Saving St Brendan’s Voyage

Posted in: Featured, Uncategorized on Monday, July 23rd, 2012

There it sat. All alone. This little book on a post. Exposed to the elements.  It’s unread pages called to me every time I passed it. What story was contained within it’s covers? On one trip I stopped to read the blurb on the back and was hooked immediately but reluctantly left it.

It sat there for a day and a night after that, through wind, rain and what little sun we had.   I told myself that the next time it rained I was duty bound as a book lover and collector, some say hoarder, to save it and give it refuge.  So I eagerly waited for the next rain to fall (the first time in a long time since I was actually keen for rain, we’ve seen too much lately) and I scooted out there as soon as the coast was clear, wiped it down on the sleeve of my jumper and returned inside as inconspicuously as I could.

I didn’t feel all together okay with taking it, after all I didn’t know whose it was or why it was there, but I was too intrigued to just leave it be.   And I’m glad I did.

It turned out to be a fantastic and gripping read and as I read it chapter by chapter as they each dried out with the aid of my hair dryer I became more and more engrossed in the exciting adventure.

‘The Brendan Voyage’ by Tim Severin tells the story of four men with a shared love of the sea who attempt to cross the Atlantic ocean travelling from Ireland to America in a handcrafted leather boat based on ancient designs.  As the blurb of the book says…

“The sixth century voyage of St. Brendan to America is the most fascintating of sea legends.  Could the myth have been a reality? In an Extraordinary attempt  to recreate the Brendan legend, Tim Severin and his crew embarked on one of the most hazardous and inspiring expeditions in the history of world exploration. This is the story of their epic journey.”

It’s compellingly and engagingly written and I found myself being carried along with and immersed in the journey, feeling fear and relief along with the crew, sharing their awe at unbelievable experiences and encounters with natural wonders.  I too came to love and respect the little curragh ‘Brendan’ made of leather, love and elbow grease (and a goodly coating of wool grease too).

The legend of St Brendan’s voyage to the new world was not one that I had heard of before, I don’t recall learning about it at school (but it didn’t take long after leaving school for me to realise my education barely touched on all the fascinating things in the worlds history). It fires the imagination with it’s epic scope and tales of wondrous sights and strange beasts.

It goes a little something like this…

St Brendan was a famous and influential saint in the early half of the sixth century. One day he was visited by another priest who told of a bountiful promised land across the ocean and he told that it was possible to get there and that Brendan must go.  So Brendan built a boat with a wooden frame and oxhide leather stitched together for a hull, he loaded supplies enough for 40 days, spare leather and fat and was joined by 17 other monks. In a supreme act of faith and trust in God, they set out from the west coast of Ireland heading for the new world. It was a long journey which lasted a total of seven years as they wandered from island to island having many strange and wonderful encounters along the way.  Eventually they reached the promised land, they explored and enjoyed the bounty of the land for 40 days before making the journey home.

All this having taken place over 800 years before the accepted arrival of Christopher Columbus!

‘The Brendan Voyage’ in it’s attempt to recreate and validate that journey made by St Brendan  and his companions all those centuries ago in no way diminishes the fantastical nature of their tale, but enhances it and gives it a modern framework of believability and credibility.  It proves to the reluctant mind (and reluctant academics) that a journey of its nature in a boat of medieval design made of leather is indeed within the realms of human achievement.  And if Tim and his crew could do it with the same materials in our times, why not a group of Irish monks in antiquity.