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Duncan Abbots of Iona


There is no question that Dunchad (Duncan) is one of the earliest of names in Northern Britain and what historical records there are of pre medieval Scotland are scarce. Those fragments that we do have in our possession today are, for the most part, those writings in Gaelic of the Celtic Scots monks starting with their arrival on Iona from Ireland.


Click here for a larger pictiure of St Orans, Iona

The Abbey of St Orans, Iona

Iona is most anciently known as Ioua, its ancient Gaelic or Pictish name. This is the name invariably used by Adamnán, the ninth abbot, writing at the end of the seventh century. In modern Gaelic it is called “I” (pronounced ee), which simple form means island. In the fifth century the Druids are supposed to have come here to escape the persecution of imperial Rome, and to have founded a library on the island. In 410, when Fergus II became an ally of Alaric the Goth, he added to that library by bringing back books from the plunder of Rome. So it was an established place of learning well before Columba arrived! Another name for the island is Innis nam Druineach, meaning the Island of the Cunning Workmen,

  or sculptors; and still another is Innis-nam-Druidneach, the Isle of Druids.

More than twenty years before Columba came to Iona, a Christian cemetery was founded on the island by St Oran of Letteragh, who died in 548. This Reilig Odhrain (St Orans Shrine) was the burial place of the kings of Dalriada up to 560, three years before Columba's arrival with his twelve followers. There is


also a tradition that there was a college of seven bishops on the island at one time; and that two of them met Columba when he arrived from Ireland and did their best to persuade him not to land. Bishops in the ancient church had no territorial or diocesan powers and were subject to the authority of the ab (the old term for abbot) of the community where they were living at the time. They were simply required to provide episcopal functions such as ordination. Many of the community would not be ordained and they did not dedicate their churches in the modern sense, so the bishops were much limited in their functions.

It is here on Iona that we find one of the earliest mention of Dunchad (Duncan) the 11th Abbot of Iona 707 – 717AD

'St. Dunchadh (Dumhade, Dumhaid, Dunchad), Abbot of Iona. Died March 24, 717. Dunchadh was born into the line of Conall Gulban. He became a monk at Killochuir in southeast Ulster and, from 710 until his death, ruled the abbey of Iona, Scotland. During Dunchadh's abbacy, Saint Egbert (f.d. April 24) finally convinced the Celtic monks of Iona to adopt the Roman customs - tonsure, date of Easter, Benedictine Rule. For Saint Bede  this was the final sign of unity from diversity, which was the main theme of his "Ecclesiastical History." Dunchadh is the titular saint of Killclocair, in the diocese of Armagh. His feast is still celebrated in Donegal on May 25; elsewhere it is March 24. He is the patron of sailors in Ireland' 

Grave slab of one ' Lord of the Isle', St Orans, Iona

A lord of the Isle


and again with Dunchad (Duncan) the 39th Abbot in 989AD.

Iona is also the burial Place of the ‘Kings of Scotland’ and the ‘The lords of The Isles’ and it is here that Dunchad mac Conaing (650 - 654AD), Duncan I (1034 – 1040AD) and Duncan II (1093- 1094AD) are interned.

By John A. Duncan of Sketraw, KCN, FSA Scot.



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