Natus est Ergo Hic beatus Columbanus



Some of the works of Columbanus provide access to a body of knowledge and learning in ancient Ireland going back many centuries before the arrival of Christianity in the 5th century.

Celestial Gaels: The Astronomy of Easter




Other serious conflicts persisted however, between the Roman notions of the natural cosmos, and those studied and understood for many centuries by the druids. This was an important part of the context in which the ancient tales of wonderful sea voyages and contacts with the Otherworld were first written down by Irish clerics. As will be shown, the druids were able to convincingly demonstrate their studious understanding of the universe to be the correct one to these clerics. The clerics in their turn were able to benefit from this knowledge, certainly by using it for extensive navigation, but they were also to be the subject of the odium of the Continental church when they professed this ‘profane’ learning. It was for this reason that they shrouded their native knowledge in the Otherworld legends of the voyage tales and elsewhere. Devices such as this were not new. In Biblical writing a ‘science’ called ‘Gematria’ consisting of assigning numerical values to letters allowed new meanings to be drawn from a text. The 7th century writings of Saint Moling Luachra have been shown by Máire de Paor (2001) to employ this technique.


There are some extensive astronomical discussions in texts on the Continent written by Irish monks in both Latin and Irish, some of which were carried from Ireland, and dating from the 6th to the 10th centuries. It is rare however, for them to refer to the accumulation of astronomical knowledge before the introduction of Christianity at the end of the 5th century. Moreover, there are no texts surviving in Ireland having original Irish sourcing of such data, in contrast to those which do survive in Continental libraries. Beside the conventional reason given for loss of pre 11th century texts in Ireland, that is, greater wear and tear in the community using the language in which they were written, it fails to adequately explain why transcriptions of older texts with this data were not made, as was the practice with other worn out documents. The conventional view also states that ‘the Irish stopped looking at the stars at the end of the 7th century’, which ignores those texts of Irish origin from the following four centuries which do contain this data. The ‘watershed’ in Ireland appears to find itself sometime at the end of the 7th century. And this date coincides with the raging controversy over how to calculate Easter.


The Venerable Bede, who asserts his indebtedness to Irish learning, gave a description of the symbolic and astronomical requirements for Easter calculation in his ‘History of the English Church and People’ (v. 21) (completed 731 AD), quoting Abbot Ceolfrid’s letter to the King of the Picts,


After the Vernal Equinox, we are bidden to wait for the full moon of the Pascal month, that is, in order that the sun may make the day longer than the night, and the moon then present to the world the full orb of her light; because in the first instance the Sun of Righteousness, who hath healing in His wings, that is the Lord Jesus, overcame the triumph of His Resurrection, all the dark shades of death, and so ascending into heaven, sent down the spirit from on high, and filled the light of internal grace, His Church, which is often spoken of under the name of the moon; an order of [events connected with] our salvation on contemplating which the prophet said, ‘The Sun hath arisen and the Moon hath stood in its appointed place.’ Whoever therefore shall contend that the Pascal full Moon may occur before the Equinox, such a one certainly disagrees with the teaching of the Holy Scriptures in his mode of celebrating the chief mysteries; but agrees with those who believe that they can be saved without the preventing grace of Christ, who presume to teach thatthey could attain the perfect righteousness, even though the True Light hath never dispelled the darkness of the world by His death and resurrection.


Then setting out from the equinoctial rising of the sun, after the full moon of the first month, (the next in order after it), that is, after the completion of the 14th day of the same month (all of which observances we have derived from the law), we still further, in accordance with the suggestions of the Gospel, wait in the third week itself for the arrival of the Lord’s day, and thus at length celebrate the votive commemoration of our Pascal feast; thereby indicating, that we do not with the ancients show respect for liberation from the yoke of Egyptian bondage, ... etc.


The Irish had strongly objected to the Roman procedure for finding the first lunar month after the Vernal Equinox on the grounds that it miscalculated the length of the lunar month at 29.5 days only, and therefore introduced errors over a period of time which caused Easter to be celebrated during the wrong lunar month. These miscalculations were highlighted and lampooned by the Irish druids to injure the credibility of Christianity. Going by the numerous references Bede makes to the controversy, it impacted greatly on life in Europe generally for two centuries, even political events were influenced by it.


Columbanus who travelled to the Continent from Ireland with a group of missionaries about 589 AD, wrote to Pope Gregory the Great in 595 AD complaining, in ‘full and frank’ language, about that erroneous system which had been introduced to Gaul by the bishop Victorius in 457 AD, (‘Sancti Columbani Opera’, G.S.M. Walker, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies,  1957). He came to be a senior teacher at Bangor, but Reeves (Columba, p.173) believed he was the same person as the ‘Columbanus filius Echudi’, or Colmán mac Echdach who Columcille consulted while on a visit to the latter's foundation at Slanore in Co Cavan. Adhamhnán says in his 7th century Life of Collumcille that during this visit an incident occurred in which Columcille used miraculous powers to secure the wheel of the chariot in which they were travelling, of which more later. Columbanus was born no longer than fifty years after Patrick died. Based on a poem attributed to him to Fidolius in which he says he had reached his ‘eighteenth Olympiad’, which Walker takes to mean four year periods rather than the five used by other Latin poets. According to himself he had reached either his 68th or 85th year (i.e. either 17 X 4 or 17 X 5) when he composed the poem, and as he emphasises his advanced age in those lines, and was more likely to be using the Latin convention, 85 seems preferable. He left Ireland about fourteen years after the National Convention of Drum Ceatt where Columcille took the side of the druids to save them from banishment. In recognition for this support the chief druid of Ireland, Dallán Forgaill from the MasRuaidh, wrote the poem called Amra Columcille in his honour when he died in 597, including these lines,



Columbanus was a member of Columcille’s community and was later to become  embroiled in dogmatic conflicts with the Frankish church on the issue of the Easter calculation. After various trials he set out for Lombardy and communicated with Rome to try to argue for a correction of the Church's calculation of Easter. Both the Roman and Irish systems were based on the sun's first lighting of the Moon after the spring Equinox, a phenomenon which signified Christ's resurrection. Roman authorities, however, insisted that the length of the Lunar month was only 29 ½ days, and as it is in fact forty four minutes longer than that, it follows that predicting the Moon's first lighting by Rome's method caused an error, and that error was compounded over time. The time difference between the actual lunar month and Rome's figure was met by adding a period within a cycle of 19 years  where 235 lunar months, or lunation’s, synchronised fairly accurately. This additional period was accommodated by the process called the 'Saltation of the Moon'. But as a result, the Roman system went out of synchronisation and, for example, allowed selection of a first lighting of the Moon from a lunar month before the Spring Equinox. 


In his time and motion type audit and error analysis of this synchronisation, Columbanus wrote the following on the Saltation of the Moon to his flock, with some clarification added in the square brackets:


