Saint Brendan’s Voyage

Saint Brendan’s Voyage


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St. Brendan's Voyage

The deaths of several Irish saints, whose lives are of more than ordinary interest, are recorded about this period. Amongst them, St. Brendan of Clonfert demands more than a passing notice. His early youth was passed under the care of St. Ita, a lady of the princely family of the Desii. By divine command she established the Convent of Cluain Credhuil, in the present county of Limerick, and there, it would appear, she devoted herself specially to the care of youth. When Brendan had attained his fifth year, he was placed under the protection of Bishop Ercus, from whom he received such instruction as befitted his advancing years. But Brendan's tenderest affection clung to the gentle nurse of his infancy and to her, in after years, he frequently returned, to give or receive counsel and sympathy.

The legend of his western voyage, if not the most important, is at least the most interesting part of his history. Kerry was the native home of the enterprising saint and as he stood on its bold and beautiful shores, his naturally contemplative mind was led to inquire what boundaries chained that vast ocean, whose grand waters rolled in mighty waves beneath his feet. His thoughtful piety suggested that where there might be a country there might be life&mdashhuman life and human souls dying day by day, and hour by hour, and knowing of no other existence than that which at best is full of sadness and decay.

Traditions of a far-away land had long existed on the western coast of ancient Erinn. The brave Tuatha Dé Dananns were singularly expert in naval affairs, and their descendants were by no means unwilling to impart information to the saint.

The venerable St. Enda, the first Abbot of Arran, was then living, and thither St. Brendan journeyed for counsel. Probably he was encouraged in his design by the holy abbot for he proceeded along the coast of Mayo, inquiring as he went for traditions of the western continent. On his return to Kerry, he decided to set out on the important expedition. St. Brendan's Hill still bears his name and from the bay at the foot of this lofty eminence he sailed for the "far west." Directing his course towards the south-west, with a few faithful companions, in a well-provisioned bark, he came, after some rough and dangerous navigation, to calm seas, where, without aid of oar or sail, he was borne along for many weeks. It is probable that he had entered the great Gulf Stream, which brought his vessel ashore somewhere on the Virginian coasts. He landed with his companions, and penetrated into the interior, until he came to a large river flowing from east to west, supposed to be that now known as the Ohio. Here, according to the legend, he was accosted by a man of venerable bearing, who told him that he had gone far enough that further discoveries were reserved for other men, who would in due time come and christianize that pleasant land.

After an absence of seven years, the saint returned once more to Ireland, and lived not only to tell of the marvels he had seen, but even to found a college of three thousand monks at Clonfert. This voyage took place in the year 545, according to Colgan but as St. Brendan must have been at that time at least sixty years old, an earlier date has been suggested as more probable.[8]

The northern and southern Hy-Nials had long held rule in Ireland but while the northern tribe were ever distinguished, not only for their valour, but for their chivalry in field or court, the southern race fell daily lower in the estimation of their countrymen. Their disgrace was completed when two kings, who ruled Erinn jointly, were treacherously slain by Conall Guthvin. For this crime the family were excluded from regal honours for several generations.

Home dissensions led to fatal appeals for foreign aid, and this frequently from the oppressing party. Thus, Congal Caech, who killed the reigning sovereign in 623, fled to Britain, and after remaining there nine years, returned with foreign troops, by whose assistance he hoped to attain the honours unlawfully coveted. The famous battle of Magh-Rath,[9] in which the auxiliaries were utterly routed, and the false Congal slain, unfortunately did not deter his countrymen from again and again attempting the same suicidal course.


Featured Books

An American widow&rsquos account of her travels in Ireland in 1844&ndash45 on the eve of the Great Famine:

Sailing from New York, she set out to determine the condition of the Irish poor and discover why so many were emigrating to her home country.

Mrs Nicholson&rsquos recollections of her tour among the peasantry are still revealing and gripping today.

The author returned to Ireland in 1847&ndash49 to help with famine relief and recorded those experiences in the rather harrowing:

Annals of the Famine in Ireland is Asenath Nicholson's sequel to Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger. The undaunted American widow returned to Ireland in the midst of the Great Famine and helped organise relief for the destitute and hungry. Her account is not a history of the famine, but personal eyewitness testimony to the suffering it caused. For that reason, it conveys the reality of the calamity in a much more telling way. The book is also available in Kindle.

