Ireland's Author-Evangelist Adamnan

Updated Mar 10, 2023
Ireland's Author-Evangelist Adamnan

On September 23, churches of the western world remember St. Adamnan. Across Scotland are many sites dedicated to him. An Irish monk, he would be worthy of remembrance, if it was only for Adamnan's Law.

Adamnan was born of royal blood in County Donegal sometime around 624. His name means "Little Adam." Educated by local monks, he became a novice at the monastery of Iona. Eventually, when he was about 55, he rose to become the ninth abbot of the abbey at Iona. He must have been an outstanding leader, because he was also chosen to serve as "president" of all of the monasteries that had sprung out of the missionary work of St. Columba.

As a matter of fact, Adamnan wrote the life of Columba. The book consists of 24 chapters filled with marvels and miracles.

Adamnan was active in the politics of his day. He gave sanctuary to Prince Aldfrid when the throne of Northumbria, England was in dispute. Later Aldfrid became king and Adamnan was able to negotiate the release of Irish captives who had been kidnapped by English pirates. When the Celtic church argued whether to switch to the Roman rule, Adamnan was a leader of the movement to go with the Roman Easter and other Roman practices. This upset fellow monks and he found his welcome at Iona considerably cooler and spent much of his time elsewhere.

He visited two of England's great monasteries, including Jarrow, where his contemporary, the historian, Bede, lived. On a visit to Ireland, Adamnan convinced the Irish to adopt the Roman date for Easter. Seven years before his death, he attended the council of Birra and convinced the Irish kings to adopt the principle, known as Adamnan's Law, which said that women, children, monks and other non-combatants were to be spared during war and no longer taken prisoner. This law was reaffirmed many times afterward by Irish rulers.

Among Adamnan's other work was to write a book about Palestine and other distant lands, called On the Holy Places.  He based its descriptions on interviews with Bishop Arculf, who had visited the Middle East as a pilgrim and made notes. Shipwrecked on the coast of England, Arculf had taken shelter with Adamnan.

The monastery at Raphoe, Ireland is linked with Adamnan's name because he renovated it and brought it new life. His success was based on his sincerity. He was described as "tearful, penitent, fond of prayer, diligent and ascetic, and learned in the clear understanding of the Holy Scriptures of God." He died at Iona on this day, September 23, 704.


  1. "Adamnan." (
  2. "Adamnan or Adomnan." The Dictionary of National Biography,  founded in 1882 by George Smith; edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
  3. "Adomnan, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church,  edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  4. "Adomnan (Adamnan) of Iona, Abbot."
  5. Flood, W. H. Grattan. "St. Adamnan." The Catholic Encyclopedia.  New York: Robert Appleton, 1907
  6. Adamnan. Life of St. Columba. Medieval Sourcebook.
  7. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

Photo Credit: Andreas F. Borchert/Wikimedia Commons


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