As I am about to pronounce on the lunar motion, it seems that I should take my point of departure nowhere else than by asking, with careful and leisurely research, whether the moon always completes its cycle in 29 ½ days only, or whether it then has a few moments more; which are neglected over several lunation’s, owing to a difficulty in calculation, and now finally gathered into one, and seem to be restored by a summary reckoning. Thus every lunar cycle, according to the computation of the Hebrews and Egyptians, can make up 29 ½ days each month, since those are quite in error who consider that the moon completes the cycle of its motion in intervals of 30 days; while careful research into the truth would show that in two lunation’s, not 60, but 59 days must be reckoned. Hence it happens that it appears to be reckoned, now at 30, now at 29. For this reason also in ordinary years, six lunation’s of 30 days, and six of 29, appear to be completed; by which 354 days are amounted to [here he is not saying that there are only 354 days in a solar year, but that those 12 lunar months can only fill out the solar year of almost 365 ¼ days to that extent]. If then the moon is proved to complete a month of 29 ½ days in a natural cycle, why is the moon of an intercalated month reckoned at 30, when there is no other moon from which it may receive the half day, that is 12 hours ? Also in February, the lunation, which is normally always reckoned at 29, is counted at 30 when the day of the leap has arrived; so that in that lunation we see that an entire day is added, that is 24 hours. Thus during the eight-year and eleven-year periods, 7 intercalary and 5 leap years are found to have expired except for one quarter, that is 6 hours, which appear to be left over from one of the leap         years. In 7 intercalary years, 7 half-days are counted, that is three days and 12 hours; where by reckoning you will find 84 hours [i.e. 7 half-days x 12 hours]. In the leap years, you will find 114 hours [i.e. (5 leap years x 24 hours) - 6 hours]. And when these are all reduced to one total, you will find 198 hours [i.e. 84 plus 114]; subtract 24, which is the entire day of the lunar increment [i.e. the additional period added to the end of the 19 year cycle for the Roman system to be synchronized]; there remain 174,  which is in moments 6,960 [40 moments made up one hour. He highlights this error in moments because it happens to come close to the number of days in the 19-year cycle, i.e. 6,939.7]; make them half-hours and they will be 348; draw out 113, and there remain235 - the same number of lunation’s as you will also find in the 19-year cycle [one of these half-hours must be added to each of the 235 lunar months of 29 ½ days]. Take the 113 half-hours noted above, and make them quarter hours, and they will be 226 - almost exactly in agreement with the aforesaid number of lunation’s. We say this in order to prove   that every lunar cycle has 29 ½ natural days, plus half an hour, plus almost 10 moments [or a ¼ hour. The modern NASA calculation of the lunar month is 29.530587732 days,(Bromberg, see below, gives the mean for the epoch of 600AD as 29.530592592, or about 4/10ths of a second more) which equals 29 ½ days, plus ½ hour, plus 9.364223 moments (i.e. 57.22 seconds less than 10 moments)]; from where would we say that such a multitude of hours and moments had grown, if, as was said before, each lunation contains only 29 ½ days?  So it remains that the position is thus in general. Such is also the reason for having this summary reckoning. For we see that what is neglected in calculating by individual lunation’s is in certain lunation’s entirely restored. For since 235 lunation’s appear to be completed during the 19-year cycle, and each contains 29 ½ days and almost 30 moments, of which apart from the lunation’s of the intercalary and leap years, each lunation, considered individually, appears to be reckoned, now at 30, but now at 29; in every intercalary and leap year the lunation is reckoned at 30; but since in all the intercalary and leap years, which we have likewise shown before to be counted in 12 lunation’s, the lunation cannot always reach the full tally of 30 from the aforesaid number of moments, since in each lunation two hours are proved to be lacking - for that reason, at the conclusion of the 19-year cycle of the moon of 30 days, which during the same year in the month of November is cut off at 29, appears to lose 24 hours.


Columbanus's minute scrutiny gives the length of the lunar month to an accuracy of less than half a moment, i.e. less than 45 seconds. Later it will be shown that in fact they brought this accuracy to forty times better than that - to values of time which were measured by one pulse beat. At each stage of the error analysis he successively highlights and individualises the error for each month to get finer accuracy, and it is this same procedure which is to be found in old Irish language texts where astronomical information can apparently be found to be embedded in what we now call 'mythology' relating to megalithic sites such as Newgrange and Knowth, as is shown further on. Further, deriving this level of accuracy for the average or mean length of the lunar month is all the more remarkable when it is realised the length of the lunar month actually varies by up to 13 hours. For example, computer programmes can now easily calculate that the first lunar month in the year 605 AD started on Jan 25th at 01.33 and ended on Feb 23 at 17.13, making it’s length 29 days 15 hours and 40 mins, or almost 3 hours longer than the mean. Clearly, the result in this example is away outside Columbanus’s calculation, and for him to find a result for the mean which was acceptable to him and those whom he had to deal with, he had to rely on a much wider spread of data collected from observations over a great period of time.


Complaining to the Pope about that erroneous system for calculating Easter introduced to Gaul by the bishop Victorius in 457 AD Columbanus wrote from the court of the King of the Lombards in northern Italy,


Victorius ... in his cycle ... has long since introduced error into Gaul, or so to speak, has strengthened its growth. ... I am surprised, I must confess, that this error of Gaul has not long since been scraped away by you, as if it were a warty growth. ... For you must know that Victorius has not been accepted by our teachers, by the former scholars of Ireland, by the mathematicians most skilled in reckoning chronology, but has earned ridicule or indulgence rather than authority.


In a further letter to a synod on the subject,


I admit the inmost conviction of my conscience, that I have more confidence in the tradition of my native land in             accordance with the teaching and reckoning of eighty-four years and with Anatolius, ... for the celebration of Easter, rather than to do so in accordance with Victorius who writes recently and in a doubtful manner, and without defining anything where it was needed.


Since Columbanus was born about 530 AD, certainly his parents were alive during Patrick's mission to Ireland, and the knowledge of their generation when the druids existed without the challenge of Christian dogma, and which he received at their knees, was fresh to them. The experts on whom he relies could not therefore be described as ‘ancient' if they were part of Patrick's mission or later followers, as some of Columbanus' modern editors have asserted, when he describes Victorius’s system of 457 AD as ‘recent’. His experts had to have been the druids whom Columcille, his friend and senior abbot, had successfully defended at Drum Ceatt, to the extent that their influence had not been completely eradicated during Columbanus' lifetime. This is reinforced by the contemporary recorded history of the region in which he received his learning.


In the latter half of the 5th century the sons of King Niall of the Nine Hostages were extending their domination over what is now called Counties Cavan and Leitrim. In this enterprise they had as allies the Deilbhne, the Ciannacht, and the Luigne from around their capital at Tara, and also elements of the Uí Bairrice from the area around what is now north County Kilkenny. They were led by Connail Gulban, and met with strong opposition, to the extent that Connail himself was killed in an ambush at Fenagh in 464 by the MasRuaidh of Mágh Sleacht. Aillell, the Uí Bairrice leader had a son called Monach, and his posterity came to form the leadership of the tribes in the areas of Counties Fermanagh and Monaghan. The Ciannacht managed to penetrate beyond the north-western shore of Lough Allen, where one of their chiefs MacCaerthinn, and Cáichán of the Calrighe granted land to Patrick and his cantor Bénin who was of the Ciannacht/Luigne. A record of this grant survives in the Book of Armagh, showing the extents of Bénin’s land just east of the present village of Drumahair where the sites of the chief’s Rath and the original church at Drumlease and placenames mentioned in the grant can still be seen. There are also plenty McCartin’s still found in this district over 1,600 years later, and this enduring testimony is one on which Gaelic leadership came to rely on for support down through the centuries. The depth of ancient learning in the region will be expanded on in a later chapter.


That this learning was promulgated within certain church communities is evidenced by Donnacanus, a monk of Columbanus' community, also wrote on the lunar question, and this piece was copied in 848 into a manuscript brought from Ireland to the monastery at Reichenu, and now in the Hof- und Landesbibliothek at Carlsruhe,



For it is certain that there should be a leap at the end of the nineteen-years-cycle if it is by twelve hours only that every             lunar month is less than a space of thirty days. This then is the sound law of the leap, to reckon 29 ½ in the lunar month. For if it be reckoned according to nature, so that to every space of thirty days may be wanting twelve hours, plus four brottae  and an unga  and an atom~, there will be no leap at all.


And on folio 18½d of the same manuscript,



This then is required to the solar month besides the twelve hours, i.e. to find a leap out of every lunar month, to wit, four brottae and the twelfth division of a brothad and the forty-seventh division of the twelfth of a brothad.