The Ocean Plague: or, A Voyage to Quebec in an Irish Emigrant Vessel is based upon the diary of Robert Whyte who, in 1847, crossed the Atlantic from Dublin to Quebec in an Irish emigrant ship. His account of the journey provides invaluable eyewitness testimony to the trauma and tragedy that many emigrants had to face en route to their new lives in Canada and America. The book is also available in Kindle.

The Scotch-Irish in America tells the story of how the hardy breed of men and women, who in America came to be known as the &lsquoScotch-Irish&rsquo, was forged in the north of Ireland during the seventeenth century. It relates the circumstances under which the great exodus to the New World began, the trials and tribulations faced by these tough American pioneers and the enduring influence they came to exert on the politics, education and religion of the country.


Irish Monks and the Voyage of St. Brendan

The case that can be made for transatlantic voyages by medieval Irish monks is a reasonable one. We know that Ireland was the centre for a vigorous culture during the fifth and sixth centuries CE, preserving Christian civilization in Northern Europe after the decline and collapse of the Roman Empire. During this period, Irish monks ventured out into the North Atlantic in pursuit of some kind of spiritual or divine mission. They reached the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Faeroe Islands. The Norse sagas suggest that Irish monks were even in Iceland when the Norse settled there after about 870 CE (though no archaeological evidence has yet confirmed this).

Such accomplishments add authenticity to the story of St. Brendan, who was born in Ireland about 489 and founded a monastery at Clonfert, Galway. According to legend, he was in his seventies when he and 17 other monks set out on a westward voyage in a curragh, a wood-framed boat covered in sewn ox-hides. The monks sailed about the North Atlantic for seven years, according to details set down in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis in the tenth century.

Eventually, they reached "the Land of Promise of the Saints," which they explored before returning home with fruit and precious stones found there. Had Brendan reached Newfoundland, using the islands of the North Atlantic as stepping-stones? In 1976 and 1977, the adventurer Tim Severin demonstrated that such a voyage was possible by building the Brendan, a replica of a curragh, and sailing it to Newfoundland. If Irish monks did voyage across the Atlantic and back, then their achievement was historically very significant, for Ireland was the target of Viking raids before the end of the eighth century, and it is perhaps through the Irish that the Norsemen learned about other lands further to the west.


The Voyage of Brendan the Navigator

Irish monks often travelled to other countries to spread the gospel. In 563 AD a famous Irish monk called St. Columba travelled to Scotland to teach people about Christ. He founded a monastery on the island of Iona in the Hebrides in Scotland. Another monk, St. Brendan or Brendan the Abbot, was also a travelling monk. He is thought to have been born in 489 AD near Killarney in Co. Kerry. He lived until approximately 570 or 580 AD. St. Brendan founded many monasteries, such as Ardfert Cathedral in Co. Kerry and Clonfert in Co. Galway.

Sea Voyages

Records show that St. Brendan undertook many sea voyages around Ireland, Wales and western Scotland before he undertook his famous journey to the New World (America). A story written in Latin describes this journey. This story tells that Brendan and the other monks saw a volcanic eruption. The story also describes how they saw crystal floating in the sea and that they were chased by a sea monster. Some people doubted that a boat made of ox hides could have made such a long journey. However, a sailor and geographer named Tim Severin recreated the sixth-century voyage of St. Brendan in 1976 and 1977.


The sides of the boat pumped gently in and out as though the Brendan were breathing

When Brendan was holed by drifting ice in the dangerous stretch between Greenland and Newfoundland, crew member George Molony had the unpleasant job of hanging over the gunwale in water temperatures as low as zero degrees centigrade in order to patch and stitch the hull while the boat kept sailing. Up to that point, ice had been glancing rather harmlessly off the curved hull of the currach.

Patches on the canvas skin of a National Museum of Ireland currach from Inis Oírr. © National Museum of Ireland.

The combination of Brendan’s medieval design and natural materials made it an extremely durable boat. Even during sea trials in advance of launching from Ireland, deliberate attempts to capsize Brendan were extraordinarily difficult. The currach could also be fast, when conditions were right. Brendan’s best 24-hour distance was an impressive 115 miles. Brendan reached her destination in June 1977. The large currach’s epic journey had proven that, in Tim Severin’s own words, ‘she was a true ocean-going vessel, and there was no longer any practical objection to the idea that Irish monks might have sailed their leather boats to North America before the Norsemen, and long before Columbus.’

My thanks to Afloat.ie for assistance in sourcing images.

Severin, Tim, The Brendan Voyage, London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1979.


