As with many saints from the golden years of Christianity in Ireland, there is little that we know for certain about St Brendan. The tales about Brendan are so remarkable, however, that the person behind the legend must have been equally remarkable. He has become one of Ireland’s best known saints.
He is believed to have been born in the port of Fenit near Tralee in County Kerry in the year 484, and to have been ordained a priest in 512. For twenty years or so he built monastic cells around Ardfert and Mount Brandon. He then set sail with some companion monks on an epic seven-year journey in search of Paradise, as described in the ninth century story of The Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator. There has even been some speculation that Brendan managed to sail his leather-clad boat all the way to America and back.
Upon his return he founded more monasteries and travelled through Wales and up to Iona in Scotland. He founded a monastery at Clonfert in Galway around the year 559. Legend says that this community had at least three thousand monks, and that their Rule was dictated to Brendan by an angel.
He died around 577 at Annaghdown in Galway and was later buried in Clonfert Cathedral in County Galway, which is now in the care of the Church of Ireland.