From these last two glosses it can be seen that an unga is the twelfth part of a brotad, and an atom~ is the forty-seventh part of an unga. These are very fine and ancient Irish time measurements, which are not related to Roman ones as has been argued by some scholars. Four brottae plus one unga plus one atom~, or (4 x 12 x 47) +(1 x 47) + 1 atom~s, equals ½ hour plus 9.364223 moments, or 30 + (9.364223/40 x 60) minutes, so that 1 atom~ equals 1.147 seconds. Accordingly the druids had available to them the capability of calculating the lunations in the 19-year cycle to an accuracy of 1.147 seconds. By any reckoning, the extra-ordinary continuous effort over extended periods of time to achieve this level of accuracy would be totally unwarranted to predict seasonal changes, which is one purpose claimed for that effort by investigators up to now. Writing on Aiden of Iona and Lindesfarne in his ‘History of the English Church and People’ Bede was,


in no way commending or approving what he [Aiden] understood in relation to the observance of Easter; nay, very much detesting the same, as I have made manefestly proved in the book I have written,              “De Temporibus” ... ‘.


He certainly had not proved his point to the above quoted Irish glossator of his book. Since this scribe refers to the death of Muirchad mac Maeldúin ten years after the Annals say he had retired to Clonmacnois in 821 AD, the basis for the Irish accepting the Roman mis-calculation for Easter had to have been a fudge; liturgical exigencies demanded acceptance of the symbolism for the purposes of Church unity, but actual natural reality was definitely known to be otherwise, even among southern Irish whose texts were brought to the Continent.


There is a recent analysis titled ‘The Length of the Lunar Month’ (2003) by Dr Irv Bromberg of the University of Toronto [, or] which deals with the actual variation of the lunar month length from 29.26 to 29.80 days, and where he finds the numbers of lunations that must be taken into account to arrive at an average or mean length of the accuracy which we apply today. He found that


to calculate mean lunar conjunction moments we need to average out (cancel) the short-term periodic variations. I tried averaging in groups corresponding to the strongest beat frequencies of 14 × 111 = 1554 lunations (this is also the least common multiple of 14 and 111), but the results were not as smooth as desired. Eventually I found that tripling the group sizes yielded excellent smoothing, optimal when the lunations were in groups of 4657 lunar months, [i.e. 376.53 years] which is also very close to twice the approximately 2277-lunation period of the weak periodicity.


From Bromberg’s data shown graphically here, it can be seen that the mean lunation about 600AD, about 17300 lunations before 2000 AD, had an excees of about 3.2 solar secs on top of 29 days 12 hours and 44 mins, or 29.530592592 days.


The data available to Columbanus’s community must accordingly have been derived from observations made extending back centuries before he himself was born.


Note, incidently,  how similar Columbanus’s analythic process was to that of Dr Bromberg’s where Bromberg discusses the Mean Synodic Month (MSM), (


to parallel the 4657-lunation averaging groups, I used the elapsed time between the starting mean lunar conjunction of one group and the start of the next group, divided by 4657, thus computing the MSM corresponding to the middle lunation number of each group. I then subtracted 29 days 12 hours and 44 minutes from each MSM value, and finally multiplied the residual fraction by 86400 (the number of seconds in a day), thus obtaining only the few excess fractional seconds for plotting.


Writing on the 80 BC Rhodean Antikythera mechanism under the title ‘Gears from the Ancient Greeks’ in 1998, Professor Sir Christopher Zeeman commented that this 32 gear orrery-type instrument had the capability to measure the Metonic Ratio (l) of 235 lunations in 19 years to an accuracy of 1 minute in 1 lunar month (i.e. 1/42,524). He says,


1. The accuracy of 1 part in 40,000 is the equivalent of measuring the length of the month to the nearest minute ...

2. You need to take the average of many readings to get the mean month, because the length of the month varies (due to elliptic orbits).

3. The Greeks had no instruments to measure time so precisely.

4. Its almost impossible to observe phases of the moon with such precision.

5. The Greeks didn’t have real numbers or decimals in which to express the result.

6. Nor did they have the techniques of dividing real numbers, to calculate the ratio.

7. The Metonic Ratio 235/19 is in fact the most accurate approximation to l by any rational p/q with q <= 80.


Columbanus and his comrades have however demonstrated that they and the druids before them could derive an accuracy of 1.147 seconds for this ratio, which equals 1/2,224,449, or 52 times more accurate than the Greeks.


The atom~ is a period of time that could be counted with one's pulse as Bede says in ‘De Temporum Ratione’, or in the ‘blink of an eye’ which John O’Donovan suggests for a ‘bratha’ in the Voyage of Maeldúin. The curious division of the unga into 47 atom~s, seems to be based on the fact that, due to the Precession of the Equinoxes, the Declinations of the stars swing away from their centre position to the extent of about 47 mean moon breaths, or 23 ½ degrees, every 6,450 years, making the complete cycle 25,800 years, greatly changing the stars visible at a given place, or season. With this realisation it then becomes possible to devise a ready-reckoner for finding one's position, and the true navigational purpose of the druids' accuracy becomes clear. With this realisation it then becomes possible to devise a ready-reckoner for finding one's position, and the true advantage to Columcille and the Irish church of the druids' accuracy becomes clear.


The controversy on the Easter Cycle rolled on through the seventh century. Clerics trained in the North were more trenchant in favour of the Old Irish system over the southern clerics who favoured compromise with Rome. From about 625 the characters involved included St Fintan of Taghmon in Co Wexford. ‘Fintan’ is a name which is derived from the Latin version of ‘Fionn’; diminutively in this case ‘Fionn’ was suffixed with ‘óg’ (junior) and prefixed with ‘Mo’ (= ‘my’, or ‘servant’) which accented the first letter to give ‘Mo-Fhionn-óg’, and pronounced ‘Munna’. Munna’s house is therefore ‘Teach Munna’ which is rendered ‘Taghmon’ in English. According to his Life dating from the late 8th or early 9th century, Munna was born in Uí Neill territory in the north of the country ‘above a stone which was venerated by the people of that district ... for miracles are performed upon that very stone; from that day until the present snow does not lie on that stone.’ According to the early 8th century Martyology of Óengus his father Tulchán was a druid, and indeed O’Donnell’s 15th century ‘Life of Columcille’ says Munna himself was  accused in his youth of also being  a druid. In Irish idiom today it is said of a great footballer that his sons will be born with football boots on, or a good technician’s son would be born with a spanner in his hand. A gloss in the Martyrology of Óengus says that Columcille wrote,


                O little vassal of Mighty God,

                O son of Telchén, O churl,

                she bore a hard son to my company,

                the mother that bore thee, O Fintan, i.e. O Munna.


His Life says that he studied under Comhgal of Bangor, Columcille himself, and on Devenish a few miles west of Cleenish on Lough Erne. Indeed O’Hanlon’s ‘Lives of the Irish Saints’ has a reference which says,


for eighteen years, he studied with St. Synell Mac Maynacur, Abbot over the monastry of Cluain-inis, in Lough Erne.


While his source is not mentioned, it is clear from the attempt to render the name Sínell Mac Mánacus (to be mentioned later) into English that it is authentic, but where an Irish ‘þ’ [r] was taken for ‘û’ [s], and ‘y’ is used to lengthen the marked vowels. Munna served for a short time in Scotland, then Westmeath, before arriving in Wexford. He would thus have had a similar education to Columbanus and have had the benefit of  the astronomical learning within that community. On being cured by Mochua Mac Lonán of his reputed leprosy he is said to have written,


            Gift of knowledge and gift of a house

            from me to the grandson of Lonán of Meath

            gift of a son of whom Ireland will be full

            reward of his rising to Tulchán’s issue.