Celtic Lore: The Voyage of St. Brendan

History tells us that Columbus discovered America. despite the fact that Native Americans already lived here. and despite the fact that another man had already been here from Ireland. His treacherous journey from the Emerald Isle to the Americas, or as he phrased it the Isle of the Blessed, is known as, the Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator.

St. Brendan was born around 484, near the port of Tralee, in Country Kerry. He was a holy man, a monk, and an abbot. He developed several monasteries in Ireland and attracted many disciples. The most famous of his monasteries was Clonfert, in County Galway, built in 560 which lasted until sometime in the 16th century. That's almost a thousand years! St. Brendan's Cathedral which was built in the 11th century still resides in Clonfert, and is renowned for its large Romanesque doorway. In Annaghdown, (Co. Galway), he also built a convent, which his sister Brig presided as abbess.
There are many landmarks in Ireland named after St. Brendan, including Brandon Mountain located in the Dingle Peninsula, in County Kerry. He built a small monastic cell at the bottom of the ridge. It is believed he climbed this steep hill and had a vision of the Americas before he set sail. Although, he didn't know it was the Americas. He thought it was Tir na nOg, or the Land of Eternal Youth, the Garden of Eden.

St. Brendan loved to travel and was known for voyaging to Scotland, where he met St. Columba if Hynba Island. He travelled to Brittany with Welsh monk, St. Malo, and reportedly stayed at the Welsh monastery Llancarfan, built by St. Cadoc. But his biggest voyage of all, the one called The Voyage of Saint Brendan, was his journey to America. It was an epic journey. Some say he took sixty monks, others say fourteen plus 3 non-believers. They built boats called curraghs, that were made from a wooden frame, and leather made from dried ox hides. In 1970, Tim Severin replicated the journey, and proved that it was possible. (I put the book by Tim Severin about his journey on the book list on the right.)

Saint Brendan is now known as the Patron Saint of sailors and travellers. Saint Brendan died in 578, at Annaghdown in Ireland. He is buried at Clonfert Cathedral. His Feast Day is May 16th, the day of his death.

14 comments:

There's an Irish pub near Penn Station called Tir Na Nog, and now I know what it means. Thanks for the wonderful post on St. Brendan. I knew about Leif Erickson's visit to the New World but not St. Brendan's.

I had never heard of St. Brendan either. I really have to get to Ireland someday. And that's really interesting that someone recreated his voyage using the same type of sailing vessel.

thanks for the great post.

Thank you Elizabeth! Have you been to the pub yet? See now I need to look up Leif Erickson!

Thank you Bearded Lady! Isn't that cool that they did that? I hope you get to Ireland someday, it's beautiful!

Many times. It's beautiful inside, like a real Irish village pub. And they have live music on Saturday night.

Oh how fun. I'm jealous the closest one to me is like an hour away :(

When I went to Ireland I went to a real Irish Pub in a small village in the Dingle Peninsula, and actually danced an Irish jig to a fiddle! It was so much fun.

Nice blog! It's possible Columbus wasn't the first to discover America. I have heard the discussion more than once before??

I do think he made it, and if Severin's trip is any indication, it must have been quite a voyage. Have you heard the orchestral piece called The Brendan Voyage? Orchestra with piper soloist, really nice evocative stuff.

I agree. I haven't heard of that orchestra, I'll have to check it out, sounds interesting!

does any one know of a decent mural depicting st brendans voyage? I am named after him and am interested in finding a decent mural to add to my family tattoo.

I had the fortune last week of being in Ireland. With my son Brendan, we Clonfert to see St,. Brendan's cathedral there. The day before we were at Craggaunowen and saw the Brendan boat built by Tim Severin on display. We also visited sites on the Dingle Penisula. It was a wonderful trip!

it's a nice post but there is no evidence that Saint Brendan's voyage was anything but folklore. Indeed it was not committed to writing for hundreds of years after he died. The idea that the land he discovered was America is, as far as i'm aware, pure conjecture. The story is pretty fantastical, he apparently visits islands where the birds sing psalms and he passes an island of blacksmiths who throw slag at him. He even meets Judas on a rock who has been let out of hell for the day because it's sunday.

I think it could be possible that St. Brendan made it to the northern reaches of New Foundland Canada. Two factors are 1) the short distances between Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and NA. 2) The northern trade winds blow westerly, then circle around south and easterly again to Europe.

