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Monday 17 January 2022 – Alasdair Philips

Monday 17 January 2022 - Alasdair Philips
Columba - political shenanigans, coracles and Celtic Christianity


My somewhat eclectic presentation will focus on the violent times of Columba in Ireland and Western Scotland. The Celtic West developed very differently from the South and East of the UK and, for context, it will include a very brief over-view of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages and into the Iron Age. In Ireland and Western Scotland the Late Iron Age continued until the 9th Century, alongside the rise of Christianity from about the start of the 5th Century with the arrival of St Patrick and his missionary work. This was also the start of written records. It was not a peaceful time with much inter-clan fighting. Churches and Monasteries were gradually built and Christianity spread slowly. In the mid-6th Century, after several years climate catastrophe, followed by starvation and plague, Christianity became favoured and many more monasteries were founded. However, the fighting carried on and, in 563, Columba, who was of royal Irish descent, sailed for Scotland to found a monastery and strengthen links with the Dalradian Scoti, many of whom were of the same O’Niall family. Our story will continue via Aiden and probably end with the Vikings. The presentation will include details of recent archaeological work on Iona as well as personal anecdotes regarding Iona up to the present day.


Alasdair was a Member of the Iona Community during the 1980s and 1990s and, with his family, lived at the Abbey during 1981 and 1982 where he was responsible for the day-to-day property maintenance. He is a qualified engineer and scientist (mainly working in electronics, agriculture and health sciences) who has been fascinated by archaeology as a hobby activity since the age of 16. He discovered an Iron Age site on Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides in 1973. He was a Founder member of the Orpington & District Archaeological Society (NW Kent) in February 1975. He was Treasurer and Publicity Secretary for the Ely and District Archaeological Society for several years in the mid-1980s. He currently lives in SW Scotland and “ancestry DNA” reports his ethnicity as 59% Scottish and 33% Irish.