The debate intensified as the end of the Irish 84-year cycle was approaching in 632, and following the receipt of a letter by the southern church from Pope Honorius in 629 exhorting standardisation with Rome, a synod was summoned by Cummian at Mágh Léne in 630 AD north of Carlow in the old Uí Bairrice territory to discuss the matter. Accounts of this synod show that Munna was the major torn in the side of the southern Irish establishment. Munna did not endear himself to the local king sponsoring the event by being late, asking the others ‘why are you waiting so long for that leper ?’, and when he did arrive they had a row straight away. He stuck to his guns, however, and the meeting broke up with the decision to send envoys to Rome for guidance. The envoys celebrated Easter in Rome in 631 and returned in 632, after which a further synod was called for Mágh Ailbe. Nothing was settled there either and the debate continued to rage. Directly as a result of the discussions at Mágh Léne and Mágh Ailbe, Cummian wrote to the northern Irish party led by Ségéne (Shayne) successor of Columcille on Iona on the matter, and this letter survives. He wrote,


... I thoroughly examined the cycles of different computations to see what each language thinks about the course of the sun and the moon, and I found cycles that are in disagreementwith the one which you hold, although diversly in one day, another in the moon, another in the month, another in the bissextile, another in the epact, and another in the lunar augment (which you call the saltus).  The first is that which holy Patrick, our bishop, brought and followed, in which the moon is regularly observed from the fourteenth to the twenty-first, and the equinox from March 21st. Secondly, I found Anatolius (whom you extol) who says that those who observe a ‘cycle of 84 years can never arrive’ at the correct reckoning of Easter. Thirdly Theophilus; fourth Dionysius; fifth Cyril; sixth Morinus; seventh Augustine; eight Victorius; ninth the monk Pacomius, founder of the monasteries of Egypt to whom the reckoning of Easter was dictated by an angel; tenth the 19 year cycle of the 318 bishops ‘which is called enneacedeciterida in Greek’ in which the Kalends of January and the moons of that month have been correctly noted, as if by a most clear path, ‘leaving aside the shadows of ignorance,’ for studious men of all times, for which the feast of Easter can with certainty be found. ...

‘Therefore after a full year (as I said above), in accordance with Deuteronomy, I asked my fathers to make known to me, my elders (that is to say, the successors of our first fathers: of Bishop Ailbe, of Ciaran of Clonmacnois, of Brendan, of Nessan, and of Lugid) to tell me what they thought about our excommunication by the aforementioned Apostolic Sees. Having gathered in Mágh Léne, some in person others through representatives sent in their place, they enacted and said: ‘Our predecessors enjoined, through capable witnesses (some living, some resting in peace), that we should adopt humbly without doubt better and more valid proofs proffered by the font of our baptism and our wisdom and by the successors of the Lord’s Apostles.’ ..... But a short time afterwards a certain whited-wall arose, pretending to preserve the tradition of our elders, who did not unite with either part but divided them and partly made void what was promised. I hope the Lord will strike him down in whatever way He wills. Then it seems proper to our elders, according to the command, that if disagreement arises between one side and the other, and judgement vary between leper and non-leper, they should go to the place where the Lord has chosen; and if matters are major, according to sinodical decree, they should be referred to the chief of cities [i.e. the Pope]. .....

‘For it is wicked that you do not recognise your errors, and that you do not acknowledge more certain proofs. It is proper to heretics not to correct their opinion; to prefer a perverse opinion rather than abandon one they had defended. ...


It is made clear that Cummian and his party made an extensive scrutiny of all the treatises available throughout the Christian world at that time. This is one of the letters David Howlett analyses in ‘The Celtic Latin Tradition of Biblical Style’, where he finds that ‘Cummian wrote before reckoning from the Incarnation became common, but it is a notable coincidence that Walsh and Ó Cróinin date the text to the year 632/3, and the beginning and end of the text, parts ABC C’B’A’ comprise exactly 633 words.’ Cummian curses the northern party for their obdurance, and he venomously calls Munna a leper, a chant taken up by Suibhne Mac Domhnall the Mágh Léne sponsor, but it seems from the context that this was an allegorical expletitive rather than a description of a fact. In Munna’s Irish ‘Life’ Suibhne’s hurrying comments could be taken to mean that he wanted the delegates to depart after finishing their business because their delay was a further expense on himself, and Cummian and his party did have to find a new sponsor in Mágh Ailbe for their synod three years later. Cummian does imply that some of the delegates were holding out for Munna to arrive so he could overturn what had already been decided.

Down at Taghmon there is a rock called ‘Munna’s Bed’ on which he was said to have regularly spent many a night. It stands on the south slope of a small river valley a few miles north of the village.


As has been referred to earlier, Munna was very likely to have been familiar with Columbanus’ letter ‘De Saltu Lunae’ which calculates the lunar month to an accuracy of just a few seconds, and the trenchant defence of the Irish Easter Cycle was based on the methodologies used and data derived from observations by ‘mathematicians’ over many preceding centuries. Munna was said in his Irish ‘Life’ to have been delayed by illness or old age for the synod at Mágh Léne, but another reason for his delay might have been his need to verify the data necessary to support his arguments. He is said to have lain on his stone bed for many nights over an extended period (which would give anyone a chill!), and it was for this reason it is worth looking at the bed concerned.


One method of establishing the length of the lunar month accurately is to use fixed sighting device to mark the time of arrival of the moon at exactly the same point in its cycle on successive occasions. Looking at Munna’s bed one can see how he could have used it for this purpose.


The first picture shows the large crevice rising skyward from the smoothed shelf forming the base of the rock. The extent of the smoothing suggests that it has been used for many hundreds of years, and there are incised crosses marked on the point where the large fissure rises skyward.


This second picture is the view skyward from the base of the fissure/crevice where an observer’s eye would be were he lying on the bed with his head on the largest incised cross, and with the trees and new twentieth century plaque cut away.


This third picture is a view of the sky from the Longitude and Latitude of the Bed, at 22.45 on Jan 2nd 630 AD in the approximate direction and elevation of the fissure, where one finds the moon at its highest elevation for some years before and after this date. This is from a planetarium type computer program called ‘Easy PC Astronomy’ by the Peter Duffett-Smith of Cambridge, using that program’s inbuilt atmospheric correction facility,


The following picture is the second picture superimposed on the third. The disk of the moon can be seen to fit very comfortably into a rounded notch at the skyward end of the fissure, and the whole arrangement acts like a very large fixed astrolabe. If the condition of the rock was then the same as its present condition, as seems likely from superficial examination, it would appear that this rock could have been used by St Munna to verify his data prior to the Mágh Léne and Mágh Ailbe synods, and that this could have been the real reason for it being called his ‘bed’. A more detailed survey would be required to validate the use of this site for the purpose suggested in pure mathematical terms, but the literary references surrounding Munna taken together with the data here suggest that such a survey would be worthwhile.


Munna was another sea traveller to visit the Esa Ruaidh on the western extremity of MasRuaidh territory according to the Salemanca Codex now in the Royal Library in Brussels. On his return from a voyage to the Land of Promise he tells a visiting monk that he has been where Collumcille, Cainnech, and Brendan had also set up foundations, and that if his guest wished to go there he should depart from Sliabh Líag in Tír Bóguine which is located on the north shore of Donegal Bay, near Ptolomey's Borean Peninsula. Some accounts say that this Bógúine was father to Conaill Gulban, who in turn was Collumcille's maternal great-grandfather.


Another cleric who was called a Leper like Munna was Mochuda of Rahen near Tullamore, Co Offaly, and there is a strange story about his expulsion from there which Dr William Reeves infers was also due to the Easter Cycle controversy from statements in both the annals of Tighernach and of Ulster that he was expelled ‘in diebus Paschae’ (in the days of Easter). The dates given in the annals for his expulsion vary between 630 and 638 AD, and an account of the incident was transcribed by Michael O’Clery in 1627 into a manuscript now in the Bibliotheque Royale in Brussels (4190 - 200) from the book written by Teige Ó Cíanán. The Ó Cíanán’s were an ancient family of Co Cavan scribes, and other 13th and 14th century manuscripts of theirs from within the territory of the MasRuaidh will be relied on later. Muchuda, also called Carthach, was from Munster while Rahen was in Conn’s Half and controlled by the Ó Neills. The tale suggests that Muchada attended the Mágh Léne synod and took the part of the northern clerics against his own kinsmen. In a section coming from Ó Cíanán’s book there is a piece which goes,

 Mochuda with his assembly, i.e. seven and seven score, and seven hundred, and every third man of them conversed with angels. One day Mochuda went with his assembly in a procession around the angels cemetary in Rahen, ...


and there follows a poem paragraphed into two sections, the first with 38 lines in which there are 147 words being the same as ‘seven score and seven’, and the second section with 30 lines and 121 words; the last line - ‘Ind ecclas naemh nemhdha’ - is the same as the first and not counted, so that the tail is connected cyclically to the head. In his translation Charles Plummer tots the numbers of Mochuda’s assembley to give the total of 847; but looking back at the Mágh Rath scribe’s definition of time it will be seen that 846 times 400 gives the number of atoms in a day, so there seems to be something cyclical contained in these numbers when the extra 1 onto each 846 is taken as a transitional or junction point. Seven score makes 140, which makes 560 when multiplied by 4, and 564 is the number of atoms in the Mágh Rath scribe’s Bratha, again requiring a 1 for each 560. Further, 847 divided by 3 gives 282 and one third, and 847 less 282.33 (the number talking to the angels) leaves 564.67 being just above the number of atoms in a Bratha. The remaining fractions merge into one unit when the whole is arranged in a circle.