These stories get mixed up and the chronology is often way off . Have you heard how St. Patrick presided over the coronation of King Aongus in 1216 ? If this were true , how could Brendan have met him in the 6th century ? I'm not a non-believer , but , St. Pat was supposedly 93 in 1216 . Once again , faulty chronology . I'm a Scots-Irish history buff and a long-time fan of St. Brendan . Thank you


The Legend of &ldquoGreat Ireland&rdquo and of Saint Brandan

IT is uncertain whether Christopher Columbus was the first European who saw America. A general tradition of its existence was widely received before his birth, and we cannot reject, as entirely incredible, the repeated allusions to this tradition, contained in the early chronicles of the northern nations of the old world. To the Genoese belongs the glory of disenchanting the Ocean,&mdashof bringing two hemispheres into contact separated from the beginning,&mdashof leaving a land of refuge accessible to humanity, and of opening the history of its population, by one of the most glorious examples of patience, fortitude, and courage, ever exhibited by man. Who could wish his glory greater or less?

The Scandinavians count three several precursors of Columbus&mdashAri Marson, whose voyage took place in 983 Biorn, a later adventurer, and Gudlief, son of Gudlang, who, towards the middle of the 11th century, followed the track of, and conversed with, Biorn, in Huitramannaland, or Irland it Mikla, beyond the Atlantic. The account of Ari in the Landnamabock is short, but perfectly intelligible. It says:&mdash

&ldquoUlf the Squinter, son of Hogni the White, occupied the whole of Reykianess, (south-west promontory of Iceland,) between Thorskafiord and Hafrafell. He had a wife named Biorg, the daughter of Eyvind the East-countryman. They had a son named Atili the Red, who married Thorkotu, daughter of Hergil. They had a son named Ari, who was driven by a tempest to Huitramannaland, (white man&rsquos land,) which some call Irland it Mikla, (Great Ireland,) which lies in the western ocean, near to Vinland the Good, west from Ireland,&rdquo&mdashby a number of days&rsquo sail, which is uncertain, some error having crept into the original in these figures. &ldquoAri was not permitted to depart, but was baptized there.&rdquo

Of the second and third voyages, the same Landnamabock (compiled in the 13th century) relates:&mdash

&ldquoSo Rafn, the Limerick merchant, first stated, who lived for a long time in Limerick, in Ireland.&rdquo Rafn was kinsman to Ari Marson, and lived at the beginning or middle of the eleventh century. &ldquoSo also Thorkel, the son of Geller, (grandson of Ari Marson,) says that certain Icelanders stated, who heard Thorfinn, Jarl of the Orkneys,&rdquo&mdashalso kinsman to Ari Marson, and born 1008, died 1064,&mdash"relate that Ari had been seen and known in Huitramannaland, and that, although not suffered to depart thence, he was there held in great honor.

&ldquoAri had a wife named Thorgerd, daughter of Alf of Dolum. Their sons were Thorgils, Gudlief, and IIlugi which is the family of Reykianess.&rdquo Then follows a passage which shows that Eirck the Red was connected with the family of this Ari Marson, and which it may not be amiss to repeat, as all these historical allusions afford corroboration of the authenticity of different narratives. &ldquoJorund was the son of Ulf the Squinter. He married Thobiorg Knarrarbring. They had a daughter, Thjodhild, whom Eirck the Red married. They had a son, Leif the Lucky, of Greenland.&rdquo It is worthy of remark, that the writer of this account was Ari the Learned, born 1067, who flourished at the end of the eleventh century, and who therefore lived within a century after Ari Marson&rsquos departure from Ireland. He was immediately descended from Ari Marson, and would, of course, be anxious and careful to obtain the most accurate accounts of his ancestors. It is to be observed the situation of Huitramannaland is here stated, &ldquoIn the western ocean near Vinland, and west of Ireland.&rdquo It points, of necessity, to that portion of the country now known as the midland or southern States of the Union.[1]

The Irland it Mikla, or Great Ireland, is frequently alluded to in the Northern Sagas. They describe the route towards it, from the North of Europe, thus:&mdash

&ldquoTo the South of habitable Greenland there are uninhabited and wild tracts, and enormous icebergs. The country of the Skraelings lies beyond these Markland beyond this, and Vinland the Good beyond the last. Next to this, and something beyond it, lies Albania, that is, Huitramannaland, whither, formerly, vessels came from Ireland. There, several Irishmen and Icelanders saw and recognized Ari, the son of Mar and Kotlu, of Reykianess, concerning whom nothing had been heard for a long time, and who had been made their chief by the inhabitants of the land.&rdquo

In this vague sketch, modern antiquarians have labored hard, and not unsuccessfully, to identify the country of the Skraelings as the Esquimaux coast, Markland as Labrador, Vinland as New England, and Huitramannaland as the country &ldquofurther southward, beyond the Chesapeake Bay.&rdquo[2]

