In Gartan Co Donegal there is a huge stone which is kept in remembrance of St Colmcille. Long ago some Protestants were removing this stone and trying to hide it on the Catholics. When they had it some distance away a plague of black rats surrounded them so they thought they would leave the stone back again and when they did so the rats disappeared. The Protestants never interfered with the stone again.
St Columkille's stone is near these stepping stones, but the latter are not given billing on the archaeology.ie map, and yes perhaps they're natural. But they're part of the story and they're stoney and folklorish so I'm squeezing them in here. They're at the end of Bridge Isle point. Columba and Columkille, it's all the same by the way.
Across Gartan Lough there is a row of stones still to be seen. These are called Saint Columba's steps. One morning as Saint Columba was putting on his boots, his enemies came and he had to run away having only one boot on. It is said that he crossed here to the other side out of his enemies' reach.
He said that, after that a curse would rest on the man that laced one boot before he put on the other. Most people of this district try to avoid the curse by putting on both boots before lacing one.
I often heard my parents talk about this when I was quite young and I still remember it.
I have spoken of Gartan as being held on very reliable records to have been the birthplace of St Columba, and I may further mention that a great celebration was held there in 1897, on the 1400th anniversary of his death, similar to that which, it may be remembered, was held at the same time at Iona.
The family of the saint occupied a princely position, and for four generations, since St Patrick himself had converted and baptised the great-great-grandfather of the saint, the family had been Christian. Their permanent abode or fort was about ten miles from Gartan. But at Gartan there is the "natal stone" as it is called, which is said to be the actual spot where St Columba was born. His mother, the Princess Ethne, so tradition says, had been brought here for the birth.
This stone, to my surprise when I visited it, I found to be at one end covered with cup marks. Whatever these marks mean or were made for, there seems to be little doubt that they were connected with some pagan rite or practice; and the interest attached to this particular stone to my mind is that a Christian family still held it in so much veneration, probably for good luck, as to have brought the lady to it from her own home at such a critical time.
The size of the stone is about eight feet long by six feet broad and one and a half feet thick, fairly flat, and slightly raised from the ground around it. It bears no trace of any building, either permanent or temporary, having ever been raised over it. Its situation is on a slightly elevated ridge of cultivated land, from which there is a good lookout all round. I saw no other stones like it in the immediate vicinity.
Besides this stone being held in reverence as the actual spot of St Columba's birth, a curious belief is attached to it, that whoever sleeps on it will never know home-sickness; and many a man starting for America is said to have tried the remedy. May this be a reverential reflection on the grace obtained by St Columba, who was able to transfer his affection from the land of his birth in pious devotion to the land of his adoption?