The numbers are also clearly given in three sets - 7 and 7 X 20, and 700, and every 3rd 1. The first set can be seen as an arrangement within the second set of 700, controlled by the last set, and the whole arranged in a rotating circlular procession. 700 divided by 7 and 7 score (=147) multiplied by 4 equals 19 and 1/21th, or 400 1/21ths. Or to re-arrange it, 19 21’s plus 1 equals 400; 4 X 21 is 84 being the number of years in the cycle that Cummian was complaining about, and 4 quadrants of 19 is 76, or twice 19 score is 760 which is a product that will be returned to.


The proportion of the divisions of the poem into 38 to 30 lines makes a ratio that will also be returned to.


The northern church was led mainly from Iona which also had established an extensive network in Britain, and there the Easter controversy there came to a head at the synod of Whitby in 664 AD. The Roman party succeeded there, but still, it was not until 24th of April 729 AD, according to Bede, that the boys in Iona were to reconcile with Rome.


In a poem written by Columbanus in Latin, called ‘Carmen de Mundi Transitu’ (Poem on the World’s Impermanence) by Walker, though making no direct reference to any calendrical subject, the arithmetical arrangement carries the message. The manuscript containing this poem in Zurich is now the sole early copy surviving, as another seen in St Gall in 1892 is now lost. It was supposed to have been written before his departure from Bangor, i.e. before 591 AD. According to Jonas, a young Lombard member of the Bobbio community who completed Columbanus’ biography in about 643, ‘he studied from boyhood to manhood in grammar, rhetoric, geometry and in the Sacred Scriptures’, and he ‘composed many works that were profitable for instruction or suitable for song’ while with Abbot Sinell. This Sinell seems to have been the son of Manach of the Uí Bairrace who moved up to the Lough Erne region in the 5th century, as will be shown later. Dubhaltach Mac Firbhisigh’s ‘Book of Genealogies’ page 313 locates the Ó Corcorán’s ‘from Sinell’s Cleenish to Sinell’s Edon Tirmanach’, which are just east of Enniskillin on Lough Erne. Sinell was ‘a venerable man’ who had been a disciple of  Finnian, traditionally ‘Master of the Saints of Ireland’, of Clonard in Co Meath, who is referred to by Columbanus in his writings and by Sedulis Scottus before him.


J.S.M Walker says, as this poem of Columbanus’ forsakes ‘classical meters for the prosody of medieval hymns, it is particularly suitable for singing. ... The verse ... is neither metrical or rhythmical; the principle is a simple count of syllables.’ According to David Howlett, where the best analysis can be found, this is the first among the Irish poems to comprehensively and rigorously deploy rhyme and alliteration in stanzaic structures. Howlett goes on to say:


This work about the transitory world is calendrical. There are 365 words, for days in a year; 120 lines for a decade of months; thirty stanzas, for days in a month; four lines in a stanza, for weeks in a month; seven syllables per line, for days in a week. ... Division of the thirty stanzas by extreme and mean ratio at 19 might represent the nineteen year cycle through which solar and lunar calendars come into synchrony. ... After the twenty-fourth line (for hours in a day) from the beginning of the poem the letters of the five words of the couplet


            Lubricum quod labitur

            Conantur colligere

            ‘the elusive thing that slips away they try to fasten together’


may be rearranged to form the five words



            ‘Columba speaks secretly, Bangor smiles’.


Line 106 is missing, but line 102 has been partly repeated in line 106’s place instead in some versions, and for the following reasons I don’t take up Howlett’s suggestion of putting the words ‘Melos decantata est’ (17 letters) there. Further, Howlett adds an extra word ‘et’ to the second line which Walker shows the Zurich manuscript connected to line one, but that corrupts the metre so it is likely to have been a later addition. This suggestion will not be taken up either, i.e. Howlett’s four extra words will not be used. Walker’s ‘cottidie decrescit’ for line 2 is retained - ‘Luna quotidie .IIII. punctis, siue cresens a sole longuius abiit, seu decresens soli uicinior, quam pridie fuerat redditur:’ was used by Bede in a section dealing with the course of the moon in ‘De Temporum Ratione’, written about a century after this poem. Retaining also the spelling for ‘Christo’ and Christi’, the text used here will therefore be exactly as Walker found it. At least one  additional chiasic then becomes apparent between ‘cottidie decrescit’ in line 2 and ‘cottidie decrescit’ in line 21 with 3 X 19 words between them, and the central crux of 281/2 falling on the word ‘mortis’ in line 12. Each line has seven syllables and four lines in each verse, giving the sum of eleven, which is the number of days that the lunar year of twelve months of twenty nine and a half days, or 354, is less than the solar year of 365 days. 361 is the number of words belonging to the poem actually found in the manuscript, and 19 X 19 is 361, four words short of 365. 19 squared could well be a better number to display the many chiasic arrangements which Howlett has found in the poem; but then this poem is really about fitting a square peg in a round hole. The total number of syllables in the verses should be 840, which is the tenth multiple of the number of years in the Irish Cycle. There are 735 syllables up to line 105; 738 days would give just under 25 lunar months (of 29.53058773 days), and 739 just over, so that between three and four is the number required to fall in the middle of line 106. Line 102 has three words. The double multiple of the number of days in the lunar year, 708, when counted in syllables from the start of the poem, falls on the word ‘Plebs’ in line 102, and this is the word which is left out from the insertion of line 102 into 106’s space in most  versions. The whole line is ‘Plebs caelestis pascitur’ (the heavenly folk are fed). With David Howlett’s insertion of 17 letters he gets a total of 2,110, but there are 2,093 letters when his insertion is not made in line 106. Now, add double 2,093, to double 840, to one of each type of year 354 and 365, i.e., {(2,093x2)+(840x2)+(354+365)} you get 6,585, which is the number of days in 223 precise lunar months and in the Saros Cycle of 18 years and 11 days (18.03 years). This is the period in which the same Eclipses recur regularly for centuries, and was known from more ancient times as a method to predict them. An eclipse occurring on a certain day of a particular cycle will recur 18.03, 36.06, 72.12 years later, and so on. Nowadays eclipses are often identified by a number which is allocated to them within their own particular cycle. The period of time required to discover this Cycle was far longer than Columbanus’ lifetime - it had to have been derived from observations extending over many such cycles - it therefore had to have come from the druids as he has told us in his writings. As Columbanus illustrates in ‘De Lunae Saltu’, the 19 solar year cycle used by the Church is a complicated artificial human one designed to make their calendar synchronise with the lunar cycle. However, there is another natural 19 year cycle based on Eclipse years of 346.62 days, which is the period of successive returns of the Sun to the same node (point of intersection of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth with the plain of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun) of the Moon’s orbit, and therefore the period of possible recurrence of both solar and lunar eclipses, which can only take place when both these bodies are within a small distance from the node at the same time. It was recognised in some ancient cultures that 19 of these Eclipse years makes 6585.78 days, almost exactly equal to the Saros Cycle. The period it takes for the Moon to get from one node to the other is half that of the Eclipse year, 173.31 days; when an eclipse occurs on the first day of this period it is likely that another will occur on the 173rd some where in the world. The 173rd syllable, plus the fraction, from the start of the poem brings one to the word ‘Labitur’ in line 25 which is part of the Columbanus’ secret anagram identified by Howlett above. Columbanus is also telling us that the whole truth of the story is to be found in the apparent error. Further evidence that he is indicating that the blanking of line 106 was a deliberate ‘error’ can be seen from the following,


