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child of Finlug on the Fenit, he accepted this magnetic display as a happy omen of the child's future celebrity.
The place of the baptism of Brendan was, apparently, Tubber-namolt, in the parish of Ardfert, a spring to which probably in Pagan times great veneration had been paid, and Erc, following the example of S. Patrick, unable to eradicate the superstitious devotion to wells, sought to consecrate them, by converting them into baptisteries. As a fee for performing the Sacrament of Regeneration, Erc received from Finlug three wethers, which have given their name to the welles Erc begged that the child, when a year old and weaned, might be given to be fostered to S. Itha, who at that time had a house at Tubrid Beg, five miles from Tralee.
Brendan is often called Mac-hua-Alta, as his great grandfather was Alta, from whom came the Altraighe, and as it was necessary to distinguish him from his contemporary, Brendan of Birr, who was son of Neman. 1
Brendan remained with Itha for five years, i.e. till 488, for he was born in 483. Throughout his life, Brendan continued devoted to her, and consulted her in all his difficulties.
Angels in the shape of white virgins
Without disgrace to the babe.
When Brendan was six years old, Bishop Erc took him about with him on his missionary rounds, in his car. Erc had descended from his vehicle one day at O'Brenna, in the barony of Trughanacme, and began his sermon to the assembled people, leaving the boy in the chariot. Now it chanced that a little girl, "gentle, modest, and flaxen-haired, of a princely family, drew nigh to the carriage close to him," and wishing to have a game, attempted to scramble up the wheel, to reach him. Brendan, however, who had the reins in his hand, lashed her with them, and drove her off.
This little by-play distracted the attention of the audience, and Erc seeing the eyes of the people directed elsewhere, turned sharply round, and saw what was going on in the rear. He was mightily offended, gave Brendan a scolding, and consigned him to the black hole for the night. The boy spent his time in shouting psalms, and Erc, mollified,
· He is so called in the Life of S. Columba by Adamnan, ed. Reeves, pp. 55, 220; by Tighernach, 559; Chron. Scot., 554 ; Vita Tripart. S. Patr., p. 208, etc.
Book of Lismore,” Anec. Oxon., p. 249. 3 O'Donoghue, op. cit., p. 59.
soon let him out. The pit or cave, Uaimh Brenainn, pointed out by tradition as the place of his confinement, was a few years ago destroyed by quarrymen.
After some years spent with Erc learning "the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments," Brendan asked leave to depart so that he might make a compilation of the Monastic Rules observed by the several great Abbots in Ireland. Itha, whom he consulted, very prudently recommended him not to visit the religious houses of women, under the plea of inquiring into their regulations, as he was a young man, and this might be productive of scandal.2
On leaving Erc, Brendan fell in with one Colman MacLenin, with whom he made friends, and whom he induced to abandon the military profession and embrace that of religion. Colman founded the church of Cloyne, and died in 604 ; 3 the date of the death, however, is either wrong, or else the Colman Brendan converted was another of the same name.
After that, Brendan entered Connaught and attached himself to S. Jarlath, who at the time had a school at Clonfois, not far from Kilbannon. “And Brendan learned from him all the rules of the Saints of Erin.” For some unexplained reason Brendan persuaded Jarlath to shift his quarters to where is now Tuam. It was the property of Eoghain Beal MacDuach (502-538), son of Duach Teangumbha, king of Connaught, who was induced to part with it, when Jarlath undertook as “full price” that MacDuach should receive in exchange
Heaven and abundance without stint, and an eternal place in my corner of Heaven.”
Brendan and Jarlath between them composed a hymn on Tuam, in which they promised that no one buried in its churchyard should go to hell.4
Brendan now left Jarlath, and proceeded to the plain of Ai, in the present County of Roscommon, to which part of his own clan had migrated a little before, under the patronage of S. Caoilin, who had great influence with King Aedh MacEochaidh, and who induced him to grant her this tract for the settlement in it of the overflow of her clansmen from Kerry. In the Latin Life in the Salamanca Codex 5 we are told that the king offered some of the land to Brendan, but he declined it.
