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Looking Across Applecross Bay Towards the Site of Saint Maelrubha's Monastery
Looking Across Applecross Bay Towards the
Site of Saint Maelrubha's Monastery

Saint Maelrubha lived from 642 to 21 April 722. He was an Irish monk who founded a monastery at what is now Applecross. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Maelrubha's name can be found in many different forms, including Máelrubai, Máel Ruba, Maol Rubha and Malruibhe. He was said to have been descended from Niall, King of Ireland, on his father's side. He was born in Derry and educated in Bangor.

In 671, Maelrubha sailed from Ireland to Scotland with a band of monks. They spent two years travelling the country and spreading the Christian message, mainly in Argyll and the western side of the Highlands, founding a number of churches (though not nearly as many as have since been dedicated to him). In 673 he settled in a remote location now known as Applecross on the west coast overlooking the north end of Skye and Raasay, and established a monastery. This became known in Gaelic simply as a'Chomraich or "The Sanctuary". Today nothing remains of the ancient monastery of St Maelrubha, its site now being marked by the Old Parish Church at Craig, built in 1818, near the north side of the bridge over the River Applecross.

From his base at Applecross, Maelrubha and his followers mounted missionary journeys across much of northern Scotland, an area extending from Lewis and the Western Isles in the west to Durness in the north and Keith in the east. There are conflicting stories about how Maelrubha met his end. The most popular is that while travelling through Strathnaver he met a band of Danish Vikings and was killed by them. This helps give him an aura of martyrdom, but would have happened a good 70 years before the first recorded Viking raids on Scotland. Another story has him dying at Urquhart, while yet another has him simply dying of old age (he was 80 at the time) peacefully at his monastery at Applecross.

Many churches across the Highlands and Islands are dedicated to St Maelrubha, including the surprisingly modern Episcopal church at Poolewe. A number of other features are also named after him, including Loch Maree and the settlement of Amulree in Perthshire where an early church was dedicated to him.

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