What links a Hebridean Princess and an Irish Saint*?
The answer is to be found in a ship, or strictly speaking the name of a ship. The vessel in question is the “Hebridean Princess” a luxury cruise ship, which normally plies the waters of the West Coast of Scotland, and has been hired more than once by the Queen. However, the vessel has more humble origins. She was originally built in 1964 to serve as a Car Ferry on the Isle of Mull service. Operated by David MacBrayne Ltd she sailed to many of the Hebridean Isles. In 1974, on the withdrawal of the veteran “King George V”, she served Coll and Tiree as well as Colonsay, Iona, Lochaline and Tobermory. Before her conversion to a luxury cruise ship she was known as “Columba”.
Several ships on the Clyde have been named Columba, Perhaps the most famous and luxurious of these was a paddle steamer built in 1878. She operated from Glasgow on the River Clyde to Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne, the Royal Route, so named after Queen Victoria who took this route in 1847 on one of her tours of Scotland. In 1936, after her 58 year career, Columba was retired and replaced by MacBrayne’s turbine steamer Saint Columba.
Columba is a name that has long been honoured in Scotland. It was in 563 that Columba arrived as a missionary on Iona. The latter is one of Scotland’s smallest inhabited islands, lying less than a mile off the South West Coast of Mull. Yet its historical significance is enormous. It was here that Columba founded his monastery. The book ‘Island of Two Harvests’ states, “In the year 563 Saint* Columba sailed from Northern Ireland and built his famous monastery on Iona, soon followed by another on Tiree called Mag Luinge. This is often thought to have been at the site of Soroby graveyard where there used to be a church as a nearby inlet is still called Port na Luinge, meaning harbour of the boat.” On the Isle of Tiree there is a local tradition that Columba himself sailed to Tiree and landed on Gott Bay.” The island was known even then for its fertility and has been described as Iona’s granary. Columba died on the 9th of June 597, the same year that Augustine arrived in Canterbury on his Roman mission to convert the English.
Columba was greatly loved by the Celtic church, not least because of his love for Creation. He had a missionary zeal and it was from Iona that the Good News concerning God’s Son Jesus spread throughout Scotland. However, this emphasis on seeing God revealed in creation was not at the expense of the need for the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross – making it possible for men and women to be put right with God through their faith in his finished work.
The church continues to grow throughout the world, including Scotland and here on the Isle of Tiree.
*Although, some Christians regard ‘saints’ as an elite group, the Bible in fact refers to all Christians as saints.