St Brendan the Navigator (Naomh Breandán) is an important figure in the folklore of the Dingle Peninsula, having given his name to Mount Brandon, Brandon Creek and the village of Brandon. He is the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kerry and of St Brendan's Church, Cloghane. He is known as the "navigator" for the legendary journey he made by boat which some have claimed was an account of an early discovery of the North American continent. Unfortunately, like many Celtic "saints", there is considerable doubt over his true identity, whether his life story is a merger of several lives and legends, or indeed if he existed at all.
|Brandon Creek||Brandon Village||Mount Brandon|
According to medieval accounts, Brendan was born about 484 CE near what is now Fenit in North Kerry. Supposedly ordained by St Erc, Bishop of Ardfert, who has associations with the Dingle Peninsula, and educated by St Ita. He appears to have founded a number of monasteries, although the naming of an oratory and of St Brendan's House near Kilmalkedar seem to date from as much as a thousand years after his death. He founded what became Clonfert Cathedral and is also known as "Brendan of Clonfert". He died in modern County Galway in about 577 CE. It is possible that the Galway Brendan was a different person to the Kerry one.
Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis
Brendan's principle cliam to fame is his legendary voyage in search of the Garden of Eden. The "Voyage of St Brendan" appeared around 900 CE and there are at least 125 Latin manuscripts scattered around Europe giving versions of the story. Brendan is supposed to have built a currach or naomhóg type boat, and with 14 monks to have made an epic voyage with a number of exciting events along the way before his return. Seafaring tales like this, known as immrama were popular in the Middle Ages, with their heroes making long sea journeys and visiting otherworldly places. St Brendan's Navigatio borrowed heavily from the Voyage of Bran and the Voyage of Máel Dúin, both pre-Christian stories perhaps themselves based on ancient Greek myths.
At some point a tradition emerged that St Brendan had started his legendary journey from Brandon Creek on the Dingle Peninsula. In 1976-77 British Explorer Tim Severin constructed and sailed aboat from the creek to Newfoundland via the Hebrides and Iceland. Severin theorised that some of these locations might have inspired the unlikely locations such as the "Island of Sheep" or the "Paradise of Birds" found in the Navigatio. There have been claims made that Brendan might have discovered North America before Columbus or the "Vikings".
Although there seems no truth whatsoever in the story, the legend persists as a colourful story: a sculpture of St Brendan in a boat by Cliodna Cussen now decorates the spot.