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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Rowers complete epic voyage
A team of rowers have followed in the footsteps of Saint Columba by travelling from Ireland to the sacred Scottish isle of Iona.

The group arrived on the island on Sunday night after an epic journey which began in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland on Monday, 9 June.

They came ashore to a huge welcome from locals and tourists who greeted them with soup and rolls as the rowers released three white doves into the night sky.

The group made the trip to commemorate the 1,440th anniversary of the journey which brought Christianity to Scotland in the year 563.

The team of 16 rowers, from Scotland, Ireland and the US, travelled in a 37ft canvas skin curragh, named Colmcille, via the Isle of Gigha, Loch Crinan and Easdale, resting overnight along the route.

During their long journey, the men sang ancient hymns and dressed in monk-like woollen robes as they arrived at their various destinations.

On board the curragh they had a tent and a stove in case of emergencies, and some basic dried food, while each of the rowers has a barrel to store their personal belongings.

St Columba's Abbey
St Columba founded the monastery on Iona

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

Mr Gould is in remission from cancer and undertook the journey to raise money for the Cancer Research Fund.

He said: "We are all very tired because we have been rowing since 7am, but it's fantastic here, everyone has come down.

"Now we are away to celebrate and get something to eat and as long as we can keep awake we will be up doing what needs to be done."

Mr Gould added: "At my age you don't get many opportunities of this sort and I had cancer three years ago so it was really a challenge for me."

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.

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