St. Brendan the Navigator

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St Brendan was born in Annagh, Co. Kerry in 484. Very little is known about his life when he was young, but reports told how brightly lit angels hovered over the house when he was born. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Erc in 512.

St. Brendan set up a lot of monasteries in Ireland. One was set up at Ardfert, at the foot of Mount Brandan in Co. Kerry. However, the most famous one was at Clonfert in Co. Galway. That monastery was set up in 560 – that’s almost 1,500 years ago! Today there is a big cathedral at Clonfert where he is buried.

St Brendan the Navigator
Courtesy of An Post
Of all the Irish saints, St. Brendan was the most adventurous. He loved travelling on the sea and was very skilled with the coracle (small boat). On some of his earlier ventures, he visited Britain, many of the islands off the coast of Scotland and possibly even Iceland.

Yet, St. Brendan’s longest adventure at sea was still to come. A manuscript was written in the 9th century that tells the story of his famous voyage in search of Hy Brasail, or the Island of the Blessed. This manuscript is called Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis. That is Latin for ‘Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot’.

This voyage lasted for seven years. He probably travelled to Iceland, Greenland and maybe even America. The manuscript is full of the adventures of St. Brendan’s journey. One story tells how St. Brendan landed on an island that was actually a great big sea-monster. Another story tells how he narrowly escaped a sea-cat as big as a horse!

In the 1970s, an explorer called Tim Severin read The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot. He decided to follow St. Brendan’s journey and to travel in the same type of boat St. Brendan had – a coracle. He proved that St Brendan may have been the first European to set foot in America.

St Brendan died in 578 at Annaghdown. His feast day is celebrated on 16th May, and he is known as the patron saint of seafarers and travellers.