105.79 lines of seven syllables each equals  740.505 which is the square of 27.21222 which is the number of days in the Nodical Month, or the time it takes for the Moon to go from one of its nodes and back to it;


106.64 lines of seven syllables each makes 746.473 which is the square of 27.32166 which is the number of days in the Sidereal Month which is the time it takes for the Moon to circuit the star sphere from a transit at the same instant as a star back to transit at the same time with it again;


105 is the number of syllables from line 105 inclusive to the end of the poem without any insertion in line 106; and finally,


105.5 divided into one is the tangent of the angle 00 32’ 35.06”, which is precisely equal to the Maximum Angular Diameter of the Sun, which is at the centre of our Solar System, and 105.5 would bring us to the centre of line 106 if it was there.




When the 361 original words of the poem are arranged in a matrix of 19 columns and 19 rows, the central word of the matrix, in the 10th row of the 10th column, is ‘MAGIS’. In the arrangement shown here I have given a square to each word, bringing Howlett’s chiasics with multiples of four which fall near the centre to mind, so the ‘G’ of MAGIS is the centre point of a square, and this greater square has 76 equal units of length in its perimeter.



The word just above MAGIS is VIRTUS, and just below is PERPESSI.



When these three words, totalling the necessary seven syllables, are inserted into line 106 we get the verse,


            Ubi aula regia

            Virtus Magis Perpessi

            In qua male resonans

            Nulla vox audita est.


This gives the meaning,


            Where [in] the royal hall

            Druid’s virtue endured

            in which, resounding badly,

            no voice is heard.


As one should by now have come to expect, the number of letters in these three words is 19. The last letter of 105.5 lines now becomes the ‘G’ of ‘MAGIS’ - the centre of the square and the Solar System. That ‘G’ would not have been the centre if line 106 had been filled in. Columbanus has to be telling us that this is a Heliocentric world, and not the Geocentric arrangement of the classical world and Roman belief up to then and for many centuries later. When we look at the Sun we are looking inwardly from our position in the Solar System. Taking some of the figures drawing attention to line 106 mentioned earlier,


105.5 falls on the letter ‘e’ of ‘male’ in line 107 when 106 is left out (i.e., there are 17 letters in line 107, and 1/17th into the fraction 0.5 is 8.5 which brings us to the middle of the 9th letter of that line - similar calculations follow) and just before the ‘I’ of ‘Magis’ when 106 is filled in;


105.79 falls on the first ‘n’ of ‘resonans’ in 107 without 106, and on the second ‘p’ of ‘perpessi’ when 106 is back in;


106.64 falls on the ‘d’ of ‘audita’ in line 108 without 106, and on the ‘e’ of ‘male’ in line 107 when 106 is back in.


These letters then are ‘E’, ‘I’, ‘N’, ‘P’, ‘D’, and ‘E’, which make up the word ‘Penide’ meaning ‘Inwardly’ which Columbanus knew to be our correct view of the Sun. The letters also make up the word ‘Pedine’ - pertaining to ‘foot’ or ‘shepards crook’ or a bishop’s ‘crosure’ - possibly suggesting that the Earth-centred view the bishop of Rome stands on is crooked. 


The Irish St. Virgilius of Salsburg who died in 785 AD got into trouble with Pope Zachary for publishing a work saying that the earth was spherical, a great part of which was unknown, and that each part had its antipodes. The Pope in a letter to Boniface of Mayence wrongly took Virgilius’ argument to mean that there was another world, and other men under the earth, another sun and another moon, which would threaten belief in the One True God, and therefore that Virgilius should be excommunicated. Pope Gregory did a ‘U’ turn and canonised him in 1233.


After the word ‘Magis’ in Columbanus’ poem there are 101 syllables and 262 letters to the end of the poem when line 106 is inserted. 101 X 262 equals 26,462; the period it takes for the Angle of Obliquity of the Ecliptic to go through its complete cycle is 25,800 years. The difference is 662, which in syllables brings us to the middle of line 95 (i.e. 662/7=94.57), ‘Ubi senex non gemat’ (‘where the old does not groan’); 19 X 5 was the 95 year cycle developed by Cyril. Referring back to the poem on Muchada’s expulsion from Rahen, the ratio of 30 lines to 38 lines of 120 (7 score plus 700 over 7=120, 1 less than number of words in the second section) gives 94.74, coming close to the proportion shown in this poem. In Muchada’s case the number falls on the word ‘caemh’ in line 24, meaning ‘mild/gentle’, or ‘mellow’, when applied to a person. From line 106 exclusive to the end of the poem there are 98 syllables and 254 letters giving the product of 24,892, and the mean between this and 26,462 is 25,671 which is very close to 25,800. Working from the end of the poem the mean of 99.5 X 258 falls on the newly found word ‘Perpessi’ (‘endured’), so that Columbanus conveys the sense of ‘the old enduring 25,800 year cycle’ in this little exercise.


The newly found or repeated three words ‘Virtus’, ‘Magis’, and ‘Perpessi’, bring the total of words only to 364; it was the practice, however, for Irish writers to put the first word of the poem after the last word as a terminal indicator which would not be recited. This word, a repeated ‘Mundus’, would make up 365 words and 835 syllables - which equals one syllable less than 76 times 11, i.e. the number of divisions on the perimeter of the large square, multiplied by the number of days a lunar year is short of a solar year, equals 836. The period of time it takes the Moon to change in angular diameter and luminosity, i.e. from perigee to perigee, is called the Anomalistic month which equals 27.55455 days on average; when this is multiplied by 76 we get 2.094.15 days, which is just one more than the actual number of letters the poem has in the manuscript (ignoring the later addition of ‘et’ at the end of the first line). When the square with the word ‘MAGIS’ is included in each of  four overlapping squares measured from each corner, each of these squares has a square value of 100.


In the revised 26th verse just quoted then, the poet laments the fall in favour of the druidic classes within the nobles’ courts following the Convention of Druim Ceatt just ten or fifteen years earlier. Indeed, there is the likelyhood that Columbanus was an active participant on the side of the druids at this event. The whole poem demonstrates the remarkable well of learning which the decision to drastically cut their numbers and withdraw patronage had put at risk. Further, the Abbè MacGeoghegan’s history says (O’Kelly’s trans),


The first subject of deliberation was, the necessity for banishing the bards, the number of whom had become burdensome to the state;               but St Columb and St. Colman, who took an active part in the assembly, proposed that it would be more prudent to reduce them to a limited number, than to deprive the state of so many subjects, some of whom might become useful; which wise councel was adopted by the assembly; and regulations were made to confine them to the exercise of their profession.


We have seen elsewhere that there is evidence that Colman mac Echach was Columbanus’ Irish name, and that he was a senior lecturer with St Comhgal at Bangor. It is clear from a passage in Adhamhnán’s Life of Columba (I 49) that Comhgal was present at the Convention with Columcille, and it would have been appropriate that he would have brought his senior scholar Columbanus, who Columcille also knew and had relied on, with him. The Abbè does not quote the source available to him in the 1750’s for this item, but there is every likelyhood that his Colman and Columbanus were one and the same.


