Colmán Elo (c.560–611) of the moccu Béognae was monastic founder of the church of Lann Elo (Lynally, near Durrow, Co. Offaly), whence he derives his epithet, which has caused some confusion in bringing about the creation of a separate Colmán Elo (or Ela). Some sources describe Colmán of the moccu Béognae as ‘moc[c]u Selni/Sailne’, thereby tracing his descent to his great-grandfather. Otherwise, as in his Latin Lives, he is described as son of Béogne, born of a noble family into the Dál Sailni, a sub-group of the Dál nAiridi (in counties Tyrone and Antrim). He was educated under Cóemán of Enach Truim (Annatrim, near Slieve Bloom in Leinster).
Having then spent some time in his native Ulster, he departed to visit his relative Colum Cille (qv) on Iona. He is mentioned twice by Adomnán (qv) in his ‘Vita Columbae’ (i, 5; ii, 15) as ‘Colmanus episcopus mocu Sailne’ and as ‘Columbanus filius Beognai’, where it is likely that in both cases the same individual is meant. His description as a bishop in the first instance may be an error. In each case he is coming on a visit to Iona; in the second instance he is caught in turbulent water (probably off the coast of Rathlin), an incident witnessed by Colum Cille in a vision. It is not clear whether Colmán came on two separate visits or for a single stay of some duration. In either case, he left Iona in the year of Colum Cille's death (597), and returned to Ireland to found Lann Elo, i.e. ‘the monastery of Elo’.
Several manuscripts of the Old Irish ascetic poem ‘Apgitir chrábaid’ (the alphabet of piety) ascribe it to Colmán, which is probably correct. It is a poem of admonition and instruction written by a monk for monks. It is written in an alliterative, rhythmical style not unlike that of certain passages in Pseudo-Cyprian's (Cyprianus (qv)) ‘De duodecim abusiuis’, and contains traces of the formula of renunciation in the baptismal rite of the old Gallican liturgy. There is also evidence to suggest that the hymn ‘Audite omnes’, in honour of St Patrick (qv), which is commonly ascribed to Secundinus (qv), may have been the work of Colmán. A marginal gloss to the ‘Notae suppletoriae ad Tirechanum’ in the Book of Armagh credits the hymn to ‘Colmán Alo’. The same attribution is also found in a marginal note in the Tripartite Life of Patrick and in the preface to the hymn in the Leabhar Breac, both these sources claiming that Colmán recited it in his refectory. It has been convincingly argued that the hymn formed part of a seventh-century liturgical office for the feast-day of St Patrick.
The Martyrology of Tallaght gives the feast-day of Colmán as 26 September. His genealogy is found in the genealogical tracts in Rawlinson B. 502 and the Book of Leinster (352 ff). There are several Latin Lives and one Irish Life of Colmán.