An Irish saint for Europe

Saint Columbanus Selected Writings

compiled by Alexander O’Hara, foreword by Mary McAleese

(Veritas, €6.99 /£7.99)

Shortly we will be celebrating the death 1400 years ago of St Columbanus. As a contribution to this Dr Alexander O’Hara has acted as historical adviser to an RTÉ/BBC documentary, which Mary McAleese will present. 

A Galway man, Dr O’Hara is now an academic based in Austria and a recognised expert on St Columbanus. He has already published a translation of Jonas of Bobbio’s life of the saint and his disciples. In this little book however he aims to present the pith of the saint writings in a form which will be readable by the ordinary readers.

This in itself would make an interesting read, but Fr Seán McDonagh – a Columban father – provides an essay on the continuing role of mission as formed by Columbanus at work in the world today through the order named after him. This is in addition to Mrs McAleese’s foreword and Dr O’Hara’s own account of the saint’s life and experiences in Europe.

Much of what Columbanus wrote was intended for his own monks, but his expression is often so succinct and to the point that it carries a strong message for today.

“You have heard what is written; the man to whom little is not enough will not benefit from more.”

This is not an outdated voice, but in reality one for our times; altogether an excellent introduction to the thought of a great European saint.

Two small points. Dr O’Hara sees St Columbanus as the beginning of an Irish voice in European literature. There are many I think who would dispute this. And the copy editor should have noticed that the expression used for muddle-mindedness by Mrs McAleese, “fuzzy-wuzzy”, is actually a British army term of contempt for the warriors of the Sudan dating from the 1880s.

As some might regard this as a racist allusion, doubtless it will be removed from the next printing. P.C.