Gentle pastor, earnest scholar and rugged sailor, Columba was born and educated in Ireland. In Irish Gaelic his he was known as Columcille, the "Dove of the Church." Until the age of about 40, Columba traveled throughout Ireland setting up monastic centers of learning and evangelism, including those at Kells and Derry. But. in about 563 A.D., he is alleged to have engaged in a dispute over the copyright of a manuscript which led to the death of thousands of soldiers at the battle of Culdremne. Overwhelmed by remorse, Columba left Ireland determined to atone for his actions by winning as many souls for Christ as had been lost in battle. Legend records how he chose to live on Iona because from its shores he could not see Ireland. The ordered way of life that Columba developed for the monastery on Iona became a model for other Celtic monasteries. It required that the monks lived only for God, praying constantly, offering hospitality to all, centering their conversations on God and the scriptures, owning no luxuries, eating only when hungry and sleeping only when tired. The monks shared in the heavy labor of the community, but some, the seniors, were also required to lead worship, study, and copy the scriptures. Working brothers concentrated on farming and fishing, while novices studied in preparation for taking their monastic vows. According to Bede, the chronicler of the Celtic Church in the 8th century, the Iona community was characterized by "their purity of life, love of God and loyalty to the monastic rule."
As the community grew, so did its influence, and kings and princes sought Columba for his wise counsel. The sons of royalty and the nobility were sent to Iona for education in the scriptures and the arts. And Columba and his monks also travelled widely, spreading the Christian message and founding churches and monasteries. When Columba died in 597 A.D., he left a rich inheritance of peace previously unknown to the kingdoms in Scotland.
Columba's biographer said that in the week before his death Columba travelled about Iona, blessing and encouraging all whom he met. As he rested by the roadside, a favorite horse came and placed its head upon the saint's breast, sensing his imminent death. Columba's attendant came to drive the horse away, but St. Columba forbad him, saying, "You, a man of rational soul, can know nothing of my departure except what I tell you. This dumb creature, possessing no reason, has been told by the Creator Himself that I am about to leave." St. Columba is said to have died at the altar of his church, face radiant with joy, and hand outstretched in blessing.