Sunday, 23 October 2011

Colman Ella of Glenelly

Ten days ago I was on a week's course on Genealogy and Migration organised by the Ulster Historical Foundation. We were based in Omagh in County Tyrone. One day we went into the Sperrin Mountains and at one point passed a bend in the river in the Valley of Glenelly where there was a rectangular mound. A local historian claimed it was the burial place of their 'own' Celtic saint. I pricked up my ears when the siant turned out to be Colman Ella about whom I had written briefly in my blog of 11 February 2009.

In a new Dictionary of Irish Saints which I was shown by a visiting scholar there are entries for both Colman Ella and Mochuda which refer to the link the one had with the other. It isn't clear whether this link was made in the Monastic Community at Rachan in the Irish Midlands particularly associated with Colman, or in Lismore, County Waterford, where Mochuda eventually settled. However, this dictionary confirmation of the link does support the theory I propounded in that earlier blog, that the etymological link between the names Mochuda and McIlhagga may have been taken by Colman Ella in 'Celtic' times from Ireland to Scotland where Colman Ella's name is found in the place names of both Colmonell in Ayrshire and Kilcolmonell in Kintyre. It was in Colmonell in Ayrshire that our clan name appeared in the 16th Century in its Anglicised form.

It is as background to this association that it is of interest to note the tradition I found in County Tyrone. The place of Colman Ella's supposed burial, and indeed birth, is called Goles. The local history makes something of the fact that when in a disastrous cloudburst and flood that devastated Goles in July 1690, when as many as 300 people perished, it would appear that no damage was done to that mound over the saint's grave. A manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin, on the life of Colman Ella states that a grant of land was given to him in about 580 through the influence of St. Columcille (St. Columba) where the church of Lynally in County Offally was founded, and hence the title by which Colman Ella of Lynally is known. It is said that Colman was descended on his paternal side from the chieftain Ui Niall and on his maternal side from the lineage of cinel canal, his mother being a sister of Columcille. Both these lines were of noble Irish families. Like all 'big' missionaries Colman travelled a great deal in both Ireland and Scotland, hence his links with Ayrshire and Kintyre, both made when he was journeying to or from Iona where St. Columba founded his monastic community.

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