Abbot of Iona

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Iona's first abbot, Saint Columba, before the fortress of the Pictish king.

The Abbot of Iona was the head of Iona Abbey during the Middle Ages and the leader of the monastic community of Iona, as well as the overlord of scores of monasteries in both Scotland and Ireland, including Durrow, Kells and, for a time, Lindisfarne. It was one of the most prestigious clerical positions in Medieval Europe, and was visited by kings and bishops of the Picts, Franks and Anglo-Saxons. The Ionan abbots also had the status of 'Comarba of Colum Cille' (i.e. the successors of Saint Columba).

Iona's position as the head of the Columban network (familia) of churches declined with the presence of abbots based at Derry, Raphoe, Kells and Dunkeld. In Scotland, the abbots of Dunkeld ruled much of central Scotland in the 11th century, and functioned as one of the most important politicians of northern Britain.[note 1]

At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the monks of Iona adopted the Benedictine rule.[note 2]

List of abbots of Iona to 891

Early abbots of Iona

Abbot Period Notes
Colum Cille mac Fedelmtheo 547 - 597 (Columba of Iona)
Baithéne mac Brénaind 597 - 600 Colum Cille's devoted servant, cousin and successor as abbot of the community.
Lasrén mac Feradaig 600 - 605 During Colmba's time Lasrén was in charge of the satellite community at Durrow. He was the son of a cousin of Columba.
Fergno Britt mac Faílbi 605 - 623 Known primarily as Virgno. The first abbot not to be a blood-relation of Colum Cille. He is said to have had some British blood.
Ségéne mac Fiachnaí 623 - 652 He was the nephew of Lasrén mac Feradaig.
Suibne moccu Fir Thrí 652 - 657 Died 11 January 657.
Cumméne Find 657 - 669 A nephew of abbot Ségéne. Visited Ireland in 661.
Fáilbe mac Pípáin 669 - 679 Third cousin of Cumméne. He spent from 673 to 676 in Ireland.
Adomnán mac Rónáin 679 - 704 Biographer of St Columba. Although converted to the Roman ways himself he was unable to persuade his community. In 697, it is generally believed that Adomnán promulgated the Cáin Adomnáin.
Conamail mac Faílbi 704 - 710 Died 11 September 710. Died in 710, but we learn that Dunchad had already become abbot in 707 and continued until his death in 717. There is known to have been a schism on Iona in 704 and that there were, consequently, and to 772, times when there were two rival Abbots. The schism was the result of the attempt to 'convert' Iona to the Roman ways.
Dúnchad mac Cinn Fáelad 707 - 717 Died 25 May 717.
Dorbbéne mac Altaíni 713 - 713 Also called Dorbbéne Foto. Died Saturday 28 October 713 having had the primacy for only five months.
Fáelchú mac Dorbbéni 716 - 724 He received the chair of St Columba at the age of seventy-three on Saturday 29 August and died as abbot in 724.
Fedelmid 722 - ? Before Fáelchú died in 724, the annals record that Fedlimid became abbot, but his death is not recorded. It would seem that he was installed alongside Dunchad - perhaps because of the latter's great age and infirmity, but see Conamail above. Died 759.
Cilléne Fota 724 - 726 Cilléne the Tall.
Cilléne Droichtech 726 - 752 Cilléne the Bridgemaker.
Sléibíne mac Congaile 752 - 767 Was in Ireland in 754. Died 767.
Suibne 767 - 772 Died 801
Bresal mac Ségéni 772 - 801 Is known to have visited Ireland in 778. Died 801.
Connachtach 801 - 802 "Scriba selectisimus".
Cellach mac Congaile 802 - 814 Died 815. Built Kells church in Ireland.
Diarmait daltae Daigri 814 - 832 (Diarmait of Iona); Carried St Columba's relics to Ireland in 830; (Blathmac mac Flainn was martyred on Iona in 825).
Indrechtach ua Fínnachta 832 - 854 (Indract of Glastonbury); Slain by Saxons on his way to Rome 12 March 854.
Cellach mac Ailello Died 865 Cellach had been Abbot of Kildare since 852
Feradach mac Cormaic Died 880
Flann mac Maíle Dúin Died 891

List of comarbai Coluim Cille and abbots of Iona, 891–1099

During the abbacies of Diarmait and Indrechtach, almost certainly because of Viking attacks, the relics of Columba were moved to other monastic houses in the Columban familia, such as Kells, Raphoe and Dunkeld. The position of abbot on Iona ceases to have the same significance within the Columban monastic familia, and many comarbai are not based on the island.

