My recent writings, the challenge towrite 50,00 words, led me to some curious places… I looked at the voyages of St Brendan the navigator, and Nicholas of Lynn
St. Brendan is known far more widely, beyond Ireland, because of his voyage from Europe across the Atlantic; many believe he actually reached North America, although there’s not much actual proof other than ‘belief’. Known as St Brendan the Navigator, or Saint Brendan of Clonfert he was born in 484 near Tralee in County Kerry; he was the son of Finnlug and Cara according to tradition and legend, but who can really say after sixteen hundred years.! He may have died in about 577 at the age of ninety-four – fantastic for those times – in County Galway.
He was born in tribal Ireland, untouched by the Romans except maybe for the very easternmost sea-boards, and probably belonged to the Altraige tribe. Saint Patrick had arrive in Ireland some fifty years before, taken as a slave from the hills of Somerset, possible even our village of Uphill, and he and his followers had converted many Irish people by then.
Brendan is most famously known for his travels; even if none of the legends and stories is true, what is certain is that he did make a voyage, a remarkable voyage and may well have been one of the first Europeans to set foot on land on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It has been difficult enough to find evidence of the Vikings who we now know did get to mainland North America, but to find the slight traces and provable evidence for some Irish monks making landfall fifteen hundred years ago is impossible.
The reason for his voyage, his mission, was to find the Garden of Eden, or the Isle of the Blessed, (Terra Repromissionis Sanctorum) and the Promised Land of the Saints. His story was written three hundred years later in the ninth century, but there are many different versions; over one hundred manuscripts across Europe exist plus many translations and interpretations. His story may have been sensationalised to make it more interesting or exciting.
The explorers – because really that is what they were, driven by the same interests, desires and ambitions as any other explorer, Columbus, Drake, Cook, Ranulph Fiennes… – must have seen many amazing things, whatever the fabrication, fantasy and fiction of the accounts. They would have navigated by the stars, and as experienced seamen they may have been able to ‘read’ the sea and the wind, and know their position roughly from where the sun was. They wouldn’t necessarily have known where they were, but they would be able to back track home – even if they were blown off course.
We are so ignorant in comparison, so easily lost in so many ways!