&ldquoThe Skraelinger,&rdquo says Humboldt, &ldquorelated to the Northmen settled in Vinland, that further southward, beyond the Chesapeake Bay, there dwelt &lsquowhite men, who clothed themselves in long, white garments, carried before them poles to which clothes were attached, and called with a loud voice.&rsquo This account was interpreted, by the Christian Northmen, to indicate processions in which banners were borne accompanied by singing. In the oldest Sagas, the historical narrations of Thorfinn Karlsefne, and the Icelandic Landnammabock, these southern coasts, lying between Virginia and Florida, are designated under the name of the Land of the White Men. They are expressly called Great Ireland, (Irland it Mikla,) and it is maintained that they were peopled by the Irish. According to testimonies which extend to 1064, before Lief discovered Vinland, and probably about the year 982, Ari Marson, of the powerful Icelandic race of Ulf the Squint-eyed, was driven in a voyage from Iceland to the South, by storms, on the coast of the Land of the White Men, and there baptized in the Christian faith and, not being allowed to depart, was recognized by men from the Orkney Islands and Iceland.&rdquo[3]

The volumes in which these corroborative accounts are recorded were compiled in the North, three centuries before the birth of Columbus, and, evidently, represent the then prevailing belief in a &ldquoGreat Ireland&rdquo beyond the western sea.

The Irish Annals themselves make special mention of the same fact. They credit the first voyage westward to Saint Brandan, patron of Clonfert and Ardfert on the south-west coast. It is recorded that he flourished from the year A. D. 550 till the beginning of the following century, and that his voyages in search of the promised land, were two after which he returned no more. The precise point of departure,&mdash&ldquothe foot of Brandon Mountain,&rdquo now Tralee Bay,&mdashis stated his sea store consisted of live swine, his companions of monks, and his first voyage, of course, abounded in adventures. The dates in these legends are well fixed, whatever else may be dubious and we do not feel at liberty to reject facts which an Usher and a Humboldt long pondered over, and, at last, set down with reverence.[4]

The voyages of Saint Brandan were received traditions in France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy, soon after the Northern Chroniclers had written their memoranda concerning Irland it Mikla. Old metrical romances, in the French, and Dutch languages, give a world of details about them,&mdashsome credible, and some absurd enough.[5] But, what is more to our purpose, Jacobus Voraginius, Provincial of the Dominicans and Bishop of Genoa, (the native city of Columbus,) gave St. Brandan&rsquos land special prominence in the 13th century, in his &ldquoGolden Legend,&rdquo[6] and the Italian geographers set it down, on their conjectural charts, opposite &ldquoEurope and Africa, from the south of Ireland to the end of Guinea.&rdquo In the map made for Columbus previous to setting out on his first voyage, by Paulo Toscannelli, of Florence, the customary space was occupied by &ldquoSaint Borondon&rsquos, or Saint Brandan&rsquos land.&rdquo

In the letters of Columbus to his sovereigns, it is notable that the &ldquosinging of the birds,&rdquo and &ldquothe greenness of the vegetation,&rdquo so much dwelt on in &ldquothe Golden Legend,&rdquo are frequently mentioned. The phrase &ldquoPromised Land&rdquo also occurs, in the mystical sense in which it is employed by Bishop Jacobus.

Even after the voyage of Columbus, so strong was the belief in St. Brandan&rsquos, that various expeditions, were sent to explore it, as appears from depositions taken before the Grand Inquisitor of the Canaries, Pedro Ortez de Funez, and from other Portuguese and Spanish accounts. The last of these voyages was undertaken as late as 1721, by &ldquoDon Gaspar Dominguez, a man of probity and talent. As this was an expedition of solemn and mysterious import, he had two holy friars as apostolical chaplains. They made sail from the island of Teneriffe, toward the end of October, leaving the populace in an indescribable state of anxious curiosity. The ship, however, returned from its cruise as unsuccessful as all its predecessors.&rdquo[7]

Although these reports were not justified by the facts, yet it would be unwise to confound the early belief with the modern illusion, since the latter did not and could not beget the former, though they have obscured and almost hidden it from our sight.

There is quite sufficient reason to infer that the ancients believed in the existence of a Great Ireland in the West, before Columbus&rsquo discovery and assuredly, if they were mistaken, we are in a fair way to see the doubtful vision of their days become a reality. The dates and details we must leave to the antiquarians, while we endeavor to show what modern emigration has done to accomplish the legend of Irland it Mikla.

