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BBC ALBA and TG4 collaboration to bring the story of St Columba to life in new documentary

29 November 2021

Warrior, poet, holy man: the revealing life story of one of Ireland and Scotland’s most important saints is told in a new documentary celebrating 1500 years since the birth of Calum Cille: An Naomh Dàna | Columba: The Bold Saint

Broadcasting simultaneously on BBC ALBA and TG4 on December 7th to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of the Irish and Scottish saint’s birth, this documentary echoes his very own pilgrimage taken all those years ago.

Though known by many as the Dove of Peace, he was at the centre of bloody battles, before founding a monastery on Iona, laying the foundations for the island to become a beacon of civilization in the Early Middle Ages – he’s even said to have taken on the Loch Ness Monster!

Viewers will journey from Donegal to Iona, uncovering the truths behind the myths surrounding the troublemaker, copyright infringer, warrior and exile, who came to be one of the most revered individuals in Scottish and Irish history, as well as gaining international renown over the centuries.

Dramatic reconstruction is interwoven with expert accounts as we rediscover the achievements of this most uncompromising of saints.

Calum Cille – An Naomh Dàna is produced by Abú Media and MacTV with funding from Northern Ireland’s Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund, TG4 and MG ALBA.

The documentary will air simultaneously on Tuesday 7 December at 9.30pm on BBC ALBA and TG4, and will be available on the BBC iPlayer within the UK for up to 30 days after broadcast.

In Calum Cille: An Naomh Dàna we hear from Dr Duncan Sneddon, from the University of Edinburgh.

On St Columba’s legacy, Dr Sneddon said: “There’s a difference between Columba the man who lived on Earth and the historical figure who was recreated in the generations after his death – and they all create their own Columba. But they all tell us something important. They all put together a Columba who was powerful, brave and important in different ways.”

Dr Niamh Wycherley, Dept of Early Irish, Maynooth University, says in the programme: “Arguably Colmcille’s most important and lasting legacy is the great swathe of ecclesiastical foundations that he established across Ireland and parts of western, now, Scotland. Iona of course was his primary foundation, the one he’s most rightly famous for. However he also founded other major ecclesiastical institutions – Kells and Durrow. These primary foundations of Colmcille produced some of our most precious and famous historical artefacts – the Book of Kells, The Book of Durrow, early collections of the Irish Annals. These are incredibly important texts in their own right, but also physical objects.”

Margaret Cameron Commissioning Editor & Head of Creative Collaborations BBC ALBA said: “This programme was a very natural fit for co-production and we’re delighted to see this production and broadcast collaboration result in high quality content for the BBC ALBA audience. Cultural ties between Ireland and Scotland have always been strong and BBC ALBA wanted to commission this documentary to mark 1500 years since the birth of Calum Cille and to reflect on our linguistic and cultural bonds in a very creative way.”

Alan Esslemont Director General of TG4 said “Addressing the Scottish Parliament in 2016, President Michael D. Higgins reflected on the relationship between Ireland and Scotland, “given our shared and complex history, it has often been difficult to say where the Irish ends and where what is Scottish begins. Or the other way round.” Colm Cille, warrior-cleric-politician, was in the vanguard of what was consciously the Irish colonisation and plantation of Scotland, spreading Irish Christianity throughout Scotland and using the names for Ireland, Éire, Fódhla, Banbha, Ealg to symbolically stake out Irish ownership of key places in Scotland, Strathearn (the Valley of Ireland), Glenelg (the Glen of Ireland) Atholl (New Ireland), Banff (Ireland) and Elgin (Little Ireland). I am delighted, to mark the 1500th anniversary of his birth, that TG4 and our Scottish sister channel, BBC ALBA, are bringing a fresh and compelling documentary to screens in both of our countries on the life of this most obstinate, avant-gardist, bold and influential Gael who permanently changed both Ireland and Scotland.”

Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund Áine Walsh said “Colmcille is recognised as an Irish saint and a Scottish saint and has left his mark on the folklore and landscape of both countries and as a result the Irish Language Broadcast Fund was delighted that this project came before us and to commemorate 1500 years after the saint’s birth. Not only did it provide an opportunity to explore the life of the bold saint, but it also provided another opportunity to strengthen the links between Ireland and Scotland on a significant programme which will be broadcast on TG4 and BBC ALBA. Partnerships like this are very important in our efforts to deliver engaging and high-quality content, and this programme certainly meets that criterion.”