Saint Maelrubha, through his mission as an influential evangeliser and monastic, is a common historical link between the modern dioceses of Aberdeen and Argyll & Isles. Like many a Celtic saint, the story of his life is somewhat complex, confusing and lacking irrefutable historical evidence, but interesting nonetheless.
According to tradition, Maelrubha was born near Derry in 642, related to the noble Niall of the Nine Hostages through his father Elganach, and through his maternal lineage, he was of Pictish stock, thereby combining the branches of the Celts who at that time were bitter rivals across the sea in Alba (Scotland). Although he was of noble birth, Maelrubha became a monk as a youngster at Bangor under the rule of his relative, Saint Comgal.
Around 671, he followed the Celtic monastic tradition of peregrinatio, which required the practitioner to cut himself off from his homeland to travel to a distant place, to gain a deeper relationship with God in order to discern and follow His will. Maelrubha crossed the sea and after two years of missionary work, he founded a monastery at Applecross in Ross, where he was abbot for more than fifty years. He is also reputed to have founded a church on a small island on Loch Maree, from which it takes its name. Saint Maelrubha acquired a great reputation for holiness and evangelisation, throughout not only the west coast and isles of northern Scotland but also at Easter Ross and the surrounding area. There is an old Scottish tradition, quoted by the Aberdeen Breviary, which tells of a Viking attack at Urquhart in the Black Isle, where for three days Maelrubha was left lying severely wounded while the angels consoled him until he died. His title to martyrdom is dispute, however, by some scholars such as Boyle in his 1989 article, suggesting confusion with another martyr.
The devotion to this saint is attested by the numerous dedications of churches to his memory, and Barrett tells us that antiquarians enumerate at least twenty-one of these. The principal places were Applecross (where he was buried), Urquhart (the reputed place of his martyrdom), Forres, Fordyce, Keith, Contin, Gairloch, Loch Maree, Portree, and Arisaig. Often the saint’s name at these dedications varies, such as: Samareirs (Saint Mareirs at Forres), Summaruff (Saint Maruff, at Fordyce), Maree, Mulruy, Mury, and many others.
In the early 20th century, near the church at Applecross, one could find Maelrubha’s River and the martyr’s grave called Cladh Maree, with the saint’s seat Suidhe Maree located a couple of miles away. There are also various other traces of him in the place names around the neighbourhood, with many dedications formerly supposed to be in honour of Our Lady are now identified as those of Saint Maelrubha under the title of Maree; proven by the traditional pronunciation of their respective names.
On Loch Maree there is a small island named Innis Maree on which stand the ruins of an ancient chapel and grave, and nearby is a deep well whose miraculous water was once renowned for curing mental illnesses. There was also an adjacent oak tree studded with nails, to each of which was formerly attached bits of pilgrim’s clothing.
Annual fairs were held on the saint’s feast day in bygone years at Forres in Moray, Fordyce in Banffshire, and Lairg in Sutherland (at the latter place under the name of Saint Murie). The town of Keith in Banffshire was known previously as Kethmalruf, or ‘Keith of Maelrubha’; and at Contin in Easter Ross, the ancient church was dedicated to the saint with an annual fair called Feille Maree (familiarly known as the ‘August Market’) which was later transferred to Dingwall.
Saint Maelrubha’s feast was formerly observed in Scotland on 27th August, but since its restoration in 1898 by Pope Leo XIII, it has been celebrated on 21st April, and features in the current liturgical calendar for the Diocese of Aberdeen, where it is observed as an Optional Memorial.
 A. Macquarrie, Saints, pp. 197, 383
 A. Boyle, Notes on Scottish Saints (Edinburgh: Innes Review xxii, 1981) pp.72-73
 Barrett, Saints, p.67-71