Behan, Brendan, 1923-64, Irish dramatist. A notoriously outspoken and uninhibited man, he joined the Irish Republican Army in 1937 and was twice imprisoned for political offenses. His first play, The Quare Fellow (1956), a grimly comic drama set in the hours preceding a prison hanging, was followed by The Hostage (1958), a song and dance farce set in a brothel. Brendan Behan's Island: an Irish Sketch-Book (1962) is a miscellaneous collection.

See his autobiographical Borstal Boy (1958); biographies by his brother Dominic Behan (1966) and U. O'Connor (1971).

Brendan, Saint, d. 577?, Irish abbot of Clonfert, Co. Galway. A popular medieval story told how he traveled westward to wonderful islands—an Irish version of a widespread legend. His feast is May 16. A perhaps different St. Brendan (d. 573) was a friend of St. Columba and founder of the monastery at Birr. The name is often written Brandon.

Saint Brendan of Clonfert or Bréanainn of Clonfert (c. 484 – c. 577) called "the Navigator", "the Voyager", or "the Bold" is one of the early Irish monastic saints whose legends reflect their history. He is chiefly renowned for his legendary quest to the Isle of the Blessed. The Voyage of St. Brendan could be called an immram (Irish voyage story). He was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Saint Brendan's feast day is celebrated on May 16 in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church and within the Anglican Communion.

Early life

In 484 Saint Brendan was born in Ciarraighe Luachra near the port of Tralee, in County Kerry, in the province of Munster, in the south west of Ireland. He was baptized at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Saint Erc. For five years he was educated under Saint Ita, "the Brigid of Munster", and he completed his studies under Saint Erc, who ordained him priest in 512. Between the years 512 and 530 St Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and, at the foot of Mount Brandon, ShanakeelSeana Cill, usually translated as "the old church"— also called Baalynevinoorach. It was from here that he set out on his famous seven years voyage for the Land of Delight. The old Irish Calendars assigned a special feast for the "Egressio familiae S. Brendani", on March 22; 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".

Legendary journey

St Brendan is chiefly renowned for his legendary journey to The Isle of the Blessed (also called Tír na nÓg) 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. If it happened, this would have occurred in around 512-530 AD, before his travel to the island of Great Britain. On his trip, Brendan is supposed to have seen 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.

Early Dutch version

One of the earliest preserved written versions of the legend is in Dutch Des Reis van Sint Brandaen (Dutch for The Voyage of Saint Brendan), written in the 12th century. Scholars believe it derived from a now lost middle High German text combined with Celtic elements from Ireland and combines Christian and fairy tale elements. Des Reis van Sint Brandaen describes "Brandaen," a monk from Galway, and his voyage around the world for nine years. The journey was begun as a punishment by an angel who had seen Brendan not to believe the truth of a book on the miracles of creation and saw Brandaen throw it into the fire. The angel tells him that truth has been destroyed. On his journeys Brandaen encounters the wonders and horrors of the world, such as Judas frozen on one side and burning on the other, people with swine heads, dog legs and wolf teeth carrying bows and arrows, and an enormous fish that encircles the ship by holding its tail in its mouth. The English poem Life of Saint Brandan is a later English derivative of the Dutch version.


Naturally, the story of the seven years voyage was carried about, and soon crowds of pilgrims and students flocked to Ardfert. Thus, in a few years, many religious houses were formed - at Gallerus, Kilmalchedor, Brandon Hill, and the Blasket Islands - in order to meet the wants of those who came for spiritual guidance to Saint Brendan. Saint Brendan is the Patron Saint of sailors and travelers. At the United States Naval Academy in, Annapolis, Maryland, a large stained glass window commemorates Brendan's achievements. At Fenit Harbour, Tralee, a substantial bronze sculpture with a small horn has been erected to the memory of Brendan.


While it is generally assumed that the story is a religious allegory, there has been considerable ink spilled over the question of whether the legends are based on actual events, and whether the Isle of the Blessed that Brendan reached was actually America. There is a St. Brendan Society that celebrates the belief that Brendan was the first to discover America. Tim Severin demonstrated it is possible that a leather-clad boat such as the one described in the Navigatio could have potentially reached North America. Some have alleged that Christopher Columbus relied on the manuscript "Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis" that told of St. Brendan's travels across the Atlantic. Some propose St Brendan as an ancient visitor to the Americas.

As a genre, The Voyage of St. Brendan (in Latin, the Navigatio Sancti Brendani) fits in with a then-popular form of literature, peculiar to Ireland, called an immram, that describes a hero's series of adventures in a boat. For example, there appear to be similarities with The Voyage of Bran written much earlier. In the Navigatio, this style of storytelling meshed with a religious ascetic tradition where Irish monks would travel alone in boats, the same way their desert brothers used to isolate themselves in caves.

Further travels

Later, he travelled to Wales and the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland; returning to Ireland, he founded a bishopric at Annaghdown, where he spent the rest of his days. Centuries later this diocese was merged into the Archdiocese of Tuam. He was recognised as a saint by the Irish Church, and his feast day was celebrated on May 16. Having established the bishopric of Ardfert, St Brendan proceeded to Thomond, and founded a monastery at Inis-da-druim (now Coney Island), in the present parish of Killadysert, County Clare, about the year 550. He then journeyed to Wales, and thence to Iona, for he is said to have left traces of his apostolic zeal at Kil-brandon (near Oban) and Kil-brennan Sound. After a three years' mission in Britain he returned to Ireland, and did more proselytizing in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart (County Kilkenny), Killiney (Tubberboe), and Brandon Hill. He established churches at Inchiquin, County Galway and at Inishglora, County Mayo.

