seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Death of Brendan the Navigator

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brendan-the-navigatorSaint Brendan of Clonfert, called “the Navigator” and one of the early Irish monastic saints, dies on May 16, 577 in Annaghdown, County Galway.

In 484, Brendan is born in Tralee, County Kerry, in the province of Munster. He is born among the Altraige, a tribe originally centred around Tralee Bay, to parents called Finnlug and Cara. He is baptised at Tubrid, near Ardfert by Saint Erc, and is originally to be called “Mobhí” but signs and portents attending his birth and baptism lead to him being christened “Broen-finn” or “fair-drop.” For five years he is educated under Saint Ita, “the Brigid of Munster.” When he is six, he is sent to Saint Jarlath‘s monastery school at Tuam to further his education. Brendan is one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland,” one of those said to have been tutored by the great teacher, Finnian of Clonard.

At the age of twenty-six, Brendan is ordained a priest by Saint Erc. Afterwards, he founds a number of monasteries. Brendan’s first voyage takes him to the Aran Islands, where he founds a monastery. He also visits Hinba, an island off Scotland where he is said to meet Columcille. On the same voyage he travels to Wales, and finally to Brittany, on the northern coast of France. Between the years 512 and 530 Brendan builds monastic cells at Ardfert and, at the foot of Mount Brandon, Shanakeel— Seana Cill, usually translated as “the old church.” From here he supposedly sets out on his famous seven-year voyage for Paradise.

St. Brendan is chiefly renowned for his legendary journey to the Isle of the Blessed as described in the ninth century Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator. Many versions exist that tell of how he sets out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixteen pilgrims searching for the Garden of Eden. One of these companions is said to be Saint Malo, the namesake of Saint-Malo. This occurs sometime between 512 and 530 AD, before his travel to the island of Great Britain. On the trip, Brendan supposedly sees Saint Brendan’s Island, a blessed island covered with vegetation. He also encounters a sea monster, an adventure he shares with his contemporary, Saint Columba. The most commonly illustrated adventure is his landing on an island which turns out to be a giant sea monster called Jasconius or Jascon. This too, has its parallels in other stories, not only in Irish mythology but in other traditions, from Sinbad the Sailor to Pinocchio.

Brendan travels to Wales and the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Returning to Ireland, he founds a monastery at Annaghdown, where he spends the rest of his days. He also founds a convent at Annaghdown for his sister Briga. Having established the bishopric of Ardfert, St. Brendan proceeds to Thomond, and founds a monastery at Inis-da-druim, in the present parish of Killadysert, County Clare, about the year 550. He then journeys to Wales and studies under Saint Gildas at Llancarfan, and then to Iona, for it is said that he leaves traces of his apostolic zeal at Kil-brandon and Kil-brennan Sound. After a three years’ mission in Britain he returns to Ireland, and does more proselytising in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart, Killiney, and Brandon Hill. He establishes churches at Inchiquin, County Clare and at Inishglora, County Mayo, and founds Clonfert in County Galway around 557 AD.

Brendan dies on May 16, 577 at Annaghdown, while visiting his sister Briga. Fearing that after his death his devotees might take his remains as relics, Brendan arranges before his death to have his body secretly carried back to the monastery he founded at Clonfert concealed in a luggage cart. He is buried in Clonfert Cathedral.

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