11 Feb Brandon Bay, County Kerry
Mount Brandon, austere and impressive at all times, cloudy at most times, dominates Brandon Bay across whose waters the light and biddable curraghs – lath-and-canvas canoes – have bounded for a millennium and more. It was from this bay, they say, that St. Brendan and his monks set out on their epic voyage into the Atlantic in the year 551, a journey which formed the basis of the medieval legend of the Navigation of St. Brendan. Sailing in search of an earthly Paradise he had many unearthly adventures.
In the Northern seas he came upon a floating mountain – “the colour of silver, harder than marble, of substance of the clearest crystal”; and iceberg, in fact. There were strange sea-beasts with “cat-like heads, eyes of the colour of a bronze cauldron, fuzzy pelts, boars’ tusks and heavy spotted bellies”. On Christmas night he met Judas who once a year was allowed to cool himself on a lonely rock in return for a single act of charity done in his lifetime.
After forty days Brendan and his companions sailed southwards through a sea which “had thrice fifty islands, and some thrice the size of Eire” to “a land, odorous, flower-smooth, blessed; a land many melodied, musical, shouting for joy, unmournful”, finding there a hermit, the last saviour of a Celtic Christian community which had preceded him by fifty years. Was I the New World he reached? And was that its first recorded touch with Europe? And did he return fondly to the dark bare mountain that dominated Brandon Bay, “but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation”?
Brandon Bay and the history associated with it is a real hidden gem, and worth a visit on your Ireland tours.