In 484 Saint Brendan was born in Ciarraighe Luachra near the port of Tralee, in Co Kerry, in the province of Munster, in the South West of Ireland. He was baptised at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Saint Erc. He spent his first year with his parents, then he went to the home of the local chieftain, Airde mac Fidaigh at Cathair Airde in Listrim, three miles to the East. He returned to his family at the end of his fifth year and completed his studies under Saint Erc, who ordained him priest in 510.
Between the years 510 and 530 St Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and, at the foot of Mount Brandon, Shanakeel— Seana Cill, usually translated as “the old church” — also called Balynevinoorach.
From here he is said to have set out on his famous seven years voyage for Paradise. 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 composed at the close of the eighth century, invokes “the sixty who accompanied St. Brendan in his quest for the Land of Promise”.
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 set out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixty pilgrims (other versions have fourteen, plus three unbelievers who join at the last minute) searching for the Garden of Eden.
One of these companions is said to have been Saint Malo, the namesake of Saint-Malo in Brittany, France. If it happened, this would have occurred sometime between 512-530 AD, before his travel to the island of Great Britain. On his trip, Brendan is supposed to have seen St. Brendan’s Island, a blessed island covered with vegetation. He also encountered a sea monster, an adventure he shared with his contemporary St. 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.
As the legend of the seven years voyage spread, crowds of pilgrims and students flocked to Ardfert. Religious houses were formed at Gallarus, Kilmalchedor, Brandon Hill, and Inistooskert in the Blasket Islands, in order to meet the wants of those who came for spiritual guidance from Saint Brendan. Saint Brendan is the Patron Saint of sailors and travellers.
At the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, a large stained glass window commemorates Brendan’s achievements.
Photo: Fenit Harbour, Tralee, Co Kerry, a substantial bronze sculpture has been erected to the memory of Brendan.