Sixty years after their voyage by currach to Iona – following in the spiritual and historical slipstream of Saint Columba – the four surviving crew members gathered with relatives and friends in St Patrick’s Church in Bunbeg last Sunday, the saint’s feast day, for a special service commemorating and celebrating their epic journey.

The idea for the original pilgrimage had been conceived by the late Canon John Barry, then-Rector of Hillsborough, as a way of marking the 1400th anniversary of Columba’s voyage to the Scottish island where he was to settle, found a monastery and, eventually, die. 

The crew for the journey was assembled by Maghera parishioner Wallace Clarke, a well-known and highly respected sailor (who also acted as skipper), and the boat was built by Bunbeg parishioner Jim Boyd, who was part of the crew who rowed to Iona.

Of the thirteen who made the journey, only four are still alive – Jim, Billy Patterson, Alistair Jameson and Jim Connolly. The quartet joined the Bishop’s Curate -in-Charge of Gweedore, Carrickfinn and Templecrone, Rev Liz Fitzgerald, in Bunbeg Parish Church last Sunday for a service which had ‘Journey of Faith’ as its theme.

Rev Fitzgerald began by reading an extract from an article in the June 1962 Church of Ireland Gazette which described the planning that had gone into the journey. She told the congregation that the voyage of 60 years ago had been a “journey of faith” as the men rowed in their 30-foot by 5-foot-seven currach to Iona – faith that they would make it safe and sound. It was also, she said, a journey of faith as in a pilgrimage; the adventure and journey deepened the faith and commitment these men had for their Lord God.

Throughout the service, a cross that the crew made and took with them to Iona, 60 years ago, was displayed at the front of the church. The service ended with a slide show and a talk about the voyage, and this in turn was followed by tea, fellowship and then lunch.

Mr Boyd disclosed that he had received a letter from the curator of the Tower Museum in Londonderry confirming that the original currach was in safe storage and would feature as an exhibit when the new maritime museum opens.

Note: the first photo shows the four surviving crew members (front row left to right) Jim Boyd and Billy Patterson; and (back row left to right) Alistair Jameson and Jim Connolly.