2021 marks the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Colmcille's birth and is a year long event that will be celebrated in places of significance to his heritage including Kells, Donegal, Derry Sligo, Durrow and Scotland. Colmcille 1500 Kells are a voluntary group who have come together to organise events promoting the life, artistic legacy and built heritage associated with St. Colmcille also know as Columba.  Colmcille 1500 Kells has focussed on key dates begininng on December 7th 2020 and throughout 2021 to celebrate  this significant year in the town's history.

 Events have been virtual and online as a response to the restrictions and we have had to adapt to the situation like other groups celebrating Colmcille 1500.

Colmcille 1500 Kells


On December 7th, 521, Colmcille was born into the royal family Cenél Conailla branch of the northern Uí Néill, Tír Connel, in Co. Donegal and died at the monastery he founded on the island of Iona in Scotland in 597.  Despite his royal ancestry, Colmcille chose the life of a monk.  Following his studies, the saint began a missionary quest establishing monasteries throughout Ireland. 

The Annals of Ulster tell us that "Kells was granted without battle to Colmcille Ceolac" by the High King of Tara, Diarmaid Mac Carroll of the southern uí Néill dynasty, who held a royal stronghold in Kells.   

It is not unreasonable therefore to suggest that Colmcille himself may have walked this landscape and established an early church here.

 The Columban monastery founded by Colmcille on Iona suffered a series of Viking attacks in 795 and 802 including one in which 68 monks were killed. We know that more than two hundred years after St. Colmcille's death the Columban community lead by Abbot Cellach relocated to Kells in 804AD bringing with them the precious relics of the saint and established a monastery here. 

The Annals of Ulster describe it as 'the new foundation of Colum Cille'.

December 6th, 2020, Colmcille 1500 Kells Illuminations herald the approach of the birth of St Colmcille in 2021, celebrating the vibrancy of colours in the Book of Kells, its significance in the world and for the future.


Reflecting St. Colmcille’s Columba’s spiritual influence, and Kells monastic legacy,St. Colmcille’s Parish Church, Kells Presbyterian Church, St. Colmcille’s House, The Round Tower and South Cross at the Church of Ireland lit up accompanied by co-ordinated bell ringing at St. Columba's Church of Ireland, St. Colmcille’s Parish Church and handbell ringing at Kells Presbyterian Church.


January 2021,  Inspired by Colmcille the Gael,  ‘Colmcille agus Ceanannas – Turas Fiorúil’ celebrates St. Colmcille’s common linguistic and cultural legacy, architectural heritage, traditions and folklore in Kells, Co. Meath and beyond these islands, particularly Iona in Scotland.


Beautifully narrated by Eilís Nic Eibhearáird (Rath Chairn), this short film presents stunning aerial photography of the Columban monastery as it overlooks Kells creating a uniquely captivating vista of the sacred site.

Sit back and enjoy our first Colmcille 1500 Kells online event. 

Colmcille agus Ceanannas - Turas Fíorúil  a labour of love in partnership with Cumann Merriman premiered online at Cumann Merriman Winter School in January, 2021 and featured during Seachtain Na Gaeilge as part of Meath County Council Library Programme.

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March 4th, 2021 World Book Day Colmcille 1500 Kells supported by Meath County Council unveil Colmcille the Scribe at Kells Municipal Office. Kells Monastery became the great cultural centre of the Iona tradition.  Imagine a place - its inhabitants monks, scribes, goldsmiths and metalworkers working on embellishments on sacred manuscripts such as The Book of Kells, Book shrines like the Cumdach, and the mastery of the stone carvers on the High Crosses. 

Through the vision and teaching of St. Colmcille, monks developed writing skills creating magnificent illuminations in the Book of Kells, an inspiring symbol of Irish creativity and national pride, one of the greatest examples of medieval Christian art renowned for the richness of its decoration, enigmatic imagery and vivid colouring.  Sections Book of Kells are believed to have been completed by a certain scribe in the Kells.

March 2021 Dig it Kids presents 'The High Crosses of Kells'  free art compettion for kids ages 6-12.

The beautiful carvings on the Kells High Crosses were carved more than 1,000 years ago. As the Head residence of the Columban Federation of monasteries Kells housed stone carving workshops producing and supplying High Crosses used primarily for religious instruction of the faithful to outlying monasteries.

The Unfinished High Cross is exactly that unfinished! This competition is an opportunity for children to use art to show the world what they think is important.  Children can draw their art as if their drawing was going to be carved onto the unfinished high cross panels of 2021.


This competition is being run in partnership with the Discovery Programme and is supported by the Heritage Office, Meath County Council, in partnership with Kells Colmcille 1500 Committee, as part of Kells Colmcille 1500 Programme. 

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June 2021 - Replicating the Crosses of Kells – An Online Exhibition

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Replicating the Crosses of Kells is a new online exhibition that will not only introduce visitors to the high crosses of Kells, but also explore how these local landmarks have been reproduced from the antiquarians of the 19th century to the most recent digital models.

