Yesterday, the ninth of June , was the feast day of St. Columba or Colmcille in Gaelic – born in Donegal but appropriated by Derry City. In Gaelic, the City is frequently referred to as Doire Colmcille. Historian, Brian Lacey, has confirmed through detailed research that Columba was a real person but that he had been inflated to a cultural and social construction through folk legend and Church political spin. The Bogside area of Derry falls mainly within the Long Tower Parish with the Church of St Columba as its religious focal point, Lacey contends that there is no firm evidence of Columba having any connection to the City; he has produced evidence that no monastery existed on the site where the modern day church is located and there is an absence of proof that Columba ever visited the area, let alone having worked there. Durrow in County Offaly , Lacey contends, is the only place in Ireland that has a just claim to a Columban monastery.
Derry people , of course , are unmoved by Lacey’s scholasticism and academic achievement; what they have they hold and Columba is up there with Spider Kelly, Jobby Crossan and Phil Coulter. At the launch in Derry in 2013 of Lacey’s book on Columba, Paddy Bogside Doherty, in his typically forthright manner, told the author,, ‘ the university and other developments were stolen from us but Columba is ours and he is staying. So- hands off!’.
For years, the people of St Columb’s Wells annually painted and decorated with quasi religious regalia the outside walls of their little houses to mark the feast day and were foremost in the religious procession to the Church on the feast day. There was a street well to whose waters were attributed healing powers ; when it ran dry during the long hot summer of 1976, under cover of darkness, a pipe was furtively rigged to the mains and many the following day proclaimed it a miracle.
From such stuff are legends formed.