St Brendan of Clonfer (c. 484 – c. 577), also called The Navigator, The Voyager, and the Bald, was an early Irish monastic whose zeal for Christ and the conversion of many took throughout Europe as well as on a voyage over the seas.
Born in what is now near Tralee, County Kerry, St. Brendan was educated under first St. Ita and then St. Erc, who ordained him to the priesthood and monastic life in 512. Almost immediately, he set about to set up monastic cells at Ardfert, and at Shanakeel or Baalynevinoorach, at the foot of Brandon Hill, some of which still remain to this day. From Brandon Hill his legendary voyage started out.
While he likely did go overseas to preach the Gospel, it is hard to distinguish the facts from the fine story of Brendan. The Immram (navigational story) of the Voyage of Saint Brendan tells how Brendan traveled to a far land and had many adventures along the way. He may have visited northern islands off of Greenland or perhaps made it to Iceland, with some blarney tales claiming he was the first to make it to North America.
What is known is that he had a profound affect on the life of the Irish Church and is still regarded as one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland” and the patron saint of sailors, whalers, boatmen, and divers. There are many churches from Sicily to Australia to America that bear his name.
In later life, St Brendan traveled to Wales and the Holy Island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. He returned to Ireland to establish the monastery at Annaghdown. He would travel again to Britain for a three year mission only to come back to Ireland to establish churches at Inchiquin and Inishglora. He died in 577 and his example of holy devotion and missionary zeal still left a lasting impression on Ireland as well as Europe and America.
1. St. Brendan was so on fire for Christ that he found the strength and fortitude necessary to go to all parts of the British Isles and beyond. While we may never board a barque, we can still find in him an example of how the love of God should move us to love even strangers and want to see them receive the Love of Christ.
2. St. Brendan is still sought after for those who go by boat to other lands. We should remember to pray for all travelers, that they make it to their destination and return to us.