As will be shown, it was not Columbanus who invented the 19 square matrix he presented here; by his time it had already been at least over three thousand years old. The recognised way to get a circumference of equal length to the perimeter of a square is to draw a diagonal line from the centre point on one side with the line at an angle of 51 degs 51 mins to the line running from that point through the centre of the square; draw another line from the centre at right angles to the other line through the centre, so that this line intersects with the diagonal at a point outside the square. The distance from the centre to the point of intersection is the radius of  the circle with its circumference equal to the perimeter of the square. In our square that radius will be 12.0958 units; this is very close to Ö2 X 8.5 which is the distance from the centre ‘G’ to the inner corner of  the square of the first word ‘Mundus’. The angle subtended by a line of Ö2 X 8.5 and a line equal to the radius of a circle with a circumference of 76 is 6.3820 which is the value of the additional altitude the Moon would have been observed at when at its extreme altitude. This angle is composed of the extreme inclination of the Moon’s orbit to that of the Earth, 5.290, plus lunar parallax, 0.950, plus 0.140 which would be made up of minimal atmospheric refraction when the Moon is observed on reaching a high altitude in the sky. 


From the centre ‘G’ to the outer corner of the square of the last word ‘Videbitur’ is Ö2 X 9.5. The hypotenuse of a right angled triangle with the other sides of these two lengths equals Ö{2 X (8.52 + 9.52)}, or 18.0278 units, being very close to the number for years in the Saros Cycle; it is one day short of 6585 days. This value is better shown in a three dimensional drawing; it represents the Arris Angle of a pyramid whose height is found by raising a perpendicular equal to the value of the Ö2 X 8.52 radius from the centre ‘G’. In the drawing on the next page the line from the centre ‘G’ to GC1 is through the middle of the outer line of the 9th square of the 19th row, i.e. to the left of the middle row. Going anti clockwise the second next square is missed, and at the following second next square a similar line to ‘G’/’GC1 is draw to ‘GC3’.



These lines represent the positions of the remaining twelve orthostats in the Great Circle surrounding the megalithic site at Newgrange. According to Prof Michael O’Kelly’s archaeological report on the site:


Twelve orthostats of the great circle are present today. We calculated that had the circle been fairly regularly spaced with a distance varying from 7m to 9m between each pair of stones, it would have contained from 35 to 38 orthostats.


The distance between these stones varies within the ratio of the tangent of the angle 51o51’. As each line drawn skips an outer square, the number in this arrangement also equals 38, and that is how O’Kelly numbered them. The tumulus passage is shown here to fall along the column from ‘MAGIS’ to ‘LABOR’. On the Summer Solstice in 590 AD at the Latitude of Bangor (540 40’ North) the centre of the Sun’s disk was seen from sea-level to rise at an azimuth of exactly 450 from north. As ‘Magis’ is the centre word of this arrangement of the poem the angle represented by the relationship of number of words before and after it, to the total number of words is also 450. Aligning the ‘Magis/Labor’ column towards this rising disc would direct corner ‘B’ towards north, ‘C’ to the East, ‘D’ due south, and ‘A’ to the west.




There is another relationship here to the Moon. The minimum angular diameter of the Moon occurs when it is farthest away from the Earth at Apogee, i.e. 406,720 km away, when the angle across its diameter from an observer on Earth is equal to 00 29’ 22.78”, or 0.4896620. The maximum angle occurs at Perigee when it is 356,375 km away, in which case the angle is 00 33’ 31.8”, or 0.5588320. Now 700 times the minimum angle, plus 60 times half the maximum angle equals 359.530, less than half a degree less than a complete circle of 3600. In other words, one 76th division of a circle equals 10 minimum angles plus half the maximum angle, or one 38th division equals a score (20) of minimum angles plus one maximum angle - just like the numbers in the story of Muchada’s expulsion from Rahen.


Half of 38 is 19, which is the number of graduations carved out in protractor fashion on SE No. 4 kerbstone near the opening of the large tumulus at Knowth which was built about 3,600 BC. Archaeologists have discovered that 19 aligned passages were constructed in total on this site.


OPW Library


19 is also the number of outer round holes carved on another graduated stone which is on Patrickstown Hill within the complex at Loughcrew in Co Meath, said to have been built before Knowth. The obvious wheel carved above the centre has been taken elsewhere to represent the Celtic god Taranis; Columbanus’ connection with this motif will be shown later.



Leo McLouaglin



In Egypt the goddess Seshat is depicted on the 1300 BC temple to Seti I at Abydos with a cartush referring to its construction saying,


            Your hand held the spade when the corners were fixed in keeping with the four pillars of heaven.


In the Irish story of the Voyage of Bran, which dates from the 7th century, the second verse sung by a strange woman says,



This same allegory is given in the later Voyage of Maeldúin where it is spread over four successive islands, one with a great rampart of water surrounding it, the next with a river of water arching over it, the third with is an eight sided glass pillar rising from the sea, and the fourth is an island supported by a single pillar in the middle. One of the meanings Cormac gives in his ‘Glossary’ (c. 895 AD) for the obscure word ‘tuirigin’  (1224) is,



as ‘engendered from a pillar’, i.e. as a great pillar supporting a house and  arms out of it, that is the house is the pillar-headed world, the pillar is moreover the truth of the laws of nature. The many arms from the pillar are the many meanings and many methods of brehonry [druidry].

                                                (see Thurneysen p. 166 for ‘brethemnuis’)


Later again is the Voyage of Uí Corra in which Fintan of Clonard (d. 548 AD) provides the sailing directions, their trip has descriptions similar to Maeldúin except that there is a river of wine, an island segregated into four quarters, and a great silver column supported by four feet. A vision attributed to Adhamhnán, Columcille’s biographer, in Leabhair na hUidhre brings these allegories into its description of heaven. Even Ailbe, one of Cummian’s lunar/solar calendar authorities who died around 535, went to the CorcoM’dRuaidh, the same place Maeldúin was to get sailing directions from their druid, and,


the flowing tide each day circled Ailbe’s seat and surged high above him, but never dared to enter the place in which he sat.


Columbanus refers to ‘Leto’ in line 113 of his poem, and Diodorus’ reference to the Greek myth on Leto is quoted in the introduction. According to this myth Leto was born on the island of the Hyperboreans and was Apollo’s mother, and Zeus his father. While she was pregnant Leto was pursued by the jealous Hera, and when she was about to give birth Poseidon gave her protection, but the birth had to be in a place where the Sun’s rays never penetrated (a reason for connecting her with night time). Accordingly Poseidon raised the waves of sea like a dome over an island which came to be named Delos, and he anchored it to the sea bed with four pillars. Apollo built the temple of Delphi there, but every 19 years (or every Autumn in other versions) he left Delos and went to the Hyperboreans where Leto was, and she returned the complement by visiting Delos, escaping from her home disguised as a she-wolf. This mythological construction on Delos is exactly matched by the ‘distant isle in the Voyage of Bran, and in the arched sea protecting Ailbe on the west Clare fore-shore. It is also seen in the diagram built on Columbanus’ 19 square ‘Mundus’ where the elements of  Poseidon’s dome can be seen in a semi-sphere of the perpendicular radius ‘G’ to ‘A’, and the four pillars can be seen in the four corners which would protrude from its base. These four corners are the origin of the very common Irish term ‘ceithre áirde an domhain’ (= ‘the four heights/corners of the globe’). Though an  explanation stretching back to the biblical origins of mankind was later given in the 12th century Leabhair na hUidhre, they are still directed towards ‘east & west, south & north’ with a man occupying each place.



An allegorical description of this square with overhead protection and the ‘Virtuos Magis’ in the middle being illuminated by the Sun is given in Jonas’ account of one of Columbanus’ ‘miracles’ (Fordham University translation);



The man of God was at the monastery of Fontaines, where a new field had yielded a very rich crop. Violent blasts piled up the rain-clouds, and the heavens did not cease to pour down the rain upon the earth. The man of God considered anxiously what he ought to do. Faith strengthened his mind and taught him how to command the fitting thing. He summoned all and ordered them to reap the crop. They wondered at the father's command and no one understood his purpose. All came with their reaping-hoods to cut the grain in the midst of the rain and watched to see what the father   would do. He placed at the four corners of the field, four very religious men, Comininus, Eunocus and Equanacus, who were Irish, and the fourth Gurganus, a Briton. Having arranged them, he himself with the others cut the grain in the middle. Wonderful virtue!  The shower fled from the grain and the rain was scattered in every direction. The warm sun poured down upon those who were reaping in the middle and a strong warm wind blew as long as they heaped up the grain. Faith and prayer were of so great merit that the rain was driven off and they had sunshine in the midst of the storms.


