Presented by The Atlantic Orchestra Project and Guests in association with Sligo Colmcille 2021


Song, film, musings, music old and new to celebrate 1500 years of Colmcille. Written and directed by Catherine Rhatigan. Original music by Catherine Rhatigan and Ray Coen.

Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th December 2021.

St Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Sligo

Welcome to Sligo Colmcille 2021

Commemorating the 1500th anniversary of the birth of Saint Colmcille and his association with Sligo through the Battle of the Books

The Battle of the Books – the story of Colmcille and Sligo

‘The Battle of the Books – the story of Colmcille and Sligo’

A short film telling the legend of Colmcille’s copying of a psalter belonging to St. Finnian, and the battle at Cúl Dreimhne (Cooldrumman), County Sligo in 560AD that followed his refusal to handover the copy after High King Diarmait mac Cerbaill‘s issued his ruling “to every cow her calf, to every book its copy”. The battle was said to have resulted in the deaths of 3,000 men and led to Colmcille’s exile to Iona, Scotland.

Filmed in Sligo in 2021 with Creative Ireland funding, the film includes Blue Raincoat Theatre ensemble member John Carty in the role of Colmcille.

Saint Colmcille

The year 2021 marks the 1500th anniversary of the birth of the 6 th century Irish abbot and missionary Saint Colmcille (Columba), founder of the monastic community of Iona in present day Scotland. Said to have been born in Gartan, County Donegal, on 7 December 521CE (or 520CE according to recent research), Colmcille is recognised as one of Ireland’s three patron saints, along with Saints Patrick and Brigid. Most associated with Donegal, Derry, and Iona, his influence extended farther afield including to Sligo where he is attributed with the founding of Drumcliffe monastery in 575CE.

Video by Conor Doherty for Cos Cos Festival. View in Youtube

The Battle of the Book

Section of the Battle of the Books mural in Sligo Library.

The Battle of Cúl Dreimhne (also known as the Battle of the Book) took place in the 6th century in Cooladrummon Co Sligo. Arising from a dispute between St Finian and St Colmcille about a copy of a book, the battle is notable for being the earliest conflict over copyright theft in the world.

Section of the Battle of the Books mural in Sligo Library.

The Battle of the Book Mural at Sligo Library by Bernard McDonagh. The work was commissioned by Sligo County Council with funds made available through the then newly established Arts Council of Ireland.  The commission was organised by Nora Niland who was County Librarian at the time. 

Sligo Colmcille 2021

Sligo Colmcille 2021 is a community-based initiative with the objective of raising awareness of the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St. Colmcille and his reputed associations with the Sligo region. A year-long programme of artistic and cultural events and projects, Sligo Colmcille 2021 emphasises local aspects of the Colmcille story, specifically the Battle of the Books which occurred at Cooldrumman on the lower slopes of Benbulben and led to his exile to Iona and subsequent missionary activities. The Programme a collaborative project undertaken by Cos Cos Festival, creators of the Colmcille Pageant, a feature of the Sligo Fleadh opening and closing events, and Drumcliffe Rathcormac Tidy Towns Committee.  

Creative Communities

Colmcille is remembered not only as an important missionary, but reputedly also as a man of letters credited with having written many prayers, poems, and hymns, as well as the transcriber of almost 300 books. It is this Colmcille legacy, as well as the stories and folklore surrounding his life, that Sligo Colmcille 2021 wish to celebrate. This is the basis for the year-long programme, which encompasses a wide and varied range of community-led artistic, cultural, and creative initiatives and projects. These can found on the Programme page of this website and we invite you to explore, experience, and enjoy these, while celebrating the rich and colourful Colmcille legacy of the Sligo region.

Picture of young people participating in Cos Cos Festival pageant