St, Brendan the Navigator
Brendans life is well documented and I wouldn’t be best placed to comment on same. For context, I will mention that he was born locally in 484AD, was ordained by Bishop Eirc in 512AD- Established monasteries in Ardfert & Clonfert circa 560AD and he died in 578AD in Annaghdown in Co Galway almost 1500 years ago.
He sailed from Kerry undertaking a few voyages. Initially he returned each time and took on bigger challenges – gaining in confidence, travelling further each time and discovering new lands beginning with the Aran Islands, and then return journeys to Scotland, Wales and Brittany in a small boat known as a currach and then on a 7 year journey across the Atlantic. I believe that there are many parallels between St Brendans voyage 1500 years ago & our own journeys through life and perhaps we should take a moment to consider those as we examine Brendan’s connection & influence within our communities and in our lives.
What attributes did Brendan have in order to do what he did ? I can only surmise. He was a skilled seaman as Mary alluded to last evening. He was fearless– navigated a small boat in high seas- no lighthouses, no sat navs & no access to modern technologies. He was confident in his own ability and he trusted in God. He was obviously a great motivator and leader. He mobilised groups of monks to join him on his voyages. – he was probably not shy nor afraid to ask for assistance. As an Educator– he founded & built monasteries to help share his faith.
As Brendan was an educator, it is significant that Blennerville NS is named after him. It is a local centre of excellence looking out from Blennerville towards Fenit where his statue faces the wild Atlantic. Our schools are where youngsters and future generations start their educational voyages. In the Ballymac parish, we have Scoil O’Brennan also connected to our saint, as well as the primary school in Fenit. Scoil Naomh Eirc in Kilmoyley is named after the Bishop that ordained Brendan.
Our schools are so significant in our lives. Our schools shape our thinking and early education is so important. Our Catholic faith is enriched and augmented through the sacraments, through the Grow in Love programme, through the promotion of the Catholic Ethos and spirituality in our schools. The coronavirus has heightened the need for our schools to be happy and vibrant places for us as we missed them when they were closed. We appreciate the work of teachers, special needs assistants, boards of management and parents’ associations now more than ever. Their work on home schooling kept us all connected in difficult situations.
We have the famous St Brendan’s College in Killarney- known as The Sem. This is where many young men chose to follow Brendan and afterwards joined missionary Priesthood and travelled around the Globe. In 1962 the tabernacle from St Brendan’s College Killarney was installed in this church in Curraheen.
Colaiste Bhreannáin is an Irish College on the rugged cliffs in Ballybunion.
Fittingly the logo of ITT displays the sails of Brendan’s Boat capturing a pleasant journey into the horizon with
star on top in which to aim for.
He was very much associated with the RTC & ITT – reflecting the students voyages in education. Having completed their qualifications, they are prepared for the next phase on the journey of life and the Institute is now part of the Munster Technological University. It is a beautiful logo and we are privileged that we have primary and secondary schools and 3rd level Institutes linked to Brendan in our community.
In our town, we have the parish and church of Our Lady & St Brendan– architecturally designed in the shape of a boat and located at the top of Rock St – What a wonderful name for a church- Our Lady & St Brendan – what a combination, particularly as we reflect in Mary’s Month of May and as we look forward to St Brendan’s Day on May 16th.
I am standing before you in St Brendan’s Church, Curraheen – a place I know since my parents brought me here to be baptised. This church is dedicated to St Brendan the Navigator, built in 1832 and is the hub of our community. In another connection, this church was built in the shape of a crucifix using beams that were sourced from a shipwreck in Cloghane. This church grew from a mud cabin known as a mass rock. The church was so small that only women went inside and the gentlemen waited outside. Thankfully today technology allows us all inside this beautiful place of worship between the Slieve Mish Mountains and Tralee Bay. I am standing beside a beautiful wooden statute of Brendan in his modest boat mounted on the wall on my right-hand side. It is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship and takes my eye every time that I am here.
His name is also associated with St Brendan’s Park in Tralee and also with and many sporting teams – Basketball, Soccer and St Brendan’s Hurling Club in Ardfert. Indeed, I was part of the management team of St Brendan’s Football team throughout the last few years. For those who may not be familiar, St Brendans is an amalgamation of small rural teams drawn from his territory- Curraheen & Blennerville, Churchilll & Fenit, Ardfert & Ballyheighue and joined by John Mitchels & Na Gaeil from the greater urban area. It is wonderful when smaller units can come together in a cooperative style or with a meitheal spirit. There is a great energy & synergy about harnessing talents and joining with our neighbours to form a bond, to create an entity for all to participate in and enjoy. We were very proud to play under the name of St Brendans and to represent our people. Though we didn’t win the championship, I believe that St Brendan would approve of our efforts.
At our meetings and in our training sessions, everyone was asked to bring their own personal and positive energy into the group and give of their best. I believe that throughout all aspects of our life, like a sporting context – if we bring the energy, we can feed off each other and it lifts the dynamic and the performance will take care of itself. If we can do that on a daily basis in our work and in our schools, in our families and throughout society, our lives will be much better. Let us be positive when we meet and greet and continue in the same mindset.
We played the games in the right manner, in spirit of sportsmanship and fair play. In the words of John B Keane, we did our best, we did our almighty best and when you give of your best, then there is no more and we need to be satisfied and reflect with pride on our journey and modest achievements which is what we did & still do. We won many games but we finished second in the semi-final ! It has helped me to make connections – I have many friends through the medium of sport- we have a whattsapps group, we help each other in other facets of life- I have good friends from Churchill, Ardfert, Barrow & Ballyheighue,– I even have friends from John MItchels and Na Gaeil and Kerins O’Rahillys and Austin Stacks too!!