NOTES

[1] Smith&rsquos &ldquoNorthmen in New England.&rdquo Boston: Hilliard & Grey, 1839

[4] Usher&rsquos Antiq. of British Churches Usher&rsquos Epistles of the Irish Saints.


Lesson Text

46 Grammars and Dictionaries
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47 Sources
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48 Linguistic Analyses
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49 Medieval Culture
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50 Handbooks, Literature
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History of St. Brendan

St. Brendan of Ardfert and Clonfert, known also as Brendan the Voyager, was born in Ciarraighe Luachra, near the present city of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, in 484 he died at Enachduin, now Annaghdown, in 577. He was baptized at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Bishop Erc. For five years he was educated under St. Ita, "the Brigid of Munster", and he completed his studies under St. Erc, who ordained him priest in 512. Between the years 512 and 530 St. Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and at Shanakeel or Baalynevinoorach, at the foot of Brandon Hill. It was from here that he set out on his famous voyage for the Land of Delight. The old Irish Calendars assigned a special feast for the "Egressio familiae S. Brendani", on 22 March and St Aengus the Culdee, in his Litany, at the close of the eighth century, invokes "the sixty who accompanied St. Brendan in his quest of the Land of Promise". Naturally, the story of the seven years' voyage was carried about, and, soon, crowds of pilgrims and students flocked to Ardfert. Thus, in a few years, many religious houses were formed at Gallerus, Kilmalchedor, Brandon Hill, and the Blasquet Islands, in order to meet the wants of those who came for spiritual guidance to St. Brendan.
Having established the See of Ardfert, St. Brendan proceeded to Thomond, and founded a monastery at Inis-da-druim (now Coney Island, County Clare), in the present parish of Killadysert, about the year 550. He then journeyed to Wales, and thence to Iona, and left traces of his apostolic zeal at Kilbrandon (near Oban) and Kilbrennan Sound. After a three years' mission in Britain he returned to Ireland, and did much good work in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart (Co. Kilkenny), Killiney (Tubberboe), and Brandon Hill. He founded the Sees of Ardfert, and of Annaghdown, and established churches at Inchiquin, County Galway, and at Inishglora, County Mayo. His most celebrated foundation was Clonfert, in 557, over which he appointed St. Moinenn as Prior and Head Master. St. Brendan was interred in Clonfert, and his feast is kept on 16 May.

Quién fue San Brendan?

San Brendan de Ardfert y Clonfert, conocido también como Brendan el Viajero, nació en Ciarraighe Luachara, cerca de la actual ciudad de Tralee, Condado de Kerry, Irlanda, en 484 murió en Enachduin, ahora Annaghdown, en 577. Fuen bautizado en Tubrid, cerca de Ardfert, por el obispo Erc. Durante cinco años se educó con Santa Ita, &ldquola Brigid de Muster&rdquo, y complete sus estudios con San Erc, quién lo ordenó sacerdote en el año 512. Entre los años 512 y 530 San Brendan construyó celdas monásticas en Ardfert y en Shanakeel o Baalynnevinoorach, al pie de Brandon Hill. Fue desde aquí que partió en su Famoso viaje a la Tierra del Placer. Los viejos calendarios irlandeses asignaron una fiesta especial para la &ldquoEgressio familiae S. Berendani&rdquo, el 22 de marzo y San Aengus el Culdee, en su letanía, a fines del siglo VIII, invoca a &ldquolos sesenta que acompañaron a San Brendan en su búsqueda de la tierra prometida&rdquo. Naturalmente, la historia de los siete años transcurrió y, pronto, multitudes de peregrinos y estudiantes acudieron a Ardfert. Así, en pocos años, se formaron muchas casas religiosas en Gallerus, Kilmalchedor, Brandon Hill y las islas Blasquet, para satisfacer las necesidades de aquellos que vinieron en busca de orientación spiritual a San Brendan.

Después de establecer la sede de Ardfert, San Brendan se dirigió a Thomond y fundó un monasterio en Inis-da-druin (ahora Coney Island, Condado de Clare), en la actual parroquia de Killadysert, alrededor del año 550. Luego viajó a Gales y de allí a Iona, y dejó rastros de su celo apostólico en Kilbrandon (cerca de Oban) y Kilbrennan Sound. Después de su mission de tres años en Gran Bretaña, regresó a Irlanda e hizo un gran trabajo en varias partes de Leinster, especialmente en Dysart (Co. Kilkenny), Killiney (Tubberboe) y Brandon Hill. Fundó la Sees of Ardfert, y de Annagahdown y estableció iglesias en Inchiquin, el condado de Galway, y en Inishglora, el condado de Mayo. Su Fundación más célebre fue Clonfert, en 557, sobre la cual nombró a St. Moinenn como Prior y Director de la casa. San Brendan fue enterrado en Clonfert y su fiesta se celebra el 16 de mayo.


