There are two St. Finnians, both remembered as holy abbots, the first ordaining St. Columba as a deacon and the other (the great Irish monastic St. Finnian of Clonard) ordaining him as a priest and serving as his teacher. The latter was involved in one of the stranger incidents in the life of Columba. During a visit to Finnian, Columba copied his mentor's psalter, and Finnian insisted the copy was his possession and demanded it back. Columba's cousin, the Irish Over-King Diarmid, sided with Finnian. Outraged by this, and possibly angered by a violation of sanctuary by the king, Columba stirred the people against Diarmid, leading to a battle with significant loss of life and the flight of the king. The Synod of Teilte, in progress at the time, excommunicated Columba, but restored him when he presented himself at the Synod and agreed to convert as many pagans as he could. And there you have Irish monasticism in a nutshell: mad, volatile, and feverishly passionate about the faith. Is it any wonder they retreated to impossible locations?Share
For several centuries the retreat drew a steady stream of hermits seeking a deeper encounter with Christ away from the distractions and vanities of the world. These were the hardcore spiritual athletes: ascetics on the order of the great desert fathers trapped on a wind-scoured rock inaccessible to land for months at a time.
Using a dry-stone walling technique that has withstood the elements for 1400 years, they built two oratories and six beehive cells, each cell with an ambry (niche) for storing their meagre possessions and supplies. Small stone fingers on the roof probably held turf or some other kind of insulating roofing material. A pair of wells, eggs from the large seabird population, pollock, and possibly goats and goat milk provided their sustenance. There's just enough soil to support a small flock of livestock. They probably brought the soil with them. (Read more.)