One of the stories associated with Saint Columcille tells how, on the day before he died, he went to visit his fellow monks working in the field, but was so weak he had to be carried to them in a cart. When he finally arrived, he informed them all of his great longing to ‘go with Jesus’ but that he’d held off as he was very holy and felt obliged to do his holy duty by attending the recent Easter celebrations.
Not being entirely thick, the monks cottoned onto the fact that he was suggesting he didn’t have much time left with them. Accustomed to his tedious harping on however, they pretended not to understand.
A little later, just in case they hadn’t got the message, the saint also obliquely informed his companion, Diarmuid, that it would soon be his own day of rest – the following Sunday in fact (wink, wink!). Diarmuid stared silently at him, not entirely sure whether the saint was talking about him or about himself.
Heading back to the monastery, Colmcille grew weary and was obliged to sit down and rest at the side of the road when a white horse suddenly ran up to him, pressed its head against his chest and started crying, drenching his shirt with the flood of tears.
Unaccustomed to bawling animals, Diarmuid quickly rushed in to save the saint and attempted to drive the horse away. Colmcille, however, never one to miss an opportunity to lecture, latched onto him and prevented him from doing so by saying, “Allow this admirer of mine to shed his tears on my chest. For this horse, being an animal, understood instinctively that I was going to be with my Lord yet you as a man could not foretell this.”
Ever a man to labour a point, oul Colm Cille.
The Vita Columbae – Life of Columba – a hagiography (or ‘propaganda record’ of the saint’s life) indicate that he died the next day.
It’s silent on whether he was helped by the other monks.
Meath County Council recently produced a short movie of the story which you can find here: St Colmcille and the Depressed Horse
I prefer my own interpretation, of course.