St. Brendan (486 – 578)
Also known as St. Brendan the Voyager, St. Brendan the Navigator, and St. Brandon
Born near Tralee in County Kerry, Brendan spent his childhood in the care of St. Ita at Killeedy, continued his studies under a number of other Irish saints, and was ordained a priest in 512. From an early age Brendan was a great traveler, establishing a number of monasteries in Ireland, of which the most famous was Clonfert, founded about 560. Brendan also reputedly journeyed to Scotland, Wales, and Brittany, furthering the spread of Christianity to these areas.
But Brendan’s fame as a traveler really rests on The Voyage of St. Brendan, a tale popularized during the Middle Ages. According to this account, Brendan and a company of monks set sail on a fantastic journey in search of a fabled paradise. Along the way they visited a number of islands in the Atlantic — one of which turned out to be the back of a whale! — and possibly even reached the Americas. Although there is no historical proof of this journey, an expedition organized in the mid-1970s demonstrated that it was possible for the monks to have sailed a coracle of wood and leather that far. Whether or not the monks reached the New World centuries before Columbus will probably never be known.