The three Irish names appear to be Comméne, Eogenán, and Echach. Gurganus could mean the constellation of stars configured in Gorgon, the sea monster who was killed by Perseus who holds Gorgan’s head with the star Algol in it. Equanacus may represent Pegasus/The Horse and Eunocus was another name for Hercules. Within about half a degree each way, 900 from the star 16-Perseus in the constellation Gorgon is the star Homan in the Horse’s/Pegasus’ mane, and 900 from Homan is 109-Hercules in his left wrist, which points to Kapo-Draco 900 away in the Dragon, which is 900 back to 16-Perseus, making up the 3600 ‘square’. Because of their latitudes the ‘square’ is distorted into a lozenge shape. Kapo-Draco was close to being the North Pole star in about 2,500 BC.  This seems to be an allegory for astronomically surveying-in a square of ground on the plan provided in the poem, and is similar to one found in other stories looked at later on. 


In an earlier passage Jonas tells of Columbanus’ founding the monastery of Luxueil;


As the number of monks increased greatly, he sought in the same wilderness a better location for a convent. He found a place formerly strongly fortified, which was situated about eight miles from the first abode, and which had formerly been called Luxovium [Luxeuil]. Here were baths constructed with unusual skill. A great number of stone, idols, which in the old heathen times had been worshipped with horrible rites, stood in the forest near at hand.


The name ‘Luxovium’ indicates that the more ancient precint has been dedicated to the Celtic Apollo, Lug, whom Columbanus would have been very familiar with, and from the astro-navigational directions he gave his travelling monks, he could well have recognised the value of this new site. The original monastery at Luxueil near the Swiss border was destroyed around 795, and in recent years some reconstruction of this and the baths has taken place for tourism purposes. However the convent at Fontaines referred to by Jonas may have been a foundation at St Pére outside Vézelay near Avallon in Yonne south east of Paris. St Bernard who came to relax the rule of Columbanus’ community is connected with the site on which  the basilica of St. Pére en Vézelay was built there in the 13th century. Les Fontaines Salées are close by and here archaeologists have found a large thermal complex from the Gallo-Roman era sourced from natural chloride and radio-active water reservoirs. Evidence of a pre-historic Celtic sanctuary and Neolithic exploitation has been discovered here, together with the ruins of church which is thought to be from the 8th century. Excavations undertaken in 1934 found the original Celtic precint to be laid out as a wheel with oak tree trunks hollowed out to channel the water from the springs. Marble statues were also uncovered, and it was thought that the original 200 BC construction was to the Celtic god ‘Taranis’ (thunder). The possible connection between Columbanus and a wheel, to be mentioned later, in the Life of Columcille may have attracted him to this site. Taranis is believed to be the character represented with a wheel on the famous Gundesatrup silver bowl found in a Danish bog.

French Tourism Web Site


Archaeologists say that ‘the thermal springs at Les Fontaines Salées were surrounded in the first century AD with not only a double circular walled enclosure, but with what appears to have been a bedding trench for an oval of posts thirty feet by fifty feet, while circular or polyogonal temples and enclosures [there] take their place with’ similar arrangements in a Romano-Celtic series across France and Britain. Many of these arrangements have post-holes indicating an original regular square construction which is later surrounded by a polyogonal or lozenge shaped embankment. Professor John North of the University of Groningen has shown that many of these shapes associated with pre-historic sites are indeed astronomically aligned, as are the staffs being held by the ‘Long Man’, a chalk figure cut into a hillside at Wilmington in East Sussex.


In a passage dealing Columbanus’ youth Jonas wrote,


When he left his birthplace, called by the inhabitants, Lagener-land, (Leinster, in Ireland) he betook himself to a holy man named Sinell, who at this time was distinguished among his countrymen for his unusual piety and knowledge of             the Holy Scriptures. And when the holy man saw that St. Columban had great ability, be instructed him in the knowledge of all the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, as was usual, the master attempted to draw out the pupils under false pretences, in order that be might learn their dispositions, either the glowing excess of the senses, or the torpor induced by slothfulness. He began to inquire into Columban's disposition by difficult questions. But the latter tremblingly, nevertheless wisely, in order not to appear disobedient, nor touched by the vice of the love of vainglory, obeyed his master, and explained in turn all the objections that were made, mindful of that saying of the Psalmist, ‘Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it’, Thus Columban collected such treasures of holy wisdom in his breast that he could, even as a youth, expound the Psalter in fitting language and could make many other extracts worthy to be sung, and instructive to read.


The origin legend of Columbanus’ Leinster people, the Laigin, says that Labraid Loinsech was their progenitor, and a place called Dinn Righ was their citadel. According to the Book of Leinster, Labraid was originally named Máine the Learned, then Labraid Móen, and finally Labraid Loinsech (i.e. the Mariner) on account of him going into a sea exile. ‘Labraid’ means ‘Speaks’, or ‘Loquitur’ in Columbanus’ secret Latin anagram; the 2nd century Ogham inscription on a stone at Ballyboodan, Co Kilkenny is to a namesake descendent. Speaks’ adversary in the Dinn Rígh tale is Cobthach Caol (Skinny Thin-lipped). Dinn Righ is a prominent mound topped with a large circular embankment on a small hill rising from the west bank of the river Barrow, half a mile south of the village of Leighlin Bridge. It was identified as Dunon(fortress of the kings) by Ptolomey. The tale is reminiscent of the Roman stories from Gaul of great wickerwork figures into which live beings were packed and burned alive.


The story of the Slaughter of Dinn Righ goes that in about 300 years BC, in revenge for the murder of his family, Labraid persuaded Cobthach Caol (Skinny Thin-lipped), thirty of his sub-kings and 700 of his troops to come to a circular iron house that the whole Laigin population had secretly built on top of Dinn Righ in the space of a year, and ‘from that it is that Laigin are not less than secrets’, a quote mirrored by Columbanus. When they were all inside the door was slammed shut and chained. A fire was lit all round and 150 bellows with four men working each fanned the flames until,

         Slaughtered then were Cobhtach Coal, 700, & 30 kings inside.


These numbers coincide with the single skinny angle, 700 minimum lunar angles, plus thirty maximum lunar angles, required to precisely complete a 360 degree circle, as Columbanus, and/or Loquitur, and/or Labraid, Speaks so Tight-Lipped of from Bangor; it also looks like Columcille himself had a hand in it as the Chief Druid Dallán Forgail told us in his Amra. And in Columcille’s Life, Adhamhnán attributes to him the functions of providing sailing directions which the druids had done in secular voyage tales.


That this astronomical knowledge was associated with a mariner means that it had to be of seagoing value. From the late middle ages to this century mariners had sought easy methods to compute Longitude by using the position of the Moon as an intersecting bearing with that of the Sun. However the calculations were found to be far too elaborate for use on board ship, and the alternative method of using an accurate chronograph with the Sun's position was developed. This method still requires extensive daily tables to predict the Sun's azimuth and height.



What We Do

We publish studies and data which throw new light on Ireland's ancient history and culture. Because of small market size, this material will not be thought of as having a commercial benefit to book publishers. What is published here will have been reviewed by scholars.

Learn more

About Us

The site is owned by Michael Heery, an Irish historian.

Learn more

News and Events

Codici Bobbiesi is a work published in Milan in 1907. There are two Volumes, the second has approx 100 plates of MSS brought from Columbans' monastery at Bobbio to Turin in the 17th cent. 175 copies of the Codici were printed, and it is now very rare indeed. Up until now, it has been the only place to see images of some these MSS.

Learn more