1 O'Donoghue, p. 59.
2 “ Book of Lismore,” Anec. Oxon., p. 251. 3 A story relative to the conversion of S. Colman is in the Book of Munster, but it contains an anachronism, it represents S. Ailbe as already dead. Now Ailbe died in 527 or 533, and either the conversion is put down in the Life of S. Brendan too early by some ten or twenty years, or the story is fable.
4 Given in Notes on the “Life" of S. Brendan, in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, vol. viii (New Series, 1871-2), and in O'Donoghue, pp. 21-2.
5 Vita 2da, Cod. Sal., col. 763. There is a chronological difficulty here. Aedh Mac Eochaidh is thought to have reigned 544-555. He was the third king of Connaught after Eoghain Beal, mentioned above. The dates are not however sure, other authorities give 551-577. 1 Life in Book of Lismore, p. 252.
It was here that Brendan completed his compilation of Monastic Rules. According to the legendary account in the Lives he received it from an angel, but the context plainly indicates that he drew it up from Jarlath and other noted abbots in Connaught.
This completed, he returned to Erc and was ordained priest by him. " Thenceforth the love of God grew exceedingly in his heart, and he desired to leave his country and land, and parents and family, and he earnestly besought the Lord to grant him some place, secret, retired, secure, delightful, and far apart from men.” 1
However, he first founded sundry monasteries in his own district and among his own kinsfolk.?
One of these was at the foot of Brandon Hill, on the west, and there for seven years he had under his training S. Finan Cam, probably a relative. At the end of this time some disagreement ensued between them, which is disguised by the biographer, who says that Brendan said to him, “ Brother Finan, it is not fitting that we should be any longer in one place, but that we should keep our communities apart. If you choose to remain here, do so, in God's name, and I will go.” “No, father," answered Finan, “ I am the younger and I will no longer trespass on you. I will depart." And he left for Slieve-Bloom, and founded Kinnulty in King's County. There was clearly a hot quarrel and a final rupture.3
Brandon Hill is 3,127 feet high, and to the summit Brendan often retired. “All the bold hills from Aran to Kenmare, that go out to meet the waves, are visible from its summit. The rocky islets of the Skelligs and the Moherees are the sentinels that guard its base. Inland the spectator can cast his gaze over half the south of Ireland-mountain and valley, lake and stream, plain and town, stretching far away to the east and south. But the eye ever turns seaward to the grand panorama presented by the ultimate ocean. No such view can be had elsewhere in the British Islands; and Brendan, whilst dwelling on the mountain summit, saw it in all its varying moods—at early morning when the glory of the sun was first diffused over its wide reaches ; at midnight, when the stars swept round the pole ; at even, above all, at even—when the setting sun went home to the caverns beneath the sea, and the line of light along the glowing west seemed a road of living gold to the Fortunate Islands where the sorrows of earth never enter, and peace and beauty for ever dwell. . . To this day the existence of Brazil, an enchanted land of joy and beauty, which is seen sometimes on the blue rim of the ocean, is very confidently believed in by the fishermen on our western coasts.” 1
Deinde cellas et monasteria fundavit in sua propria regione, sed non plura.” Life in so-called Book of Kilkenny.
3 Vita ex Cod. Inisensi in Franciscan Convent, Dublin.
The monastery of Brendan at its foot was Shankeel (Sean-cill)," the Old Church,” where there are to this day remains of cloghans, ancient bee-hive cells. To the summit of the mountain ascends Casan na Naomh, the “ Pathway of the Saints," a causeway carried over bog and hill from Kilmelchedor Church, a distance of seven miles. There are ruins of a church on the summit.
At this period the Saint sought to found a monastery near Tralee, but, according to popular tradition, a bird carried off the line with which he was measuring the foundations, and conveyed it to where is now Ardfert, and where, accepting the omen, Brendan established a settlement.
