We craft and tell stories because we’ve stood on the uncertain edge between the waking world and our imagination, between enchantment and fear. And we remember other stories that help us build our own stories, scraps of lumber and fragments of narrative we gather together to make stories for ourselves.

The Voyage of Saint Brendan: Part 1

His Vision of the Land of Promise

It is a monk going through hardship Blessed Brendan was, that was born in Ciarraige Luachra of a good father and mother. It was on Slieve Daidche beside the sea he was one time, and he saw in a vision a beautiful island with angels serving upon it. And an angel of God came to him in his sleep and said, “I will be with you from this out through the length of your lifetime, and it is I will teach you to find that island you have seen and have a mind to come to.” When Brendan heard those words from the angel he cried with the dint of joy, and gave great thanks to God, and he went back to the thousand brothers that were his people.

The News of the Hidden Country

St Brendan's Map

It happened now there was a young man by name Mernoke that was a brother in another house, and that went out in a ship looking for some lonely place where he might serve God at will. And he came to an island that is convenient to the Mountain of Stones, and he liked it well and stopped there a good while, himself and his people. But after that he put out his ship again and sailed on eastward through the length of three days. And it seemed to him on a sudden that a cloud came around them, the way they were in darkness the whole of the day, till by the will of our dear Lord the cloud passed away and they saw before them a shining lovely island. There was enough of joy and of rejoicing in that island, and every herb was full of blossom and every tree was full of fruit; and as for the ground it was shining with precious stones on every side, and heaven itself could hardly be better.

There came to them then a very comely young man, that called every one of them by name and gave them a pleasant welcome; and he said to them, “It would be right for you to give good thanks to Jesus Christ that is showing you this hidden place, for this is the country be will give to his darlings upon earth at the world’s end, and it is to this place He himself will come. And there is another island besides this one,” he said, “but you have not leave to go on to it or to have sight of it at all. And you have been here through the length of half a year,” he said, “without meat or drink or closing your eyes in sleep.”

They thought now they had not been the length of half an hour in that place, they had been so happy and so content. And he told them that was the first dwelling place of Adam and Eve, and there never came darkness there, and the name of it was the Earthly Paradise. Then he brought them back to their ship again and when they were come to it he vanished out of their sight, and they did not know where was it he went.

Then they set out over the sea again, and where they came to land was the place where Brendan was and his brothers, and they questioned Mernoke’s people as to where they had been. “We have been,” they said, “before the gates of Paradise, in the Land of Promise, and we had every sort of joy there and of feasting, and there is always day in it and no night at all.” And their clothes had the sweetness of that place about them yet and the brothers said, “We are certain indeed you have been in that place, by the happy smile of you.”

And when Brendan heard all these tidings he stood still for a while thinking with himself; and after that he went about among the brothers and chose out twelve of them that he thought more of than of all the rest; and he consulted them and asked advice of them.

“Dear Father,” they said, “we have left our own will and our friends and all our goods, and have come as children to you; and whatever you think well to do,” they said, “we will do it.”

The Beginning of Brendan’s Search

So with that Brendan made his mind up to search out that place by the help of God; and he fasted forty days and did hard penance. And he made a very large ship having strong hides nailed over it, and pitch over the hides, that the water would not come in. And he took his own twelve with him and took his leave of the brothers and bade them good-bye. And those he left after him were sorry everyone, and two among them came when he was in the ship and begged hard to go with him. And Brendan said,“ You have leave to sail with me; but one of you will be sorry that he asked to come.” But for all that they would go with him.

Then they rowed out into the great sea of the ocean in the name of our Lord and were no way daunted at all. And the sea and the wind drove the ship at will, so that on the morning of the morrow they were out of sight of land. And so they went on through forty days and the wind driving them eastward.

The Very Comely Hound

And at the last they saw to the north a very large island having hard rocks on every side, and they sailed around it for three days before they could come near any place of landing; but at the last they found a little harbour, and landed every one. Then there came of a sudden a very comely hound and it fell down at Brendan’s feet and bade him welcome in its own way.

“Good brothers,” said Brendan, “there is nothing for us to be in dread of, for I know this is a Messenger to lead us into a right place.”

Then the hound brought them into a great hall where there was a table having a cloth upon it, and bread and fish; and there was not one of them but was glad of that, and they sat down and eat and drank; and after their supper they found beds ready for them and they took their fill of sleep.

The Island of Sheep

And on the morrow they went back to their ship and they sailed a long time on the sea before they could see any land. And at last they saw before them a very green island, and when they landed and looked about them they saw sheep on every side the whitest and the finest that ever were seen, for every sheep was the size of an ox.

There came to them then a very well-looking old man and he gave them a kind welcome and he said, “This place you are come to is the Land of Sheep, and there is never winter here but lasting summer, and that is why the sheep are so large and so white, for the grass and the herbs are the best to be found in any place at all. And go on,” he said, “till you come by the Grace of God to a place that is called the Paradise of Birds; and it is there you will keep your Easter.”


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