Chapters 1 to 5

1 Barrind’s Story

Saint Brendan, son of Findlug, descendant of Alte, was born among the Eoganacht of Loch Léin in the land of the men of Munster. He was a man of great abstinence, famous for his mighty works and father of nearly three thousand monks.

When he was fighting the good fight, in a place called Clonfert of Brendan, there arrived one evening one of the fathers whose name was Barrind, a descendant of Niall.

When this Barrind was plied with many questions by the holy father, he wept, prostrated himself on the ground and stayed a long time praying. But Saint Brendan lifted him up from the ground and embraced him, saying:

‘Father, why should we be sad during your visit?

Did you not come to encourage us? Rather should you give joy to the brothers. Show us the word of God and nourish our souls with the varied wonders that you saw in the ocean.’

When Saint Brendan had finished his remarks, Saint Barrind began to describe a certain island, saying :

‘My son Mernéc, steward of Christ’s poor, left me and sought to live the life of a solitary. He found an island near Slieve League, called the Delightful Island. Then, a long time afterwards I heard that he had many monks with him, and that God had shown many wonders through him. So, I set out to visit my son. At the end of a three-day journey, as I was approaching, he hurried with his brothers to meet me. For the Lord revealed to him that I was coming. As we were crossing in a boat to the island the brothers came, like bees swarming, from their various cells to meet us. Their housing was indeed scattered but they lived together as one in faith, hope and charity. They ate together and they all joined together for the divine office. They are given nothing to eat but fruit, nuts, roots and other greens. But after compline each remained in his own cell until the cocks crowed or the bell was struck. Having stayed overnight and walked round the whole island, I was brought by my son to the sea shore facing west, where there was a boat. He said to me:

“Father, embark in the boat and let us sail westwards to the island which is called the Promised Land of the Saints which God will give to those who come after us at the end of time.”

‘We embarked and sailed, but a fog so thick covered us that we could scarcely see the poop or the prow of the boat. But when we had spent about an hour like this a great light shone all around us, and there appeared to us a land wide, and full of grass and fruit. When the boat landed we disembarked and began to go and walk round that island.

This we did for fifteen days — yet we could not find the end of it. We saw no plants that had not flowers, nor trees that had not fruit. The stones of that land are precious stones. Then on the fifteenth day we found a river flowing from east to west. As we pondered on all these things we were in doubt what we should do.

‘We decided to cross the river, but we awaited advice from God. In the course of a discussion on these things, a man suddenly appeared in a great light before us, who immediately called us by our own names and saluted us, saying:

“Well done, good brothers. For the Lord has revealed to you the land, which he will give to his saints. The river there marks the middle of the island. You may not go beyond this point. So return to the place from which you departed.”

‘When he said this, I immediately questioned him where he came from and what was his name.

He said:

“Why do you ask me where I come from or how I am called? Why do you not ask me about the island? As you see it now, so it has been from the beginning of the world. Do you feel the need of any food or drink or clothing? Yet for the equivalent of one year you have been on this island and have not tasted food or drink! You have never been overcome by sleep nor has night enveloped you! For here it is always day, without blinding darkness. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the light of this island.”

‘Straightaway we started on our journey, the man coming with us to the shore where our boat was.

As we embarked in it he was taken from our eyes and we passed through the same darkness to the Delightful Island. When the brothers saw us they rejoiced with great joy at our arrival and complained of our absence for such a long time, saying

“Why, fathers, have you left your sheep wandering in the wood without a shepherd? We knew of our abbot going away from us frequently somewhere or other — but we do not know where — and staying there sometimes for a month, sometimes for a fortnight or a week or more or less.”

“When I heard this, I began to console them, saying to them:

“Think, brothers, only of good. You are living undoubtedly at the gate of Paradise. Near here is an island which is called the Promised Land of the Saints where night does not fall nor day end. Your abbot Mernéc goes there. An angel of the Lord guards it. Do you not perceive from the fragrance of our clothing that we have been in God’s Paradise?”

