About Saint Brendan the Navigator

Bronze statue of St. Brendan, pointing toward the sea.
Statue “St. Brendan of the Gael,” by Tigue O’Donoghue, located in Fenit Harbour, Tralee, County Kerry. Photo is available at

Feast day: May 16

If you thought Saint Patrick was the subject of elaborate legend and lore, wait till you read about another saint of Ireland —Saint Brendan the Navigator—monk, missionary and larger-than-life figure.

Known as one of “The 12 Apostles of Ireland,” Saint Brendan was born in Tralee, in County Kerry, Munster, the southwest province of Ireland, in 484 A.D., to Finnlug and Cara.  

Having been educated and formed by major figures of Irish Catholicism of his day, Saint Brendan was ordained a priest at 26. He entered monastic life, a pillar of the early Irish Church.

Saint Brendan thrived in monastic life. He founded several monasteries across Ireland—notably the monastery at Clonfert, which later became the cathedral for the Diocese of Clonfert—as well as various churches.

His efforts, however, were not confined to the island of Ireland. As was common among his contemporaries, Saint Brendan engaged in peregrinations—missionary journeys to other places, including the Aran Islands where he established a monastery, Wales and Brittany on the northern coast of France. Saint Brendan also visited the islands of Iona and Argyll off Scotland. At Argyll, he reportedly met Saint Columba, another of  “The 12 Apostles of Ireland” and the patron of the Diocese of Youngstown.

Saint Brendan died in 557. He had founded a convent for his sister Briga in Annaghdown, and he was visiting her at the time. His body was taken to Clonfert for burial. 

Scholars see Saint Brendan’s journeys and the monasteries he and other Irish monks founded as instrumental in the spread of Christianity and the preservation of Western culture.

Centuries after his death, Saint Brendan was the subject of some fantastical tales. For example, The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot was a medieval bestseller, which tells of Saint Brendan and some followers traveling across the ocean by currach (a small wooden boat) to seek out the Promised Land. In their travels, they land on an island that turns out to be a giant fish or whale, they pass by Hell, and they even make it to America, centuries before Columbus or Leif Erikson. 

Timothy Severin, a British explorer and historian seeking truth behind the legend, built a replica of Brendan’s boat and sailed from Ireland to Canada in 13 months. His journey was recounted in his book, The Brendan Voyage, which inspired an Irish orchestral suite. 

As with Saint Patrick, Saint Brendan’s actual deeds stand on their own with no need of embellishment. Still, these stories reflect how influential a figure he was as a missionary, evangelist and promoter of monastic communities. His life and missionary zeal serve to demonstrate Jesus’ counsel—“Seek and ye shall find.”

Saint Brendan is the patron saint of boaters, divers, mariners, travelers, whales and the U.S. Navy. In the diocese, St. Brendan Parish on the west side of Youngstown bears his name.

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