Saturday, 19 July 2014
The Life Of Saint Columba Apostle Of Scotland CHAPTER VIII THE CONVENTION OF DRUM-CEATT By F.A. Forbes
COLUMBA had been eleven years at Iona when Conal, the King of the Scottish Dalriada, died. He was succeeded by Aidan, his cousin, whose love and veneration for Columbcille led him to choose him for his "soul's friend," and to beg him to come himself to place the crown upon his head and to pray that the grace of God might be with him in his governing. Columba assented to his request, and so it came to pass that the solemn rite of the consecration of a king was performed for the first time in the British Isles.
Aidan was crowned on the famous "Stone of Destiny" which was afterwards removed to Scone and was used as the coronation chair for the Kings of Scotland, until Edward I, "the Hammer of the Scots," carried it away and set it up in Westminster Abbey. Perhaps it was as well for the peace of mind of the ruthless oppressor that he could not look into the future, and see how the royal line of Scotland would in course of time follow the Stone of Destiny, and, crowned once more upon it, rule over the United Kingdom.
For Aidan was the ancestor of Macbeth and Malcolm Canmore, and through
the female line, of the Bruces and the Stuarts, while many of the old
Highland families, such as the Mackenzies, MacKinnons, Mackintoshes,
Macgregors, Macleans and Macnabs, count their descent from the
Dalriadan kinsmen of Columba.
The little kingdom had become powerful, and the yearly tribute to Ireland was galling to the pride of the Scots. They would fain have cast off the Irish yoke, and were quite ready to fight for their independence, but Columba bade them have patience, and all would be well. Diarmaid, his old enemy, had died a violent death, and Aedh MacAinmire, who was of Columba's own branch of the Hy-Nialls, now sat on the throne of Ireland: the time seemed ripe for the Saint to use his influence on behalf of Dalriada.
A large assembly or convention was about to be held at Drum-ceatt near
Derry, to decide several important questions, some of which interested
Columba nearly. It was a fitting moment, he thought, to obtain what
they desired; and taking the King of Dalriada with him he set sail for Ireland.
The chief question which the Irish parliament had met to discuss, was the abolition or the banishment of the Bards. This ancient order of national poets dated from the earliest times, and in olden days had shared the power of the Druids. They were the guardians of the poetry, the history and the music of Ireland, and were held in such honour that the first place at table, after that reserved for the King, was theirs by right. A chief poet was entitled to a retinue of thirty men, and the Bards of a lower grade to fifteen. They had been loaded with honours by those of the princes and kings of Ireland who desired to have their brave deeds in battle handed down to their children or held up to the admiration of their rivals in the songs of the country.
Many abuses had arisen from such an exercise of power. The Bards in course of time had become thoroughly unpopular, and had only themselves to blame for the change of feeling towards them, for even their best friends could not defend their conduct. People had grown weary of an insolence that refused to sing the praises of the heroes and warriors of Erin unless at a price that few could afford to pay, and the Bards threatened to hold up those who displeased them to the contempt and ridicule of the nation.
The King went so far as to drive them from his palace, but so secure were they of their own power that they had the boldness to come back, and to demand of him the royal brooch that he wore upon his breast, the very token of his kingship. Beside himself with anger, the King announced his intention of doing away completely with the order of the Bards at the great Convention which was about to be held at Drum-ceatt, and their enemies, who were not few, resolved to see the threat carried out.
The Bards realized at last that they had gone too far, they could scarcely find a friend to speak for them, the situation was wellnigh hopeless. In their distress they thought of Columba, who had always befriended their order, and sent him a piteous message that their ruin was certain unless he would use his influence in their favour.
The Convention was largely attended. The two kings presided, and the presence of Columba, in company with many other abbots and bishops, gave dignity and order to the councils. The first question raised was that of the supremacy of Ireland over the Scots of Dalriada. Columba was asked to give his opinion, but fearful of being unduly influenced by his affection for Aidan, he asked his friend St. Colman to plead the cause of liberty. It was decided that Dalriada should cease to pay tribute and become an independent kingdom, on the condition that she promised a perpetual alliance with Ireland. The great question of the Bards came next, and on this subject the King himself was the first to speak. Their insolence, their idleness, and their greed, he said, had made them odious in the eyes of the whole nation. He therefore appealed to the assembly to banish them and to do away with all their privileges.