‘The brothers then replied :

“Abbot, we knew that you were in God’s Paradise in the wide sea; but where that Paradise is, we do not know. We have indeed often noticed the fragrance exuding from our abbot’s clothes when he returns from there after the space of forty days.”

‘I stayed on with my son for two successive weeks without food or drink. Yet our bodies were so satisfied that to others we seemed full of new _—— wine. And after forty days I received the blessing of _ the brothers and the abbot and set off with my companions on the return journey to my cell. I shall go there tomorrow.’

When they heard these things, Saint Brendan and all his community prostrated themselves on the ground, glorifying God and saying:

‘The Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works. For he has revealed to his servants such great wonders. He is blessed in his gifts, for he has nourished us today with such a spiritual foretaste.’

When they had said this, Saint Brendan spoke:

‘Let us go to repair our bodies and to the washing of feet in accordance with the new commandment.’

When that night was over, Saint Barrind, having received the blessing of the brothers in the morning, set out for his own cell.

The Brothers Assemble

Saint Brendan, therefore, when fourteen brothers out of his whole community had been chosen, shut himself up in one oratory with them and spoke to them, saying:

‘From you who are dear to me and share the good i fight with me I look for advice and help, for my heart and all my thoughts are fixed on one determination. | have resolved in my heart if it is God’s will —and only if it is—to go in search of the Promised Land of the Saints of which father Barrind spoke. How does this seem to you? What advice would you give?’

They, however, having learned of the holy father’s will, say, as it were with one mouth:

‘Abbot, your will is ours. Have we not left our parents behind? Have we not spurned our inheritance and given our bodies into your hands? So we are prepared to go along with you to death or life. Only one thing let us ask for, the will of God.’

2 The Brothers Assemble

Saint Brendan, therefore, when fourteen brothers out of his whole community had been chosen, shut himself up in one oratory with them and spoke to them, saying:

‘From you who are dear to me and share the good i fight with me I look for advice and help, for my heart and all my thoughts are fixed on one determination. | have resolved in my heart if it is God’s will —and only if it is—to go in search of the Promised Land of the Saints of which father Barrind spoke. How does this seem to you? What advice would you give?’

They, however, having learned of the holy father’s will, say, as it were with one mouth:

‘Abbot, your will is ours. Have we not left our parents behind? Have we not spurned our inheritance and given our bodies into your hands? So we are prepared to go along with you to death or life. Only one thing let us ask for, the will of God.’

3 Visit to Saint Enda

Saint Brendan and his companions, therefor decided to fast for forty days — but for no more than three days at a time —and then to set out. When the forty days were over he said good-bye to the brothers, commended all to the man put in charge of his monastery, who was afterwards his successor there, and set out westwards with fourteen brothers to the island of a holy father, named Enda. There he stayed three days and three nights.

4 The Building of the Boat.

Having received the blessing of the holy father and of all the monks that were with him, he set out for a distant part of his native region where his parents were living. But he did not wish to see them. He pitched his tent at the edge of a mountain stretching far out into the ocean, in a place called Brendan’s Seat, at a point where there was entry for one boat. Saint Brendan and those with him got iron tools and constructed a light boat ribbed with wood and with a wooden frame, as is usual in those parts. They covered it with ox-hides tanned with the bark of oak and smeared all the joints of the hides on the outside with fat. They carried into the boat hides for the makings of two other boats, supplies for forty days, fat for preparing hides to cover the boat and other things needed for human life. They also placed a mast in the middle of the boat and a sail and the other requirements for steering a boat. Then Saint Brendan ordered his brothers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to enter the boat.

5 The Three Latecomers

While Saint Brendan remained alone on the shore and blessed the landing-place, three brothers from his own monastery came up, following after him. They fell immediately at the feet of the holy father, saying:

‘Father, leave us free to go with you wherever you are going; otherwise we shall die on this spot from hunger and thirst. For we have decided to be pilgrims for the days of our life that remain.’

When the man of God saw their trouble, he ordered them to enter the boat, saying:

‘Your will be done, my sons.’

And he added:

‘I know why you have come. One of you has done something meritorious, for God has prepared a suitable place for him. But for you others he will prepare a hideous judgment.’