Taylor, Innes Review 2000).

St Colm's sites are to be seen in abundance scattered across Buchan and at one site (possibly two) which shows that he ventured to the southern banks of the River Dee - at Birse (and possibly Abergeldie).


St Colm's chapel, Abergeldie.


Remains of the ancient church at Abergeldie {NO286947}
for long attributed to St Columba but more properly dedicated to St Colm.


The present church at Birse  -  possibly on the site of St Colm's foundation. View from the south-west.


1. Oengus the Culdee was the author of the Felire of Oengus sometime between AD 797 and AD 808. Oengus was a monk of Clonenagh (Co. Offaly). He was, later, a member fo the important Culdee centre at Tallaght from whence came also the famous Stowe missal and the Martyrology of Tallaght. Oengus became abbot and bishop and died about the first quarter of the 9th century.



Return to top of page

e-mail: admin@cushnieent.force9.co.uk

© 2005  Cushnie Enterprises