The imagination of Brendan was fired by the sight of the vast ocean to the west, and of the sun setting beyond it. Probably for some years the desire to explore that mysterious waste of water had possessed him. Several causes led to its finally resolving itself into action.
According to the Navigatio, he met an abbot of the name of Barinth, a grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Barinth told him a long story to this effect. A pupil of his, Mernoc, had deserted his monastery, and had settled in a rocky islet. After a while, Barinth, hearing that Mernoc was gathering disciples about him, visited him and found him and his community living on roots and nuts and apples in a very wild inhospitable spot. But Mernoc had an idea, and persuaded his old master to accompany him on a voyage to the setting sun in quest of the Land of Promise. Barinth and the rest started in a boat, but were after a while enveloped in a sea fog. Finally they reached a fertile land, and travelled through it for fifteen days till they arrived on the banks of a wide river. They then turned back, remounted their boat, and in course of time made the islet from which they had started.3
1 Healy (J. B.), Insula Sanctorum, Dublin, 1896, p. 214.
3 Navigatio, ed. Moran. In an article in the Revue Celtique, xxii, p. 339, Mr. A. C. L. Brown attempts to identify Barinth with the Celtic sea-god Mannan Mac Lyr. Geoffrey of Monmouth introduces him as piloting King Arthur to the Fortunate Isles. Geoffrey adopted Barinth from the popular Navigatio Sti. Brendani.
If Brendan had felt hitherto any hesitation about undertaking the voyage of exploration, this was removed by a singularly untoward accident.
Brendan had gone to an islet in a boat, and on landing left a boy in charge of it. Presently when the tide turned, and the wind freshened, the lad's brother, who accompanied Brendan, told his master that the little fellow was not man enough to hold the boat. Brendan testily rebuked him and wished him bad luck for so saying, but when his disciple persisted, sent him back. The young man found his brother vainly struggling with the boat; and hastening to his assistance, was himself swept away by a wave and was drowned. Brendan's conscience reproached him for his conduct in the matter, which he must have frankly acknowledged, for there was no one now alive to give evidence of the bad words he had used. Moreover, the drowning of the young man was likely to entail unpleasant consequences on himself, as the kindred would be certain to take the matter up, and demand heavy compensation.
Brendan, in this difficulty, visited his foster-mother Itha ; and she counselled him to quit Ireland and remain abroad till the resentment caused by this lamentable affair had abated. 1
Brendan now took with him fourteen of his monks and crossed to Aran Mor to discuss the matter with S. Enda. After a brief tarry there of three days only, he returned to Ardfert, or to the Abbey under Brandon Hill, and set to work to construct his boats. Of these there were to be three, each to contain twenty men. The vessels were very light, of osier twigs woven together, and covered with tanned hides. Brendan took with him, further, provisions for forty days, and fresh skins; also butter wherewith to grease them.” Each coracle had three sails of hide and three banks of oars.
Then they started with a favourable wind, on or about March 22, which is the day entered in the Irish Martyrologies as the “Egressio familiae Sti. Brendani.” 3
The three boats made for the point where the summer sun sets. The 1 Vita, ed. Moran, p. 12.
2 Sanctus Brendanus et qui cum eo erant, acceptis ferramentis, fecerunt naviculam costatam et columnatam ex vimine, sicut mos est in illis partibus, et cooperuerunt eam coriis bovinis ac rubricatis in cortice roborina, linieruntque foris omnes juncturas navis ... Butirium ad pelles preparandas assumpserunt ad cooperimentum navis.” Navigatio, ed. Moran, p. 90. There is some difference as to the number who accompanied Brendan. In the Life in the Book of Lismore we are told there were twenty in each boat, i.e., sixty in all. In the Metrical Life the number is raised to thirty in each. Oengus in his Litanies says, Sexaginta comitati sunt S. Brendanum.
3 Mart. of Oengus; Mart. of Tallagh.