Goodbye ColumbusHello St. Brendan

The idea that Irish monks in an ox-hide boat might have beaten the Conquistadors and the Vikings to America was largely relegated to Irish folklore before 1976.

That year, British navigation scholar Tim Severin set off from Ireland in an ox-hide leather “currach” to prove that St. Brendan the Navigator and his followers could indeed have sailed to American and back again in the 6th century.

His landfall on Newfoundland after four months sailing proved Brendan’s voyage could be done with medieval material and medieval technology,” said Severin, who now lives in Courtmacherry, Cork.

Severin first learned of St. Brendan’s voyage while studying navigation at Harvard in the 1970’s when he happened on Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abatis (Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot), a Latin text dating from the 9th century, copies of which have survived in monasteries around Europe. (“A medieval best-seller,” Smithsonian magazine called it.)

It was the Navigatio’s detailed description of Brendan’s boat which piqued Severin’s interest. Brendan’s monks tanned ox-hides with oak bark, stretched them across the wooden frame of a boat, sewed them with leather thread, and smeared them with fat to seal them against water – a composition that would preserve a boat well in cold water, Severin thought.

Opening a nautical map of the North Atlantic, Severin said he was amazed by the obviousness of the route Brendan would have had to take to reach America.

The only westward-flowing current available to ships sailing from Ireland would be the northernmost part of the Atlantic, hugging the coasts of Iceland and Greenland – the route Leif Ericson, the Viking, would follow in the 10th century.

“It was like all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell in together,” he said.

“Monks seeing icebergs for the first time would call them crystals. “Volcanic activity off the coast of Iceland would spew red-hot sulfur-smelling rocks into the ocean,” as mentioned in the Navigatio.

With help from other enthusiasts of the Brendan legend in both Ireland and England, Severin literally sewed together an old-fashioned replica of Brendan’s currach using materials that would have been present in Brendan’s day.

In May, 1976, Severin and his crew set off from Brandon Creek, in that remote area of Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula where fishermen still build currachs for themselves.

The leather sails of the St. Brendan carried them north to Scotland where Brendan had visited other priests then northwest to the Danish Faroe Islands, where another “Brandon Creek” still marks the spot where natives believe Brendan disembarked. Severin’s crew waited out the winter in Iceland.

Severin and his crew leaving Iceland after waiting out the winter.

Many of the stops on Brendan’s legendary voyage were at islands where Irish monks had set up primitive monasteries. Norsemen who later sailed these waters and landed on these islands would record the presence of Irish priests who they called “Papers” (Fathers).

Severin said he was surprised at the friendliness of whales that swam around the boat and even underneath it. The few ships that travel those icy northern waters are usually freighters with large engines. By contrast, Severin’s boat “looked more like a whale – skin stretched over a bony frame – and far less menacing,” he said.

2016: Explorer Tim Severin on the “Brendan Boat” he sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland in 1976

Fourteen hundred years ago, before whales had any contact with man, Severin feels they may have felt uninhibited enough to surface with a boat on their back, as told in the Navigatio, certainly, some of the whales could have been viewed as “sea monsters,” he said.

Severin’s boat survived a puncture by the columns of floating ice off Canada. While a puncture might have sunk a fiberglass boat, Severin and his men were able to sew a new piece of ox-hide over the hole.

While Severin’s crew had a few modern conveniences such as a radio and dried meats, he had to endure the same cold and wetness Brendan’s monks endured. He also tasted their diet of fish and sea birds.

“For hardy 6th-century monks used to living off fish and birds in stone cliffs on barren rocky islands, a sailboat ride to America wouldn’t have seemed as daunting,” Severin said.

Severin’s crew landed in Newfoundland, Canada, on June 26, 1977, in the area where they believed Brendan and his men would have landed.

While Severin’s journey does not prove that St. Brendan did make the voyage to North America, it does prove that a small leather boat or currach of the type that is described in Navigatio could make the journey by the route laid down by the Latin text. What is also obvious is that the Irish were pioneering seafarers of the North Atlantic currents almost 1,000 years before Columbus set foot in America.

