Death of Ireland's St. Colman Ela

Updated Mar 10, 2023
Death of Ireland's St. Colman Ela

Around the year 580, when Colman was about 27 years old, he stood before an assembly in the Irish province of Meath. His uncle Columba--famous as a founder of monasteries and as a missionary to Scotland--said, "Give a portion of good land to our brother Colman that he may found a monastery."

Aidus Slaine, heir to the throne, offered him a parcel of land known as "the wood of Ela." Colman replied, "There shall be my resurrection and henceforth I shall be named from that place;" which is how he got his name Colman Ela. The place is known today as Lynally.

Many stories are told of the saint. For example, he once escaped the deadly whirlpool of Brecan. The story is given in Adomnan's Life of St. Columba:

On another day; also, while St. Columba was engaged in his mother-church, he suddenly cried out, with a smile, "Columbanus [Colman], the son of Beogna, has just now set out on a voyage to us, and is in great danger in the rolling tides of Brecan's whirlpool: he is sitting at the prow and raising both his hands to heaven: he is also blessing that angry and dreadful sea: yet in this the Lord only frightens him, for the ship in which he is shall not be wrecked in the storm; but this is rather to excite him to pray more fervently, that by God's favor he may escape the danger of his voyage, and reach us in safety."

The monks suffered great hunger at their new monastery, although it was a region of plentiful water and rich fields. Miraculously, provisions reached them at desperate moments.

Many incredible legends are told of Colman. One says a pet fly used to rest on Colman's book, marking the place where he left off reading whenever he was interrupted. Another claims that, when worn out, if he overslept, a pet mouse wakened him for prayers by nibbling his ear. It is told that he once walked across a river to make peace between two armies; the stronger force had seized all the boats to prevent him from interfering.

Colman cared about young people. Once he rescued an illegitimate child, whom angry villagers were about to drown, baptized him and brought him up in the knowledge of the Scriptures. One of the famous tales about him concerns a sunny-natured boy named Baithin who could not remember his lessons. One day Colman punished Baithin for this and the boy ran off. Then Colman, fearful that harm would come to the boy--harm which he would have to explain to the parents--went into the chapel and began to pray.

Baithin meanwhile met a man with a load of sticks who began building a hut. Seeing it go together piece by piece, he realized that learning, too, had to be built piece by piece. On the way back to school, Baithin was caught in a rain shower. The earlier lesson was reaffirmed to him as he watched a hole fill with water drip by drip. Again he realized that learning also must come drop by drop. Impressed with Baithin's story, Colman wrote it down. Baithin himself eventually became a scholar.

Colman died on this day, September 26, 610 (or 611). In addition to the monastery at Ela, he also founded an abbey and left behind him books and sayings.


  1. Adamnan. Life of St. Columba. Medieval Sourcebook.
  2. "Celtic and Old English Saints 26 September."
  3. "Colman, Ela or Elo." The Dictionary of National Biography,  founded in 1882 by George Smith; edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
  4. "St. Elo Colman." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1908.

Last updated July, 2007

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Tommy Bond


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