07 December 2021

The Downpatrick Declaration:
‘bringing to the world
a message of charity and peace’

Patrick Comerford

Today is being celebrated as the 1600th anniversary of the birth of Saint Columba or Saint Colmcille, one of the three patron saints of Ireland.

On 9 June 1186, 15 bishops, many abbots and church dignitaries and a large number of clergy and laity were present at the reburial of what were now revered as the relics of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and Saint Columba (Columcille) in Downpatrick.

Saint Columba is said to have been born 1,600 years ago, on 7 December 521, at Gartan in present-day Co Donegal. As part of today’s commemorations, the ‘Downpatrick Declaration’ was launched this evening (7 December 2021), in Downpatrick, Co Down. As President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND), I am one of the 33 signatories of today’s declaration.

Downpatrick Cathedral

The history of Ireland is a reminder of the complexity of community and identity, and of the devastation of violence. Our Peace Process marks a break with centuries of conflict on the island. The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement establishes vital principles for recognising one another and for peacefully acknowledging and resolving differences.

Leaders in Britain and in both parts of this island have endorsed exclusively peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues and rejected ‘any use or threat of force’. (Declaration of Support, § 4) These principles are a guide for building sustainable communities, and for our conduct in the wider world.

We should at least not aggravate, and at best help modestly towards, resolving the challenges and conflicts of our troubled Planet Earth. No one person or group is responsible for all these problems, but we are all accountable for how we respond to them.

Tragically, both UK and Irish governments have betrayed the Agreement in their so-called ‘defence’ policies. Their involvement in NATO (UK) and NATO’s so-called ‘Partnership for Peace’ (Republic) has been a moral and practical disaster.

NATO’s ‘War on Terror’ has brought catastrophic onslaughts and human-rights abuses, perpetuating a bitter cycle of aggression and retaliation. It invokes threats but fails to address their nature and sources or to create a context where the tragic cycle could be broken.

This betrays the Republic’s constitutional commitment to ‘the pacific settlement of international disputes ... [and] the generally recognised principles of international law’ (Article 29) It is equally at odds with the pronouncement of Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam in 1999 that ‘all violence, no matter for what purpose, is unacceptable.’

Both governments display the mindset of what US President Eisenhower 60 years ago called 'the military-industrial complex.’ They suggest that producing weapons of war can be a sound basis for prosperity on this island and for supporting peace and development in the wider world. We challenge them, as joint guarantors of the Peace Process, to show how this could be so.

Weapons not only kill and maim; they also wreck homes and habitats and damage our ecology. They distort and distract from the real challenges of security. They deflect resources of mind and matter from worthwhile production. They undermine the good work of governments, NGOs and others for disarmament, peace and development, instead producing a tragic tide of suffering and displacement.

Our world is sliding towards a horrific era of enmity and revenge, as dangerous and destructive as the Cold War. Our governments must bring their policies, at home and abroad, into line with the Declaration of Support. We need to produce ploughshares in a spirit of recognition and rebuilding, rather than swords with the mindset of militarism and mistrust.

Our Declaration invokes Downpatrick, a site recognised by all as emblematic of the island’s ancient history. The Shrine of the Three Patrons, embodying the tradition that Saints Patrick, Brigid and Colmcille are interred there, celebrates the shared roots of the island's different Christian faith traditions, stemming from the Abrahamic roots which they share in turn with Judaism and Islam. Downpatrick itself has known conflict throughout the millennia, up to and including the recent Troubles, but remains a beacon of the values of its patrons: Patrick, an enslaved immigrant, returned with a radical message of peace and love and rejected killing; Brigid lived a life of peace and harmony with nature, selling a bejewelled sword to feed the hungry; and Colmcille left the island in repentance for his own past involvement with violence, bringing to the world a message of charity and peace.

Mairéad Maguire,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Denis J. Halliday,
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General 1994-98

Roy Arbuckle,

Colin Archer,
Secretary-General, International Peace Bureau (retired)
and Vice-President, Movement for the Abolition of War

lain Atack,
Assistant Professor (Retired) Trinity College Dublin

Sue Claydon,
Chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship

Roger Cole,
Chair of Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA)

Revd Canon Prof Patrick Comerford,
President Irish CND

Margaretta D’Arcy,
Theatre Activist

Lelia Doolin,
Television Producer

Rita Duffy,

Dave Duggan,

Rob Fairmichael,
Coordinator, INNATE

Valerie Flessati,
Vice President of Pax Christi, England and Wales

Pat Gaffney,
Vice President of Pax Christi, England and Wales

Gerry Grehan,
Chair, Peace People

Edward Horgan,
Former UN Peacekeeper
and founder of Shannonwatch

Tom Hyland,
Founder and Director East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign

