Let us first be sure of the most ancient name of the island which has for so many generations been a place of dreams for the Scottish peoples. We should also be certain that Iona was a holy place long before St Columba arrived from Ireland.
Iona is most anciently known as Ioua, its ancient Gaelic or Pictish name. This is the name invariably used by Adamnán, the ninth abbot, writing at the end of the seventh century. In modern Gaelic it is called I (pronounced ee), which simple form means island. In the fifth century the Druids are supposed to have come here to escape the persecution of Imperial Rome, and to have founded a library on the island. In 410, when Fergus II became an ally of Alaric the Goth, he added to that library by bringing back books from the plunder of Rome. So it was an established place of learning well before Columba arrived! Another name for the island is Innis nam Druineach, meaning the Island of the Cunning Workmen, or sculptors; and still another is Innis-nam-Druidneach, the Isle of Druids.
More than twenty years before Columba came to Iona, a Christian cemetery was founded on the island by St Oran of Letteragh, who died in 548. This Reilig Odhrain was the burial place of the kings of Dalriada up to 560, three years before Columba's arrival with his twelve followers. There is also a tradition that there was a college of seven bishops on the island at one time; and that two of them met Columba when he arrived from Ireland and did their best to persuade him not to land. Bishops in the ancient church had no territorial or diocesan powers and were subject to the authority of the ab (the old term for abbot) of the community where they were living at the time. They were simply required to provide episcopal functions such as ordination. Many of the community would not be ordained and they did not dedicate their churches in the modern sense, so the bishops were much limited in their functions.
The succession of abs which follows starts with Colum-Cille (St Columba) himself.
547 - 597 St Columba.
597 - 600 Baithéne. Colum Cille's devoted servant, cousin and successor as ab of the community. During Columba's life Baithéne had charge of Hinba, and Mag Luinge in Tiree. He is said to have been and accomplished scribe and was selected by Columba before his death to finish the Psalter he himself had started.
600 - 605 Lasrén Mac Feradaig. During Colmba's time Lasrén was in charge of the satellite community at Durrow. He was the son of a cousin of Columba.
605 - 623 Fergnae. The first ab not to be a blood-relation of Colum Cille. He is said to have had some British blood.
623 - 652 Ségéne. He was the nephew of Lasrén mac Feradaig. Died 12 August 652.
652 - 657 Suibhne moccu Urthri. Died 11 January 657.
657 - 669 Cumméne. A nephew of ab Ségéne. Visited Ireland in 661. Died 24 February 669.
669 - 679 Failbe. Third cousin of Cumméne. He spent from 673 to 676 in Ireland. Died 22 March 679.
679 - 704 Adomnán - biographer of St Columba. He was ab at the time of the Synod of Whitby and, although converted to the Roman ways himself he was unable to persuade his community on Hy. Died 23 September 704.
704 - 710 Conamail.. Died in 710, but we learn that Dunchad had already become abb in 707 and continued until his death in 717. There is known to have been a schism on Iona in 704 and that there were, consequently, and to 772, times when there were two rival Abbs. The schism was the result of the attempt to 'convert' Iona to the Roman ways.
707 - 717 Dunchad. Died 25 May 717.
713 - 713 Dorbbéne. Died Saturday 28 October 713 having had the primacy for only five months.
716 - 724 Fáelchú. He received the chair of St Columba at the age of seventy-three on Saturday 29 August and died as ab in 724.
722 - __? Fedlimid. Before Fáelchú died in 724, the annals recorld that Fedlimid became ab, but his death is not recorded. It would seem that he was installed alongside Dunchad - perhaps because of the latter's great age and infirmity, but see Conamail above.
724 - 726 Cilléne Fota. (Cilléne the Tall).
726 - 752 Cilléne Droichtech. (Cilléne the Bridgemaker.)
752 - 767 Slébine. Was in Ireland in 754.
767 - 772 Suibne.
772 - 801 Bresal. Is known to have visited Ireland in 778.
801 - 802 Connachtach. ("Scriba selectisimus".)
802 - 814 Cellach. Died 815. Built Kells church in Ireland.
814 - 832 Diarmait. Carried St Columba's relics to Ireland in 830.
832 - 854 Innrechtach. Slain by Saxons on his way to Rome 12 March 854.
"An I mo chridhe, I mo ghráidh,
An áite guth mhanach bidh geum bá;
Ach mu'n tig an savghal gu crich,
Bithidh I mar a bha."
I will gladly e-mail a translation of the above to anyone who wishes it.
The following continuation is only suggested since much information is fragmentary.
Cellach. Removed St Columba's shrine to Ireland.
Feradach McCormac. Died 879.
Flaun McMaleduin. Died 890.
Maelbrigid. Abbot of Armagh. Died 927.
Aongas McMuircert. Died 935.
Dubtach. Died 938.
Caonconichrae. Died 945.
Robhartach. Died 954.
Duibduin. Died 959.
Finghin. Bishop, died 966.
Fiachra. Died 977.
Mugron. This abbot and 15 monks were slain by the Danes on Christmas Eve, 985.
Maelciarin. Murdered by the Dublin Danes, 986.
Dunchad. Died 989.
Dubdalethe. Abbot of Armagh, died 996.
Maelbrigid. Died 1005.
Muredach. Resigned 1007.
Flanobra. Died 1205.
1057 Gillechrist O'Maddor. Died 1062.
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