Dallán Forgaill

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Saint Dallán Forgaill
Born c. 530
Magh Slécht, County Cavan, Ireland
Died 598
Inniskeel, County Donegal, Ireland
Venerated in Catholic Church (Roman Rite)
Feast 29 January

Eochaid Mac Colla (c. 530 – 598), better known as Saint Dallan or Dallán Forgaill (Old Irish: Dallán Forchella; Latin: Dallanus Forcellius), was an early Christian Irish poet known as the writer of the "Amra Choluim Chille" ("Elegy of Saint Columba") and, traditionally, "Rop Tú Mo Baile"[citation needed] ("Be Thou My Vision").

Personal history[edit]

Saint Dallan's given name was Eochaidh (Old Irish: Eochaid); his father was Colla, a descendant of the legendary High King Colla Uais, and his mother was Forgall (Old Irish: Forchella).[1] His nickname, Dallán ("little blind one"), was earned after he lost his sight,[2] reputedly as a result of studying intensively.

He was born in Maigen (now Ballyconnell), at the eastern edge of the territory of the Masraige of Magh Slécht in modern County Cavan. He was not a member of the Masraige but belonged to a branch of the Airgíalla called the Fir Lurg, who were in the process of spreading southwards into Fermanagh and Cavan. (The barony of Lurg in County Fermanagh was named after them)[3] His was a first cousin of Saint Mogue and was a fourth cousin of Saint Tigernach of Clones.

He died in 598 when pirates broke into the island monastery of Inniskeel, County Donegal, where he is buried. He was reportedly beheaded, and it is also said that God reattached his head to his body after he was martyred.[4] He was acclaimed a saint in the early 11th century, during the reign of the High King Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill.[3] A medieval poem entitled "On the breaking up of a School" composed by Tadhg Og O Huiginn, c.1400, refers to the death of Dallán which caused his school to break up and the students to disperse as they would accept no other master.[5] In a list of ancient Irish authors contained in the Book of Ballymote, Dallán is called “grandson of testimony”.[6]


Saint Dallan was a poet, Chief Ollam of Ireland, as well as a scholar of Latin scriptural learning.[3][7] He helped to reform the Bardic Order at the Convention of Drumceat.[8]

He is best known for eulogies attributed to him on the subject of contemporaneous Irish saints, namely the Amra Choluim Chille and Fo réir Coluim cén ad-fías on Saint Columba, Amra Senain on Saint Senain, and Amra Connaill on Saint Cenél. These poems, rarely translated, were written in such obscure language that subsequent scribes included copious glosses on the poems. The best example of this is the Amra Choluim Chille, wherein the glosses contain poems in themselves, some of which deal with the Fenian Cycle.[citation needed] He reputedly wrote Amra Choluim Chille, which he completed shortly after the death of Saint Columba in 597, because Columba had successfully saved poets from expulsion from Ireland at the assembly of Druim Cett in 575.[9] The “Amra Choluim Chille,” is the earliest Irish poem that can be dated.[10]

Dallan also wrote an Ode To Dubh-Ghiolla, The Shield Of Aodh

The early Irish poem Rop tú mo baile, the basis of the modern English hymn Be Thou My Vision, is also sometimes attributed to him.

Preceded by
Dubhthach moccu Lughair
Chief Ollam of Ireland
Succeeded by
Senchán Torpéist


  1. ^ According to the Life of St Dallán in the Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae
  2. ^ Dictionary of the Irish Language, compact edition, Royal Irish Academy p. 178
  3. ^ a b c T. M. Charles-Edwards, ‘Dallán Forgaill (fl. 597)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 27 June 2009
  4. ^ “Dallàn's death and burial" on page 37 of 'The Bodleian Amra Choluimb Chille' in Revue Celtique. Vol. 21 (Paris 1900), pp. 133-136.
  5. ^ Studies Journal, Volume XXV (1924). Edited by Osborn Bergin.
  6. ^ Book of Ballymote, p. 308, 26, "Dallán hua Forgaill in fil ut .i. Dallan mac Alla meic Eirc, meic Feradaigh gan tinii ardollam Erenn gan on, is e ro mol Cohan cille." ('Dallán son of Alla son of Erc son of Feradach without fear, Chief Ollam of Ireland without disgrace, it is he that praised Columba.')
  7. ^ J. O'Beirne Crowe, The Amra Coluim Cilli of Dallan Forgaill, Dublin, 1871
  8. ^ according to Geoffrey Keating's History of Ireland
  9. ^ Moody, TW & Martin, FX (eds) (1967). The Course of Irish History. Cork, Ireland: The Mercier Press. p. 60. 
  10. ^ Donoghue, Denis. "The Luck of the Irish", The New York Review of Books

External links[edit]