St. Brendan is one of the most famous Irish saints, but whether he discovered America has remained one of the continuing Irish mysteries.
The famous text, the Voyage of St. Brendan is a work of fiction or fact depending on who is interpreting it.
We know for certain that in 484 Saint Brendan was born near Tralee, in County Kerry.
What we also know for certain is that between the years 512 and 530 St Brendan built monastic forts around Ireland and then undertook a seven year voyage which is the basis of the American legend.
It is described as a hero’s journey in a boat and visits to an island far to the west which many modern historians believe is America. The Island is called ‘Isle of the Blessed’
Years later explorer Tim Severin retraced Brendan’s steps. Relying on the medieval text of St. Brendan, Tim Severin built the boat identical to the leather curragh that Brendan sailed.
The subsequent book, The Brendan Voyage, published in 1978 described the trip in great detail and has been translated into 28 languages. As a result of his voyage Severin remains convinced that Brendan reached America.
The debate remains ongoing it has been difficult for scholars to interpret what is factual and what is folklore. Was the Isle of the Blessed that Brendan reached America or just an historical fable?
The truth may never be known but it remains a constant claim by many that St.Brendan discovered America first before Columbus.
*Originally Published Monday, May 30, 2011.