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Wee Adam


Adomnan; Eunan; Thewnan; Arnold; circa 624—704

Ninth Abbot of lona. Born in Donegal just 27 years after the death of the great founder, of whose clan, the Ui Neills, he was also a member. His name, ‘Wee Adam’, is found in a variety of forms confusing to us but legitimate in Gaelic. He joined the lona community while his kinsman, Segine, was leader. In 679 at the age of 55 he succeeded to the responsibility of Abbot. He was a close friend of, and probably anamcaraidh or soul-friend, to the Northumbrian prince Ealdfrith who had been educated in Ireland and Iona as Flann Fina macOssa, and so he visited Northumbria and came under the influence of the Romanizing clerics whose party, opposed to the Celtic practices, was in the ascendancy. A second visit in 688 saw his adoption of the Roman tonsure and calendar, and under his influence the Columban monasteries in Ireland conformed. The parent community, however, refused to follow him and thereafter he avoided controversy by dwelling mostly in Ireland, returning to lona only shortly before his death. Adaninan was the most scholarly of the Coluinban Abbots, his biography of Columba in three parts (prophecies or revelations, miracles and visions) ranks among the world’s great books. In judging such works we must remember that they are not biographies in the modern sense, but ‘hagiography’, glorifications of the saint with stress on the miraculous. In another work, Dc Loris Sanctis Adamnan provided for pilgrims a guide to the Holy Land without having been there himself, working up the stories of a visitor who had returned in the manner of a modern literary ‘ghost’. He is also noted in Irish history as the leading figure at the Synod of Birr in 697, which by the ‘Cain Atom­nain’ elevated the position of women and gave them special privileges. In Scotland there are many wells, hills, churches etc. which bear his name in one of its several forms: St Arnold’s Seat at Tannadice which in the sixteenth century was St Eunendi’s Seat; St Theunan’s Church at Aboyne; Tom Eunan near Loch Insch at Kingussie; Ardeonaig by Loch Tay and others. Some may represent places visited personally by the saint but, as with all the early Celtic missionaries, many such links may indicate nothing more than the presence of an altar in mediaeval times.

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