One of the most popular Irish saints is St. Brendan. He was born near Tralee, County Kerry between 484 and 486. As was common at the time, once he was weaned, he was sent out to be fostered by the local chieftain before returning to his family at age 5.  St. Ita taught him at her boys’ school in County Limerick. Then he studied under Bishop St. Erc, who also ordained him in 510 AD.

After his ordination, Brendan went to Ardfert and established an abbey. Over the years, people came to him for spiritual guidance. Men came to him and established religions homes to meet the needs of these people. Over his long life, he established monasteries in both Ireland and Scotland. Brendan became friends with many other saints of the time, including St. Columcille, St. Columba and St. Malo.

The most popular knowledge of Brendan was his voyage, which is the subject of an eighth century work. In it, he designed a boat and with fourteen (or perhaps 60) men and provisions, they sailed the north Atlantic. Descriptions in the book include icebergs, the Hebrides, possibly the Canary Islands, and Newfoundland. In modern times, an adventurer, Tim Severin, made a boat according to the description and sailed across the north Atlantic, proving it could be done. The story was so popular in the Middle Ages that Christopher Columbus looked for the elusive St. Brendan’s Island as he took the more southerly route to the Caribbean islands in 1492. Whether it is true or not, proponents of St. Brendan and his crew making it to America point out this interesting fact: The Vikings insisted that the Irish had made it to North America before they got there around 1000 AD.

Later in his life, Brendan went to Wales and the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Eventually, he formed a monastery at Annaghdown, County Galway, where he lived out his life.

St. Brendan made it back, or the story would never have been known. He lived a long life, dying in 578 AD in Annaghdown. His feast day is May 13. He is, of course, the patron saint of sailors.