Saint Brendan's most celebrated foundation was Clonfert Cathedral, in the year 563, over which he appointed St. Moinenn as Prior and Head Master. St Brendan was interred in Clonfert.

Modern re-enactment

In 1976, Irish explorer Tim Severin built an ox leather curragh and over two summers sailed her from Ireland via the Hebrides, Faroe Islands and Iceland to Newfoundland to demonstrate that the saint's purported voyage was feasible. On his voyage, he encountered various sights such as icebergs and sea animals such as whales and porpoises which he suggests are factual counterparts to the fantastic sights from the legends of Brendan. See The Brendan Voyage, ISBN 0-349-10707-6.

Appearances in popular culture

  • The Brendan Voyage is an orchestral suite for Uilleann pipes, written by Irish composer Shaun Davey in 1983 and based on Tim Severin's book of the same name.
  • Novelist Patricia Kennealy-Morrison features St. Brendan in her book "The Deers Cry", retelling his story with a science fiction twist.
  • Novelist Frederick Buechner retold the story of Brendan's travels in his 1987 novel Brendan.
  • The Celtic band Iona made an entire recording inspired by the voyage of Saint Brendan called Beyond These Shores, now available as part of the recording The River Flows.
  • Singer songwriter Sarana VerLin wrote an instrumental song titled "St. Brendan's Reel" that appears on several albums including "Amadon Crest".
  • In the 2005 film Beowulf & Grendel, a travelling monk named Brendan the Celt sails to Denmark circa 521 A.D.
  • The cream liqueur "Saint Brendan's" is named after him.
  • The Irish rock band The Elders have a song on their album "Racing the Tide" called "Saint Brendan Had a Boat"

List of Places Associated with St. Brendan and their General Location


In the Sicilian town of Bronte there is a Church dedicated to Saint Brendan, whose name in the local dialect is "San Brandanu". Since 1574, the "Chiesa di San Blandano"(or Church of Saint Brendan) replaced a homonymous Chapel that existed previously in the same location. The real devotional reasons of such entitlement are still unknown and untraceable. In 1799 the countryside surrounding Brontë became the British "Duchy of Horatio Nelson". The town of Drogheda is twinned with Brontë.


  • Donnchadha, Gearóid Ó. St Brendan of Kerry, the Navigator. His Life & Voyages. OPEN AIR ISBN 1-85182-871-0
  • Meijer, Reinder. Literature of the Low Countries: A Short History of Dutch Literature in the Netherlands and Belgium. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1971.

Annandale, NSW, Australia.


Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (Latin):

  • Transl. J.F. Webb in The Age of Bede, ed. D. H. Farmer (Harmondsworth, 1983)
  • Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis, ed. Carl Selmer (South Bend, IN, 1959)
  • Transl. John O‟Meara and Jonathan Wooding, in The Voyage of Saint Brendan: Representative Versions of the Legend in English Translation, ed. W.R.J. Barron and Glyn S. Burgess (Exeter, 2002)

Voyage of St Brendan (Anglo-Norman)

  • The Anglo-Norman Voyage of St Brendan, ed. Brian Merrilees and Ian Short (Manchester, 1979)
  • The Anglo-Norman Voyage of St Brendan by Benedeit, ed. E.G. Waters (Oxford, 1928)
  • Benedeit – Le Voyage de Saint Brandan, ed. and transl. into German Ernstpeter Ruhe (München, 1977)
  • Transl. in The Voyage of Saint Brendan: Representative Versions of the Legend in English Translation, ed. W.R.J. Barron and Glyn S. Burgess (Exeter, 2002)

Further reading

  • Bray, Dorothy, "Allegory in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani", Viator 26 (1995), 1-10.
  • Burgess, Glyn S, and Clara Strijbosch, The Legend of St Brendan: A Critical Bibliography (Dublin, 2000)
  • Dumville, David, "Two Approaches to the Dating of Nauigatio Sancti Brendani", Studi medievali, third s. 29 (1988), 87-102
  • Esposito, M., "An Apocryphal Book of Enoch and Elias as a Possible Source for the Navigatio Sancti Brendani", Celtica 5 (1960), 192-206
  • Illingworth, Robin N., "The Structure of the Anglo-Norman Voyage of St Brendan by Benedeit," Medium Aevum 55:2 (1986), 217-29
  • Jones, Robin F., "The Mechanics of Meaning in the Anglo-Norman Voyage of Saint Brendan,‟ Romanic Review 71:2 (1980), 105-13
  • Mackley, Jude, Legend of Brendan: A Comparative Study of the Latin and Anglo-Norman Versions (Leiden: Brill, 2008)
  • Moult, D. Pochin, "St Brendan: Celtic Vision and Romance,‟ in Ireland of the Saints (London, 1953), pp. 153-70
  • Ritchie, R. L. G., "The Date of The Voyage of St Brendan‟, Medium Aevum 19 (1950), 64-6
  • Sobecki, Sebastian, "From the désert liquide to the Sea of Romance – Benedeit's Voyage de saint Brandan and the Irish immrama", Neophilologus 87:2 (2003), 193-207
  • Sobecki, Sebastian, The Sea and Medieval English Literature (Cambridge: 2008)
  • Wooding, Jonathan, "St Brendan's Boat: Dead Hides and the Living Sea in Columban and Related Hagiography‟, in Studies in Irish Hagiography: Saints and Scholars, eds John Carey, Máire Herbert and Pádraig Ó Riain (Dublin, 2001), pp. 77-92
  • Wooding, Jonathan, The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature (Dublin, 2000)

See also

External links

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