St. Brendan – First Man To Cross The Atlantic ????

Christopher Columbus really had very little claim to being the original discoverer of the New World. Prior to his geographically confused explorations of 1492, and even before the supposed voyages of the Norsemen several centuries earlier, St. Brendan, another celebrated Irish saint, is said to have reached America in a leather boat.

Brendan, whose propensity for solitary wanderings was typical of the early Irish saints, was born by Tralee Bay in what is now County Kerry. According to the legend he was summoned by a vision to travel to an island beyond the western sea, so he duly built his craft, virtually identical to the curraghs still in use to this day, and set sail via the Aran Isles, to his destiny.

His voyage, described in somewhat fanciful terms in the tenth century ‘Navigatio Sancti Brendani’, took him to what could well have been the east coast of America, where it is possible that a number of particularly pious Irishmen could have been eking out their lonely existences – they certainly were on the shores of Iceland at around this time. Brendan returned to Ireland to found monasteries – primarily that at Clonfert in County Galway, where he is buried in the cathedral. That he could have made the voyage 1,000 years before the more celebrated Columbus is beyond doubt, as shown by Tim Severin in 1976, when a crossing was successfully made to Newfoundland in a replica vehicle.

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