Divided into three virtual rooms (past, present and future) the exhibition, designed and developed by Michael Ann Bevevino, includes 3D models as well as audio and video clips.  Moving through these rooms you will follow the journey of the high crosses, from medieval religious monuments to objects of folkloric and antiquarian interest.

Michael Ann Bevevino is a recipient of the Irish Research Council’s employment based Postgraduate  Programme.  Her research is a collaboration between the Discovery Programme’s Digital Replicas Project, Irish Archaeological Field School Ltd., the UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy and Meath Count Council.

Replicating the Crosses of Kells online exhibition was developed with the assistance of the Colmcille 1500 Kells Committee and the local community in Kells.

June 8th 2021 Colmcille 1500 Kells presents St. Colmcille’s  Well Kells,

A Celebration in Music and Spoken Word

On the eve of St. Colmcille’s Feast Day,  we remember Colmcille at the very site where his monks drew fresh water for the Kells monastery. This holy well was a source of life, a location for baptisms and a pilgrimage site for hundreds of years.

On June 8th, in early Summer sunshine and suffused by the fragrance of Whitethorn and echoed in the song of the blackbird, the traditional music echoes through the leafy glade.

A poignant memory of Colmcille the exile is evoked through the music and the spoken poem attributed to Colmcille himself. Perhaps the pain of the exile can be tempered a little when we reflect that this is the site of ‘The Homecoming’, the place to which the Columban monks returned when they were forced to leave Iona.

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June 2021 Colmcille 1500 Kells dress the town with specially designed flags and bunting creating a visual appearance as a town celebrating.  This coincides with St. Colmcille's Feast Day traditionally marked on June 8th, Heritage Week and Culture Night on September 17th.

Also 'flying the flag' for Colmcille 1500 Kells are our local centres of education.

Kells Parochial National School,

Our Lady of Mercy Junior School,

St. Colmcille's National School,

St. Ciaran's Community School and Eureka. 

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June 8th - September 12th 2021, Colmcille 1500 Illuminations celebrates the 1500th Birthday of St. Colmcille.


Synonymous with early Christian architecture, Kells is one of Ireland`s greatest monastic settlements and an important site for hundreds of years to Colmcille and his followers.

The Colmcille 1500 Illuminations are an artistic expression of the story of Colmcille reflecting the art of illumination perfected in the Book of Kells and celebrates the iconography produced by monks, scribes, stone carvers and metal workers at Kells monastery.   

A series of specially commissioned illuminations highlight multiple historic and contemporary sites creating a vibrant world of colour revealing insights into Colmcille, the man, his royal ancestry, his association with the world famous Book of Kells and the circumstances surrounding his exile to Scotland.

This is a Colmcille 1500 Kells initiative supported by Kells Local Heroes, The Irish Walled Towns Network, Heritage Council, Meath County Council and Kells District Councillors with the very kind generosity of local businesses particularly during a very challenging year.  Acknowledgements also extend to everyone who supported Colmcille 1500 Kells GoFund me campaign.


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'Arrival' Kells Courthouse Tourism and Cultural Hub

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'Exile' Kells Municipal Office

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'The Scribe' St. Colmcille's House

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'High Crosses' Church of Ireland

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'Water of Life' Canon street

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'Kells of the Kings' Round Tower

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EXTRA GUIDED TOURS ADDED (extended to September 12th.)

Adults €5

Children Free

Check out availability and booking here 


For all the nightbirds who fancy a night time stroll or drive by!

Follow the self guided map and enjoy the Illuminations at your leisure.


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September 9th, 2021,  1pm 

Hinterland is collaborating with Colmcille 1500 Kells as Dr. Denis Casey of Maynooth University asks the enigmatic question 'How many cows did it take to make the Book of Kells.

This is a free event but tickets required.

Don't forget to book you tickets here!

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Culture Night, September 17th, 2021.

Colmcille 1500 Kells supported by Meath County Council Arts Office present a series short films capturing a space, a moment in time linking contemporary and historic sites in Kells with the performance arts.  

Our focus is to showcase Kells as a town of high artistic and cultural value celebrating St. Colmcilles influence on our built heritage, architecture and identity married with performances celebrating the saints’ influence on language (Irish and Latin), music, spoken word and the creative arts.

Keep an eye out for the online launch on kellscolmcille1500 social media channels!!

Meath County Council  Library, Arts and Heritage Services have provided 'The Colmcille Life and Legacy Educational Pack' to schools in Co. Meath as part of Colmcille 1500 celebrations.  The 26-page educational booklet tells the story of the life and legacy of St. Colmcille in a way that reflects the primary school history curriculum of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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Exploring the World of Colmcille by Mairéad Ashe Fitzgerald has also been distributed as a permanent addition to school libraries.  The Colmcille 1500 theme continues during Meath County Council Summer Library Programme and will feature during the Children's Book Festival in October, 2021.