Not a voice was raised in their defence, and in another moment their fate would have been decided, when Columba rose to speak. The whole assembly did him reverence, and his clear voice rang out with all its old charm over the hearts of his countrymen.
It was true, he said, that the Bards had greatly abused their power; let therefore the abuses be corrected, let their power be diminished, let the guilty be punished. But if the great Bardic order were abolished, who would be left to make the records of the nation, to sing the noble deeds of its heroes or to lament the death of the brave? Where would be the glory of Erin? Why should the good grain be torn up with the tares? The poetry of Ireland, which was dear to her as her life, would perish for ever, were the order of poets to be destroyed.
The eloquent pleading of Columba carried all before it. It was decreed that the order should be reformed and that regular schools should be founded for the study of the literature of the nation, where the young poets might be brought up to devote their lives to their art, and to avoid the bad habits that had made the order so unpopular with the people. The Bards, who were themselves present at the assembly under the leadership of their chief, Dallan Forgaill, showed their gratitude to Columba by composing a poem in his praise. They wisely allowed themselves to be guided by his advice in their plans for reform, and in the establishment of the schools to which Ireland owes the preservation of the old chronicles and of the ancient literature in which she is so rich. They justified the plea of their protector and became faithful auxiliaries of the clergy, singing in the times of persecution the glory of the heroes and the Saints of Erin, and the beauty of the ancient faith.
When the assembly broke up, Columba paid a visit to Aedh in his royal palace, when he sought and obtained the freedom of Scandlan Mor, son of the King of Ossory, whom the High King of Ireland had unjustly detained in prison. The eldest son of Aedh was perhaps a little uneasy at the prospect of the visit, for he had received a severe reproof from the Saint for holding the monks of Iona up to ridicule; but Domnal, his younger brother, attached himself to Columbcille with a boy's enthusiastic admiration for all that is great and noble. Columba was delighted with the manly young prince, and prophesied that his reign would be a long and happy one, on condition that he "received the Holy Communion every week, and tried to keep his promises." He would also, he said, "die on his own feather-bed," a rare enough thing in the days when a King of Ireland was pretty sure to fall on the field of battle or to perish by the hand of an assassin.
Aedh himself had reason to be uneasy about the state of his soul, and asked Columba if any of the princes who had died during his reign were in heaven. He was told that three only had escaped the pains of purgatory and had entered into everlasting bliss.
"And I," asked the King, "shall I save my soul?"
"Not unless you repent heartily of all your sins and lead a better life," replied Columba; and Aedh resolved to take his advice.
To all the princes of Ireland, especially to those who were of his own blood, Columbcille preached compassion and mercy towards their enemies, the forgiveness of injuries, and the recall of exiles. Many of the latter had passed by Iona as they went to seek shelter in a strange land, and his heart had grieved with them in their sorrow.
He resolved also to visit his religious foundations in Ireland before he returned to the country of his adoption, and we can imagine the joy of the monks of Derry and Durrow who had never thought to look upon their beloved father's face again. The people came out in crowds to welcome him and carried a canopy of green branches over his head. Adamnan tells us of the miracles worked by the Saint on his journey, and how the labourers would leave their work as he passed and go before him singing hymns of joy.
As he was about to enter one of the monasteries, a poor little boy, who was looked upon by everybody as an idiot on account of his stammering tongue and vacant eye, crept through the crowd and took hold of the border of Columba's cloak. The Saint turned round, and taking the child in his arms embraced him tenderly.
"Show me your tongue," he said to the little boy, who was trembling with fear; and then, making the sign of the Cross over him, he turned to the bystanders, who were vexed that he should pay so much attention to an idiot.
"This child whom you despise so much," he said, "will grow daily in wisdom and virtue; God will give to him eloquence and power; and when he has grown to man's estate he will be counted amongst the great ones of his country."
The Saint's prophecy came true. The little idiot boy grew into the great St. Ernan, venerated both in Ireland and Scotland; and it was he himself who told the story to the abbot Adamnan who wrote the great life of Columbcille.
FRANCISCUS CANONICUS WYNDHAM
+ EDM. CAN. SURMONT
WESTMONASTERII, die 7 Octobris, 1913.