Bruce Kent,
President Emeritus of the Movement for the Abolition of War

Frank Keoghan,
Secretary, People's Movement;
former General President, Connect Trade Union

John Maguire,
Professor Emeritus, University College Cork

Felicity McCartney,
Quaker and former Clerk of Ireland Yearly Meeting

Ruairi McKiernan,
Author and former member of the President’s Council of State

Robbie McVeigh,
Author and Activist

Richard Moore,
Founder and Director of Children in Crossfire

Dervla Murphy,
Travel Writer and Author

Joe Murray,
Director, Afri

Joe Noonan,

Clare O’Grady Walshe,

Martina Purdy,
Former BBC NI political correspondent

Michael Quane RHA,

Tommy Sands,

Kate Thompson,

Praying in Advent 2021:
10, Saint Columba

Saint Columba baptisting a child … a fresco in the Baptistery in All Saints’ Church, Blackrock, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

At first this looked like being a busy and stormy day. A planned community project meeting in Rathkeale this morning was postponed last night because of Storm Barra. However, the launch of the ‘Downpatrick Declaration’ is expected to go ahead later this evening.

Before th storm lands in Co Limerick and before the day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (7 December 2021) for prayer, reflection and reading.

Each morning in the Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Advent;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Saint Columba’s Church, Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although today is not Columba’s Day, I have chosen Saint Columba this morning because of the launch of the ‘Downpatrick Declaration’ later this evening, as part of the celebrations of the 1,600th anniversary of the birth of Saint Colimba, who is said to be buried at Downpatrick.

Saint Columba, also known Colum or Columcille, is one of the three patrons of Ireland, alongside Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid of Kildare. He is also the patron saint of Derry and is regarded as one of the ‘Twelve Apostles of Ireland’. He was born 1,600 years ago, on 7 December 521, at Gartan in present-day Co Donegal.

He is remembered as the missionary monk who introduced Christianity to Scotland, and who founded the abbey on the island of Iona.

Saint Columba studied under Saint Finnian of Movilla and Saint Finnian of Clonard, was ordained priest ca 551, and founded churches and monasteries in Derry, Durrow and Swords.

In 560, Columba became involved in a quarrel with Saint Finnian of Moville over a psalter. Columba copied the manuscript at the scriptorium under Finnian, intending to keep the copy. Finnian disputed Columba’s right to keep it, and the conflict that ensued eventually resulted in the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in present-day Co Sligo in 561, when many men were killed.

A synod was called, and Columba was threatened with excommunication for these deaths. But Saint Brendan of Birr (29 November) spoke on his behalf. Eventually, Saint Columba set sail from the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal for Scotland, where he and his 12 disciples founded a church and monastery on the island of Iona ca 563.

Iona became the springboard for the conversion of Scotland, and is regarded as the mother house of abbots and bishops in the early history of Christianity in Scotland.

Saint Columba returned with Saint Aidan to Ireland in 575, when he took a leading role in the Synod of Druim Cetta and founded the monastery of Drumcliff in Cairbre, now Co Sligo, near the battlefield.

Saint Columba spent most of his years in Iona. He died there in 597 and was buried in his abbey. he created. The Vikings first attacked Iona in 794, and Saint Columba’s relics were finally removed in 849 and divided between Scotland and Ireland. The parts of the relics that went to Ireland are said to be buried in Downpatrick, Co Down, with Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid.

Three Latin hymns have been attributed to Saint Columba, and he is associated with the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow. Saint Columba’s feast day is 9 June.

On 9 June 1186, 15 bishops, many abbots and church dignitaries and a large number of clergy and laity were present at the reburial of what were now revered as the relics of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and Saint Columba (Columcille) in Downpatrick.

This morning, I am also thinking of and giving thanks for many places I have stayed and prayed, and sometimes preached, including Saint Columba’s House, a retreat house on Maybury Hill in Woking, Surrey; Saint Columba’s Church, Ennis, Co Clare; Saint Columba’s Church, Swords, Co Dublin; Saint Columba’s Church, Kells, Co Meath; and the Church of Saint Columba and Saint Joseph in Glenstal Abbey, Co Limerick.

Saint Columba’s Church, Swords, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 18: 12-14 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 12 ‘What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (7 December 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for tea plantation workers across Asia and Africa, who often suffer from poor working conditions and meagre wages.

Yesterday: Saint Nicholas of Myra

Tomorrow: The Virgin Mary

The Round Tower at the South Gate of Saint Columba’s Church, Kells, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org