St. Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe (Drumcliff) stands on the site of the monastery said to have been founded in 574CE by St. Colmcille (Columba), reputedly in atonement for the Battle of the Books which occurred nearby at Cooldrumman (Cúl Dreimhne) in 560CE. No traces remain of the monastery, which existed until the 15th century, or so, except for a high cross dating to the 10th century, the shaft of another cross, and the stumped remains of a round tower.
The present Church of Ireland church, which replaced an earlier structure and was built in 1809 with Board of First Fruits funding. Much of the stone used in the building was taken from the local area including remnants of the monastery founded by St. Columba in 574CE (restoration works in 1999 discovered two pieces of a high cross incorporated into the walls of the church).
The church, which continues to serve the parish of Drumcliffe, is open to the public. Unusual features of the building include fireplaces, monuments and memorials, and a full height mural on the East wall. The great-grandfather of the poet William Butler Yeats was rector of the church during the early 19th Century. The churchyard contains the grave of the poet, who was re-interred there in 1948, almost a decade after his death in France in 1939, in accordance with his last wishes. His iconic gravestone is engraved with the following lines from one of his last poems, “Under Ben Bulben”:
‘Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliffe churchyard Yeats is laid
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!’