The Patron Saint of Marine Scientists

brendan.jpg
Saint Brendan of Clonfert is often referred to Brendan the Voyager. He is Irish monastic saint born in 484 in Ciarraighe Luachra, near the present city of Tralee, County Kerry and died in 577. Besides founding several monasteries across Ireland, Brendan made a legendary journey.

The tale of begins with Brendan and 60 (other stories range from 15-150) pilgrims making their way to The Isle of the Blessed or Paradise across the Atlantic Ocean searching for the Americans around 512-530 AD. Brendan was originally motivated by stories of this strange and distant land from another Irish monk. His boat was built of oak bark with tanned ox hides stretched over a framework of ash. Of course, as any good story there are many trials and tribulations including landing on an island that turns out to be a large sea monster. After wandering for 7 years they finally reach the blessed island covered in flora.

Now St. Brendan is the patron saint of sailors, mariners, boatmen, navigators, travelers, older adventurers, and whales. I hope this list also includes oceanographers as I have several research cruises this fall.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.


12 Replies to “The Patron Saint of Marine Scientists”

  1. Romeo, crossing the Atlantic with 6th century tech is an impressive feat, even in 7 years. (However I’m fairly sure there is still quite a bit of debate over how far Brendan really went – nearly everyone seems to agree he reached Iceland, but beyond that there’s some disagreement.)

  2. I don’t actually think all seven years was spent sailing. I think Brendan and crew spent several years exploring islands. The tale goes that God would not let them see ‘paradise’ until they spent several years circling though three islands, spending Christmas, Easter, and another holiday that slips my mind, at a particular island of every year.

  3. “…crossing the Atlantic with 6th century tech is an impressive feat…”

    If you mean 6th century European technology, that is correct, but European boats of the time were designed for rivers and coasts.

    In the Pacific things were different. There is some evidence that around that time Polynesian navigators crossed from Marquesas to Peru and back, which is far more impressive. It’s all deep ocean – they had no islands to stop at for refreshments.

  4. “…crossing the Atlantic with 6th century tech is an impressive feat…”

    If you mean 6th century European technology, that is correct, but European boats of the time were designed for rivers and coasts.

    In the Pacific things were different. There is some evidence that around that time Polynesian navigators crossed from Marquesas to Peru and back, which is far more impressive. It’s all deep ocean – they had no islands to stop at for refreshments.

  5. “…crossing the Atlantic with 6th century tech is an impressive feat…”

    If you mean 6th century European technology, that is correct, but European boats of the time were designed for rivers and coasts.

    In the Pacific things were different. There is some evidence that around that time Polynesian navigators crossed from Marquesas to Peru and back, which is far more impressive. It’s all deep ocean – they had no islands to stop at for refreshments.

  6. “…crossing the Atlantic with 6th century tech is an impressive feat…”

    If you mean 6th century European technology, that is correct, but European boats of the time were designed for rivers and coasts.

    In the Pacific things were different. There is some evidence that around that time Polynesian navigators crossed from Marquesas to Peru and back, which is far more impressive. It’s all deep ocean – they had no islands to stop at for refreshments.

  7. ….I’ve actually read the text of the Voyage of St. Brendan. And, they seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time praying and going around in circles. And around and around and around. And around. And around. And, oh dear god haven’t we DONE this already? And around and around. … Oddly apropos for devout Christianity, a piss-poor example for anyone who wants to get somewhere.

    Also, I saw nothing in the text which convinced me that they ever made N. America. There was far more that convinced me that perhaps someone had slipped something a touch more hallucinogenic in their beer, and that they never got more than a couple of days away from the Irish coastline.

  8. And let’s not forget that it’s St. Andrew who’s the patron saint of fishermen…

  9. Do you know where and when you will be going? I could incorporate your trips into a geography and map-skills lesson. We are always being told to teach across the curriculum. I like to make it real!

  10. One of the lesser-known classics of Irish folk music!

    St. Brendan and the Albatross

    A boat sailed out of Brandon, in the year of nine-o-one
    ‘Twas a damp and dirty morning, Brendan’s voyage had begun
    Tired of tinnin’ turnips and cuttin’ curly-kale
    When he got back from the creamery, he hoisted up his sail

    He made the lonely furlong, to the north, south, east and west
    Of all the navigators, St. Brendan was the best
    When he got low on candles, he was forced to make a stop
    He tied up in Long Island, put America on the map

    Did you know that Honolulu was found by a Kerry man
    Who went on to find Australia, then China and Japan
    When he was reaching seventy he began to miss the crack
    And turnin’ to his albatross, sez he, “I’m headin’ back.”

    Is it right or left to Gibraltar, what tack do I take for Mizen Head
    I’d loved to settle down be Ventry Harbor, St. Brendan to his albatross he said

    To make it fast, he bent the mast and built up mighty steam
    Round Terra del Fuego and up the warm gulf stream
    He crossed the last horizon, Mt. Brandon was in sight
    When he cleared the customs, into Dingle for the night

    When he got to Cordon Bleu, he went to douse the draught
    He headin’ West to Kruger’s to murder pints of stout
    Around be Ballyferriter and up the Conor Pass
    He free wheeled into Brandon, the Saint was home at last

    The entire population came the place was chocker block
    Oh, love nor money couldn’t get your nose inside the shop
    The fishermen hauled up their nets, the farmers left their hay
    For the Kerry people know that Saints don’t turn up every day

    Is it right or left to Gibraltar, what tack do I take for Mizen Head
    I’d loved to settle down be Ventry Harbor, St. Brendan to his albatross he said

    Everything was goin’ grand till Brendan did announce
    His reason for returning, was to try and set up house
    The girl were flabbergasted at St. Brendan’s neck
    To seek a wife so late in life and him a total wreck

    Wore down by rejection, this pierced his humble pride
    By God, sez Brendan, “if I run, I’ll surely catch the tide.”
    Turn’s in his sandals, he made straight for the dock
    And haulin’ up the anchor he cast off from the rocks

    As he sailed passed Innishvickallaune there stood the albatross
    “I knew you’d never stick it out, ’tis great to see you boss.”
    “I’m bailin’ out,” sez Brendan, “I badly need a break,”
    A fortnight is about as much as any aul’ Saint could take.”

    Is it right or left to Gibraltar, what tack do I take for Mizen Head
    I’d loved to settle down be Ventry Harbor, St. Brendan to his albatross he said

    Recorded by Christy Moore

Comments are closed.