The Brendan legend was better known around Europe during Columbus’ time than Leif Ericson’s because of the Catholic Church’s network of monasteries. “Columbus was aware of the legend of St. Brendan,” said William McKee, a history professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. “It was an important part of the folklore and legend in medieval Europe. It may have influenced Columbus to sail west, looking for Brendan’s ‘Promised Land of the Saints’ while he sought a passage to India,” McKee said.

Maps from Columbus’ day often featured an island or islands in the western Atlantic called, “St. Brendan’s Isle.”

“It may well be that navigators from Ireland came across the Atlantic and touched ground at Newfoundland said Michel Gannon, a history professor at the University of Florida. “I would like to think that because I’m Irish myself.”

More conclusive proof may come from a site in West Virginia where stone carvings dating to some time between the years 500-1000 have been discovered. Analysis by archaeologist Dr. Robert Pule and a leading ancient language expert, Dr. Barry Fell, indicate that they are written in Old Irish employing the Ogham alphabet. According to Dr. Fell, the “West Virginia Ogham texts are the oldest Ogham inscriptions recorded from anywhere in the world. They exhibit the grammar and vocabulary of Old Irish in a manner previously unknown in such early rock-cut inscriptions in any Celtic language.” Dr. Fell goes on to speculate that, “It seems possible that the scribes who cut the West Virginia inscriptions my have been Irish missionaries in the wake of Brendan’s voyage, for these inscriptions are Christian because the early Christian symbols of piety, such as the various Chi-Rho monograms (Name of Christ) and the Dextera Dei (Right Hand of God) appear at the sites together with the Ogham texts.”

The legend of St. Brendan is powerful enough that Irish Americans from New York to San Francisco and from Boston to Daytona Beach, have chosen St. Brendan as the namesake for their parishes.

In 1978, Clearwater Beach Catholics, many of them Irish-Americans, built a church on Island Estates, where just about every family has a boat docked out back. They saw a symmetry between Brendan and his men setting off in an ox-hide currach from Kerry’s Brandon Creek and a church named for him on an inlet of Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway next to a marina that specializes in modern fiber-glass boats.

“It’s a maritime area,” said Cavan-born Father Edward Mulligan.

The church’s 14 stained glass windows depict St. Brendan’s seven-year odyssey as recorded in the Navigatio: sailing past the crystal that stretched up to the clouds past the “Island of [black]smiths” where inhabitants hurled flaming, foul-smelling rocks at the monks, and finally, landfall in the sweet-smelling “Promised Land of the Saints.”

Brendan and his monks explored until they came to a “great river” that divided the land. Then they sailed back to Ireland.

“The Irish are lousy historians,” said Monsignor James McMahon, pastor of St. Brendan’s parish in Brooklyn. McMahon went to Ireland and looked for documents or authenticated histories of Brendan’s life and was disappointed to find little.

McMahon, a former history teacher and a self-professed skeptic when it comes to historical legends, nonetheless believes the Brendan story must be based on an actual great voyage of some sort.

Fr. Edward Mulligan, a native of County Cork,
when he served as pastor of St. Brendan’s Parish in Clearwater, Florida.

Fr. Edward Mulligan is willing to take it on faith.

Historians believe Brendan was born about 484 A.D. near Tralee in Kerry. He was ordained by Bishop Erc and sailed far and wide spreading the faith and founding monasteries, the largest at Clonfert, Galway, where he was buried in 577 at the age of 93. But when Mulligan was studying in the seminary in Dublin, the priests didn’t dwell too long on St. Brendan’s accomplishments.

“He was kind of overshadowed by St. Patrick,” Mulligan said.

But when Mulligan, like Brendan before him, left his home and family to travel to America as a missionary, he took a new interest in the Brendan legend.

“When I came to this country, I began to study everything I could get a hold of regarding St. Brendan,” he said.

Mulligan had become a firm believer in the story, and he carried on the faith like other Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans.

“There’s so much evidence that it really was possible to make the journey,” Mulligan said.♦

This article was first published in Irish America in July/August 1992.

NOTE: In 2016, Tim Severin celebrated the 40th anniversary of his epic journey. He passed away on December 18, 2020 (aged 80) in Timoleague, West Cork.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Abdon Moriarty Pallasch is a reporter who has worked for the Tampa Tribune and the Chicago Tribune. His Irish grandmother was born at Brandon Creek.


Watch the video: Mick Moloney u0026 Eugene ODonnell -- St. Brendans Fair Isle


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