October 7th, 2021

National Tree Day

Locals Schools Commemorative Tree Planting ceremony supported by Meath County Council Heritage Office.  

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October 2021.

Meath Archaeological and Historical Society host an online transatlantic lecture with Laura Mc Closkey Wolfe. 

Laura's large body of work explores the cross cultural connections and artistic exchange between Insular Manuscript Illumination and the Mediterranean World.

Colmcille 1500 Kells are delighted to collaborate with Meath Archaeological and Historical Society.  

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November 19th - December 18th,  2021

'In Search of Colmcille'  an Art exhibition by local artist: Ina Olohan

Venue : Eureka House

The exhibition represents the artist’s journey to learn about Saint Colmcille in this year of the 1500th anniversary of his birth. It is the penultimate event of the Kells Colmcille 1500 celebrations.


Born in 521, the life of Colmcille has blended with the mists of time to generate a wealth of stories of miraculous power and humble spirituality, and portraying him in the various guises of Prince, Poet, Priest and Exile.


The images and artefacts you will see in this exhibition tell stories and myths about St. Colmcille. It also references book-making and manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, written by the Columban monks. The artist explored the making of natural colours and dyes, such as those used in manuscripts, using plant material sourced locally.

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On the eve of St Colmcille/ birth on December 6th, we will celebrate his early years and life across Ireland and Scotland.

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Take a trip with us as we walk in the shoes of St. Columba from Gartan in Co. Donegal to the Western Isles in Scotland and beyond.

Zoom Room Opens - 1.50pm with music from Colmcille Gospel Choir

2:00pm – Welcome and Introductions from our MC, Broadcaster, and Journalist, Aine Ni Bhreisleain


• VIDEO: Colmcille – Truths, Myths, and Legends

• VIDEO: Honouring Colmcille 1500


• Prof Malachy Ó Néill, Professor of Irish and Director of Regional Engagement at University of Ulster, Magee Campus

• Brian Lacey, Archaeologist, and Historian

• Christy Gillespie, author, historian and former principal of Scoil Cholmcille, Termon in the heart of Colm Cille's local area.


• VIDEO: Colmcille’s Derry

• VIDEO: Durrow, Colmcille’s Legacy

• VIDEO: Gambol from Colmcille 1500 Kells, Co. Meath

• VIDEO: The Battle of the Books - The Story of St Colmcille and Sligo


Duais Dìleab Chaluim Chille / The Colmcille Legacy Award – showcasing the work of two winners

• Laoidh Chaluim Chille by Andrew Dunlop

• Judy Parrott | Fulpannach and Shadow Clouds

A short trip back to Ireland

• Causeway Coast – Strings of Heaven


• Dr. Alasdair Whyte, Lord Kelvin / Adam Smith Research Fellow in Celtic Onomastics, University of Glasgow

• Brian Ó hEadhra, Partnerships and Funding Manager, Bòrd Na Gàidhlig

• Joy Dunlop, Gaelic Singer | TV & Radio Presenter | Scottish Stepdancer | Educator

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December 7th.  Coinneal Cholmcille (Columba’s Candle)

Foras na Gaeilge commissioned Seek Design to create a series of images that will be projected onto important sites along the Columban trail in Ireland and Scotland in a spectacular illiminations project to mark the birth date of Colmcille.

On December 7th the images will be seen from many locations including Kells, Colmcile's birthplace in Gartan to his final resting place in Iona, with images from the locations brought together in the form of a video, which will be accompanied by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s commissioned piece.

The project is called Coinneal Cholmcille (Columba’s Candle) due to the fact that he wrote his many manuscripts in candlelight. On his birthday – December 7th, we also invite people to light a candle at 5.21pm, reminding us of the year of his birth, 1,500 years ago

December 7th

Closing ceremony Launch of a very  exciting project involving schools from Donegal, Meath and Sligo working with the Nerve Centre in Derry.


Donegal Library Service is working in partnership with library authorities in Counties Meath and Sligo and with Libraries NI on a Colcmille Digital Schools’ Folklore Project. This project is being managed by the Nerve Centre Creative Learning Centre. The Nerve Centre are working with 5 schools from each authority, 20 in total. The children will examine the Schools’ Folklore Collection for stories relating to Colmcille. They will then research and discuss these stories with older people and possibly gather new stories. Through this cross generation work children will be engaged in the process of researching their local history and in developing interview and listening skills.

The Nerve Centre will work closely with the designated teachers from each school, providing them training on how to create a digital animation with their class, from the initial idea, creating assets to animating and editing.

Due to Covid-19 all sessions will take place online via zoom. The focus will be to train the teachers to deliver these animation sessions within their class. This will empower the teachers, up skilling them, so that we leave a lasting legacy, tools and resource which they can use year on year in their teaching.

The project will culminate in a showcase event on the 7th of December 2021 which will include the premiere of 20 digitally animated stories from each school involved.

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