Comarbai Coluim Cille to 1099

Abbot Chief monastery Until Notes
Máel Brigte mac Tornáin Iona/Armagh Died 22 February 927 Máel Brigte had been abbot of Armagh from 883, and may not have spent much time on Iona.
Dubthach mac Dubáin Raphoe Died 938
Cáenchomrac Iona Died 947 Was definitely abbot of Iona, but may not have been coarb of Coluim Cille.
Robartach Raphoe Died 954
Dub Dúin ua Stepháin unknown Died 959
Dub Scoile mac Cináeda unknown Died 964
Mugrón Iona Died 980/81 Styled "coarb of Colum Cille in Ireland and Scotland"
Máel Ciaráin ua Maigne Iona Martyred 24 December 986 Killed by Vikings.
Dúnchad Ua Robacháin Raphoe Died 989
Dub dá Leithe mac Cellaig unknown Died June 998 Dub dá Leithe had been abbot of Armagh from 965.
Máel Brigte mac Rímeda Iona Died 1005 Was definitely abbot of Iona, but may not have been coarb of Coluim Cille.
Muiredach mac Crícháin Raphoe Resigned 1007 Died 1011; Muiredach was also fer léigind of Armagh.
Ferdomnach Kells Died 1008
Máel Muire Ua hUchtáin Kells Died 1009
Flandabra Iona Died 1025 Styled "coarb of Iona".
Máel Eóin Ua Toráin Derry Died 1025 Styled "coarb of Derry".
Máel Muire ua hUchtáin Kells/Raphoe Died 1040 Máel Muire was abbot of both Kells and Raphoe.
Murchad mac Flainn ua Máel Sechlainn Kells (?) Deposed (?) 1057 Murchad was abbot of Conard from 1055, as well as briefly king of Mide in 1073; his most likely Columban holding would be Kells.
Robartach mac Ferdomnaig Kells Died 1057
Gilla Críst Ua Maíl Doraid unknown Died 1062 Gilla Críst was called "coarb of Colum Cille in Ireland and Scotland".
Mac meic Báethéne Iona Died 1070
Domnall mac Robartaig Kells Resigned before 1098
Donnchad mac meic Máenaig Iona Died 1099

See also


  1. One of the abbots, Crínán married Bethóc ingen Maíl Coluim, the daughter of King Máel Coluim II, and became the progenitor of the so-called House of Dunkeld, who ruled Scotland until the later thirteenth century. Dunkeld became a bishopric, and the monks based at Inchcolm Abbey became Augustinians.
  2. Iona was re-endowed in 1203 by Raghnall mac Somhairle, son of Somerled, king of Argyll and the Isles.


  • Charles-Edwards, T. M. "Iona, abbots of (act. 563–927)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2004.
  • Flanagan, Marie Therese. Irish Royal Charters: Texts and Contexts. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0199267073
  • Moody, T. W., Martin, F. X., Byrne, F. J., (Eds). Maps, Genealogies, Lists: A Companion to Irish History, Part II. New History of Ireland: Volume XI. Oxford University Press, 1984. ISBN 0198217455
  • Watt, D. E. R., Shead, N. F., (Eds). The Heads of Religious Houses in Scotland from Twelfth to Sixteenth Centuries. The Scottish Record Society, New Series, Volume 24 (Revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Scottish Record Society, 2001. ISBN 0-902054-18-X, ISSN 0143-9448


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