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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Rowers recreate saintly voyage
St Columba's Abbey
St Columba founded the monastery on Iona
A team of rowers have begun a sea voyage from Ireland to Scotland along the route taken by Saint Columba in the sixth century.

The crossing, in a 37ft canvas skin curragh named Colmcille, is from Ballycastle in County Antrim to the island of Iona.

The journey is to commemorate the 1440th anniversary of the journey which brought Christianity to Scotland in the year 563.

The 13 rowers, from Ireland, Scotland and the United States, got under way on Monday.

They made it to the small isle of Gigha after 11 hours at sea.

They will travel on to Loch Crinan and then Easdale on the Isle of Seil before arriving in Iona.

Robert Gould, 61, from Renfrewshire, is on the team led by Scots-born Donald McCallum, who now lives in the US.

He is in remission from cancer and plans to use the voyage to raise money for charity.

Before they set off, Mr Gould said: "This is a bit of a challenge but I am looking forward to it.

"Weather permitting we will leave from Ballycastle on Monday and head for the Mull of Kintyre, which is a journey of about 20 miles.

"We'll then head towards Gigha before going to Crinan and Easdale and then on to Iona."

The group recently met in Northern Ireland where they practised rowing together on the Colmcille.

The traditional Irish curragh will have a tent and a stove on board in case of emergencies.

Mr Gould said: "The idea was to get as close to the original journey as possible."

The island of Iona is only one mile wide and 3.5 miles long and is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

In 563, after being exiled from Ireland, St Columba and his followers arrived on the island to extend their religion into Scotland and the north of England.

He established a monastery and then set about converting most of pagan Scotland and northern England to the Christian faith. Iona became known as a learning centre throughout Europe.

Gaelic speakers know him as St Colmcille.

About 100,000 people now visit the abbey on Iona every year.

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