I would encourage everyone to participate in social, cultural and religious groups – reach out like St Brendan reached out to his monks. Be involved – Throughout the currency of the pandemic, we spent a lot of time alone or perhaps in smaller family units. The time is now to re-engage with old friends, to make new friends and to enjoy participation in our choice of organisations and groups.
We live in a wonderful part of the globe. As we head west into Corca Dhuibhne, Cnoc Bhreannáin (Brendans Hill) or Mount Brandon named after our patron St Brendan stands out like a beacon- 932m above sea level. I love to climb that mountain and have done it many times. I find it an uplifting experience on my own but it is much better with company. It is great to park in Faha car park on the Cloghane side, take a blessing in the Marian Shrine and ramble to the top. It is even better to meet a stranger and share some advice or to help someone towards the top. That is what we are good at. Helping and advising and sharing with others – In giving we receive – Helping each other on their journey or in their challenges brings out the best in us and the feel good factor is reciprocated. It is a two-way street.
It is wonderful to get away from technology and the constant need for news and updates and to traverse Ce Bhreannáin, Cloghane or the Sas Creak Loop and to enjoy nature and it’s rugged land and sea scapes. The best things in life are truly for free. We live in a world where instant gratification is a constant demand and it is affecting us and our young people in particular. There appears to be relentless calls for time and attention and people can feel pressurised. For those lucky enough to have been to the top of Mount Brandon- either from the Cloghane side or from the Ballybrack (Western)side, it is a wonderful accomplishment and a pleasant experience.
On route to the summit from the west, you pass the stations of the cross. From the top you can enjoy spectacular views of St Brendan’s Territory- Inish Mhicaulán, An Fear Marbh, Cosán na Naomh (The Pilgrims Route), Kill Mac Eadear Church, Gallarus Oratory, Sás Creak, Maharees Islands, Brandon Bay, Conor Pass and more. Fothar na Manach is situated on the North side of Cnoc Bhreannáin and this was an early settlement of monks not unlike Skellig Rock. For Brendan, our Patron Saint of Kerry to leave our shores, in a modest boat was a remarkable achievement. However, I have no doubt that when he overcame the hurdles of the first few waves that crashed against his boat, he grew in confidence. His first journey was to the Aran Islands and back. Like a child learning to walk, the first few tentative steps are the most difficult. Balance & composure come quickly.
Every Ocean starts with a drop. Every mountain starts with the first step. Marathon runners have few issues getting to the finish line. It is the start line that is the tough one. We have similar challenges. Take the first step- become a volunteer- show the way, ask people to become involved and to join you. Very often it is not what you ask, it is the way that you ask it.
Paddy Daly is doing wonderful work in our parish. I can only admire how he can ask, encourage and mobilise people and on Sunday next, walking with the youth group from St Brendan’s Church here in Curraheen to St Joseph’s Oratory in Fenit and perhaps to the statue of St Brendan The Navigator on Samphire Rock is a wonderful initiative for our young people. The spirit of volunteerism is so important in our lives and it is important for us to demonstrate volunteerism and giving of our time – we will be better for it and it will continue the legacy of our community spirit for future generations to enjoy- sporting, cultural, religious, charities – there are ample opportunities to share your time and talents. I have no doubt that Brendan would encourage us.
My late uncle Jerry O’Sullivan (My Mother’s brother) owned a restaurant with his wife Mary & family. The Tankard is situated in Kilfenora on the North side of Tralee Bay on route to Fenit. Jerry worked very hard and didn’t come from a catering or restaurant business. Indeed he had a tough upbringing working in fields as a farm labourer, cutting & selling panes of glass, and selling insurance and other jobs. However, he was never afraid to try new things. He matched his outgoing personality to his work ethic.
Like St Brendan, he surrounded himself with a team and developed from humble beginnings. The reasons that I mention Jerry is that he was inspired by Brendan and when the statue of the great Navigator was erected in Fenit Harbour , he was thrilled. Jerry entertained many people and the song that he always sang was St Brendan the Navigator by Christy Moore. That song is also known as The Albatross and it takes some poetic license! You can relax, I won’t sing the lyrics for you this evening!!! I have listened to it during the week and some of the words ring through.
A boat sailed out of Brandon in the year of 501.
‘twas a damp and dirty mornin’ Brendan’s voyage it began
Tired of thinning turnips and cutting curley kale,
When he got back from the creamery, he hoisted up the sail,
He ploughed a lonely furrow to the North, South, East and West,
Of all the Navigators, St Brendan was the Best.
It is certainly a huge change to come back from the creamery, tackle up the boat and head on into the Atlantic. But we shouldn’t fear change rather embrace it and develop an appetite for new experiences. All the better if you are making new friends and new acquaintances along the way.
The chorus is probably best known;
Is it right or left for Gibraltar, What tack do I take for Mizen Head,
I’d like to settle down by Ventry Harbour, St Brendan to his Albatross he said.
Not knowing if Gibraltar is on the right or left is a significant and daunting conundrum if you are in the middle of the deep seas. However- it is good to ask for help and to seek direction. Asking for help is a sign of inner strength and wisdom.
I feel privileged to be here tonight to offer & share some thoughts on St Brendan in our Community. Life can sweep us by. And to have an opportunity to sit back, reflect and take stock of our voyage is very worthwhile and nourishing. Our Novena during this week gives us an opportunity to take time out. Our journey through life can take us through choppy waters & deep seas. We have our mountains, churches, statues, schools and more dedicated to Naomh Breandáin. However, his spirit, his courage, his faith and trust and his teamwork is there for us all to embrace and to derive inspiration from.
I would like to wish Paddy and his team all the best & to thank him again for asking me to participate.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir. Ta suil agam go mbain sibh taitneamh as an gcupla focail.
Beannachtai na Feile Breandain Oraibh go leir.