Today is the feast day of St Columba (in Irish, variously: Colamcille, Columcille, Colm Cille etc).
To mark the occasion, I present a(n in)famous episode (pdfs here and here; image here, purchase here) in his life, retold – under the above title – by my Trinity colleague Dr Eoin O’Neill, who says that his tale below is most effectively delivered in the accents of Chicago of the 1930s, as interpreted by Hollywood:
The Monks had a corner on the market
In the early days of the monastic age in Ireland, (it only lasted for ~1,000 years),
the faithful were attracted to regional monasteries by various marketing techniques such as the sight of rare and sacred objects eg finely worked gold vessels and rare books.
Rivalry between monasteries was rife, and when the renowned monk Colamcille (a scion of the house of Uí Néill, the ruling dynasty) went to visit the abbot Finian at his monastery (possibly Moville or Clonard), he noted that Finian had a fine book in the scriptorium, (a copy of the Psalms: the recording media used normally was the skin of a calf). Finian had diligently procured this copy abroad through his network, no small feat in the early part of the sixth century, given the firewalls that were then in vogue.
No Open Source code policy
The noble monk sought from Finian a Licence to copy this work so he could use it in his own monastery, but this Licence to copy was refused. He was however permitted to read the sacred manuscript in the scriptorium, and the local monks marvelled at how he diligently pursued his theological readings until late into the night, when less pious monks had gone to bed.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Imagine the consternation of the hosts when it was discovered that their guest had indeed not only studied diligently in the monastery scriptorium at night; he had downloaded the text with his quill pen onto some spare calf-hides, and indeed had secretly transmitted the copy to the safety of his own monastery. Demands from Finian for the return of the copy were ignored by Colamcille, and eventually Finian had to seek redress.