Clonfert Cathedral

Co. Galway.


In the heart of Ireland, a short distance off the beaten path (see map) there is a small village called Clonfert.

Here is a mighty cathedral which was founded by St. Brendan, often known as St. Brendan the Navigator, in 557 A.D. over which he appointed St. Moinenn as Prior and Head Master. St. Brendan was interred in Clonfert in 577 A.D. at the age of 93 and his feast is on 16 May. Here you will find one of the most highly developed examples of Irish Romanesque Architecture in the form of a magnificent doorway. It consists of six large arcs containing many stylistic motives. Above them is located a big triangle filled with ornaments and heads.

Clonfert Cathedral

 

The Bishops Chair The Oak Pulpit The cathedral is normally locked, but a key can be obtained from the house at the right side of the cathedral. Opening the door to a dark yet mighty cathedral with the Autumn sun glistening on the oak pews through narrow stain glass windows revealing many more wonders. A carved oak pulpit (above), a beautiful fine organ, the Bishops chair (left) also carved from oak.

Clonfert CathedralSt. Brendan the Voyager

St. Brendan of Ardfert and Clonfert, known also as Brendan the Voyager, was born in Ciarraighe Luachra, near the present city of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, in 484; he died at Enachduin, now Annaghdown, in 577. He was baptized at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Bishop Erc. For five years he was educated under St. Ita, "the Brigid of Munster", and he completed his studies under St. Erc, who ordained him priest in 512. Between the years 512 and 530 St. Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and at Shanakeel or Baalynevinoorach, at the foot of Brandon Hill. It was from here that he set out on his famous voyage for the Land of Delight. The old Irish Calendars assigned a special feast for the "Egressio familiae S. Brendani", on 22 March; and St Aengus the Culdee, in his Litany, at the close of the eighth century, invokes "the sixty who accompanied St. Brendan in his quest of the Land of Promise". 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 Blasquet Islands, in order to meet the wants of those who came for spiritual guidance to St. Brendan.

Having established the See of Ardfert,  St. Brendan proceeded to Thomond, and founded a monastery at Inis-da-druim (now Coney Island, County Clare), in the present parish of Killadysert, about the year 550. He then journeyed to Wales, and thence to Iona, and left traces of his apostolic zeal at Kilbrandon (near Oban) and Kilbrennan Sound. After a three years' mission in Britain he returned to Ireland, and did much good work in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart (Co. Kilkenny), Killiney (Tubberboe), and Brandon Hill. He founded the Sees of Ardfert, and of Annaghdown, and established churches at Inchiquin, County Galway, and at Inishglora, County Mayo. His most celebrated foundation was Clonfert in County Galway.

Who Really Discovered America?            

Maps of Columbus’s time often included an island called St. Brendan’s Isle that was placed in the western Atlantic ocean. Map makers of the time had no idea of it’s exact position but did believe it existed some where west of Europe. It was mentioned in a Latin text dating from the ninth century titled Navigatio Santi Brendani Abatis (Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot). It described the voyage as having taken place in the sixth century. Several copies of this text have survived in monasteries throughout Europe. It was an important part of folklore in medieval Europe and may have influenced Columbus.

The account of Brendan’s voyage contained a detailed description of the construction of his boat which was not unlike the currachs still made in County Kerry today. Skeptics could not accept that such a fragile vessel could possibly sail in the open sea. Several passages in the legend also seemed incredible—they were "raised up on the back of sea monsters", they "passed by crystals that rose up to the sky", and were "pelted with flaming, foul smelling rocks by the inhabitants of a large island on their route". They finally arrived at the beautiful land they called "Promised Land of the Saints." They explored until they came to a great river that divided the land. The journey of Brendan and his fellow monks took seven years. The return trip was probably the longest part of the odyssey.

Tim Severin

In 1976, Tim Severin, a British navigation scholar embarked from Brandon Creek on the Dingle peninsula in a currach that he constructed using the details described by Brendan. His goal was to determine if the voyage of Brendan and his fellow monks was possible. They tanned ox-hides with oak bark, stretched them across the wood frame, sewed them with leather thread and smeared the hides with animal fat which would impart water resistance. Examination of nautical charts led Severin to believe that Brendan’s route would be governed by the prevailing winds that would take him across the northernmost part of the Atlantic. This would take him close to Iceland and Greenland with a probable landfall at Newfoundland (St. Brendan’s Isle). This would be the route that Leif Erickson would have taken in the tenth century. Many of Brendan’s stops on his journey were islands where Irish monks had set up primitive monasteries. Norsemen that traveled on these waters visited these islands and recorded their meeting with "Papers" (fathers).

Severin and his crew were surprised at how friendly the whales were that they encountered. The whales swam around and even under their boat. It could have been recognized as another whale by the giant mammals. The whales could have been even friendlier in Brendan’s time, before motorized ships would make them leery of man. So friendly that they may have lifted the monk’s boat in a playful gesture.

After stopping at the Hebrides islands Severin proceeded to the Danish Faroe Islands. At the island of Mykines, they encountered thousands of seabirds. Brendan called this island "The Paradise of Birds." He referred to the larger island as the "Island of Sheep." The word Faroe itself means Island of Sheep. There is also a Brandon Creek on the main island of the Faroes, that the local people believe was the embarkation point for Brendan and his crew.

Severin’s route carried them to Iceland where they wintered, as did Brendan. The volcanoes on the island have been active for many centuries and might well have been erupting when the monks stayed there. This could have accounted for the "pelting with flaming, foul smelling rocks", referred to in the ninth century text. The monks had never seen icebergs before, so their description of them as "towering crystals" would make sense.

Severin’s boat was punctured by floating ice off the coast of Canada. They were able make a repair with a piece of leather sewn over the hole. They landed on the island of Newfoundland on June 26, 1977. This might well have been Brendan’s "Land promised to the Saints" referred to in the Navigatio.

Severin’s journey did not prove that Brendan and his monks landed on North America. However it did prove that a leather currach as described in the Navigation could have made such a voyage as mapped out in the text. There is also no doubt that the Irish were frequent seafarers of the North Atlantic sea currents 900 years before the voyage of Columbus.

The lack of any written account of this exploration could be explained by the explorers not being able to return to their homeland. If they indeed did reach what is now West Virginia, it would be extremely doubtful that they could manage to return to Ireland from a embarkation point that far south. The design of their currach required favorable winds and currents in the right direction in order to navigate. Severin discovered that it was extremely difficult to tack as other sailing ships were able to do. Perhaps that is the reason that it took Brendan seven years for his journey.

We can conclude that the voyage of St.Brendan was not a mere medieval fantasy but a highly plausible tale. These were special men. They sought the lands beyond the horizon, the wonderous realms to be revealed by God—the Promised Lands.