Brendan the Voyager starts life near the sea, on the Kilfenora
side of Tralee Bay in 486AD. On the night of his birth,
the local bishop, Eric, sees signs in the sky, signifying
the importance of the event. He experiences it as "an
attendance of angels in shining white garments all round
that land". He tells the happy parents of the child,
Findlug of Alltraighe Caille and Cara, who decide to christen
their son 'Broen-finn', meaning 'fair drop'.
As an infant, Brendan is fostered by
Saint Ita, and instructed in the scriptures by Bishop
Erc. Brendan is ordained a priest by Erc in 512. Over
the course of the next eighteen years, he established
monastic foundations at Ardfert, and at Shanakeel on
the Dingle peninsula.
an early age, Brendan hears his calling by God, and is
inspired by the Gospel passage which promises a rich reward
to those who forsake everything: "Whoever leaves
father and mother and sister and lands for my sake will
receive a hundred fold in the present and will possess
An encounter with a holy man called Barinthus
proves to be a pivotal point in Brendan's life. Barinthus
tells him of a journey, which he and his son Mernoc
made to an island called the Land of the Saints.
In this heavenly place, they had no bodily
needs and no sense of the passage of time. Deep calls
to deep, and the story resonates in Brendan's soul.
by the possibility of attaining such closeness to the
divine, Brendan tells fourteen of his monastic brethren
that he wants to find the Land of the Saints. In a dream,
an angel comes to him, saying, "Arise Brendan, that
which thou hast requested, thou shalt receive of God,
that is to visit the Land of Promise". Brendan walks
by himself to the mountain, which comes to be known as
Cnoc Bhréanainn, from which he looks westwards
to ocean for the place he longs to find. As he succumbs
to sleep, the angel comes to him again with a promise:
"Henceforth, I will ever be with thee, and I will
show thee that one day, the fair island which thou hast
seen and which thou desirest to find."
spiritual fulfilment, which Brendan craves, is never
easily attained. He knows that he will have to go to
extremes, away from his people and all that he knows,
to the very edge of the world. There will be suffering
With his faith affirmed, Brendan
sails to Enda of Aran, remaining three days on the island.
After this, the brethren start making preparations for
their forthcoming journey. As they sail off into the
ocean, Enda, Pupa and Ronad come to see them off.
As a journey, it is as much a spiritual
odyssey as a physical expedition, lasting an exhausting
five years. During this time, Brendan and his crew encounter
mixed fortunes. As an experience, it is in turn, hostile
and inviting. Testing conditions take their toll on
the crew, both physically and mentally, and casualties
Along the way, there is a fortuitous
meeting with a man known as the Procurator. He acts
an advocate, comforter and guide to Brendan, someone
to encourage him in his radical endeavours. Journeying
outwards into an uncertain world, Brendan is also travelling
inwards, discovering his self. It is a voyage on which
he needs moral support. Bit by bit, Brendan and his
crew come closer to their goal.
their time at sea, the monks hold firm to their monastic
rule, strictly observing the Church calendar. As far
away as they are, they remain connected to the rhythm
and discipline of the monasteries on terra firma.
After five years, Brendan and his
crew return to a tumultuous reception in the west of
Ireland. Brendan is a celebrated personality, an inspiration
to those he comes into contact with. He awakens in many
the call to religious life.
Brendan visits Bishop Erc and his foster
mother, Ita. The latter is annoyed that Brendan didn't
come to her for advice prior to his voyage. When she
sets eyes on what he sailed in, she loses no time in
telling Brendan that it isn't suitable for his purpose.
He is promptly given instructions for the assembly of
a larger, sturdier craft.
And so, for his second journey
- for he has not yet achieved his heart's desire - Brendan
goes to sea in a boat that is better equipped, and also
better manned. His inspirational powers have caught
the imagination of such worldly men as shipwrights and
smithies who have begged to come along. This is a fortunate
development, as this second spell at sea is every bit
as taxing and dangerous as the first.
the creatures of the deep and the birds of the air,
this is an incident-packed two years for the sailors,
illustrating all the perils and bounty of nature. It
is a fantastic voyage.
Finally, Brendan comes to his Land
of Promise, the heavenly state so long desired. It is
remembered afterwards as a "region of Paradise,
where will be found health without sickness, pleasure
without contention, attendance of angels, meadows in
scent as fair blessed flowers". Blissful indeed,
but not intended as a permanent resting place for one
on this side of eternity. Having thus tasted nirvana,
Brendan knows he must return to land and complete his
mission in the world.
first stop-off on his return is at Aran, where Enda
and Pupa are overjoyed to receive him and his crew.
Brendan and company stay here a month, recovering from
their time at sea, before sailing down to Inis da Droma
Back on land, Brendan dedicates himself
to the foundation of monasteries. He travels to Britain,
establishing religious houses in parts of Scotland Wales.
Returning home once more, he founds monasteries in Clare
and Mayo, at Ardfert in Kerry, and most famously, at
Clonfert in Galway, in 577AD. Brendan decides on Clonfert
as his resting place.
a long and busy life, Brendan dies at the age of ninety-three,
in Annaghdown, at the monastic site, which he founded
for his sister Bríg. Before he expires, he blesses
his sister and his brethren, and asks them to transport
his mortal remains to Clonfert. There are many places
which would vie for the honour of his body and relics,
and Brendan wants to rest where he belongs.