Monks Aboard!

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During the Middle Ages, Ireland was a very important centre for learning in Europe. There were many famous monasteries and schools here, and people from all over Europe came here to study. Some of the most famous Irish monasteries were Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly; Mellifont Abbey, Co. Louth; Tintern Abbey in Co. Wexford; and Clonfert Monastery, Co. Galway.

Can you think of any more?
Cistercian Mellifont, Co. Louth
Photo by Brian T McElherron.

Many Irish monks that had helped to set up these monasteries in Ireland wanted to bring Christianity to other countries. These monks were great sea travellers, who braved the dangerous seas in the hope of establishing monasteries abroad.

The boats that these monks used were traditional Irish boats called coracles. These were oval shaped, no bigger than a dingy and looked very much like half of a big walnut shell! This didn’t discourage the monks at all. They travelled to Britain, Scotland and some monks even reached land as far away as Iceland in these tiny boats!

ICON: Monastery Schools

Have you ever heard of St. Colum Cille?

He was one of the most famous of these monks and he was a very skilled sailor. He founded a monastery on the island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland, in 563.

St. Brendan the Navigator is another very famous Irish monk. He lived in the 9th century and is said to have voyaged across the seas for seven years, spreading Christianity wherever he went. Some people believe that he actually reached America. If this was true, he was probably the first European ever to set foot in America!

You can read more about St. Brendan on the next page.