IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ST.BRENDAN
- the most famous Kerryman .. the most famous Irishman .. of all times
big man's hair and his heavy, rich clothing are torn by a gale force wind. The book of the gospels is gripped firmly in
one of his hands and the other points west towards
days coming up to his feastday on May 16 the great
bronze sculpture of St Brendan on top of
Panels along the steps climbing up to the sculpture give the outline of Brendan's amazing story. At 2pm on Saturday June 9 Bishop Bill Murphy will bless new slate slabs that mark seven sites associated with Brendan.
flora of the Faroes, the volcanoes of Iceland, the
icebergs of Greenland, the fog off Newfoundland, the flowers and grapes of
Florida .. all of these have been associated with
descriptions in the accounts of Brendan's voyage to
We stood at
the edge of the sand spit that joins the mainland to
ordination in 512 Brendan established his first monastery at Kilfenora (a short way from Fenit). As well there were foundations in Ardfert,
on Mt Brandon and many other locations in
From Cathair Airde – the home of
Brendan's foster father – we looked down over Kerry Head, Banna,
Brendan's greatest Kerry foundation was at Ardfert where the 12th century cathedral has now been magnificently restored. Fr Gearoid O Donnchadha explained that the account of Brendan's huge voyage is “an exploration in poetic, imaginative and artistic form of the fundamental questions of life .. of a loving God who had forgiveness even for Judas”.
At Tobar na Molt/Weathers' Well outside Ardfert where Brendan was baptised
we heard that, following his
people's expulsion from Kerry, Brendan followed them to
Our final stop was at Tearmon Erc where mounds of earth are all that now remain of Kerry's first cathedral presided over by Brendan's mentor St Erc, the first Bishop of Kerry.
Brendan had a lifelong friendship with some of the greatest Irish saints – Colmcille, Brendan of Birr, Kieran of Clonmacnoise, Kieran of Saighir, Ruadhan of Lorrha, Canice of Aghaboe and Kilkenny, Comgall of Bangor, Cormac of Durrow.
All of the
20 great schools of
- Frank Lewis
May 8 '07
Bhreanainn – The
Welcome to Slí Bhreanainn. You are honouring Saint Brendan, one of the
greatest of Irishmen. He is renowned as a missionary who spread the word of God
along the coast of
There are seven stations on the Slí Bhreanainn, each recalling aspects of Brendan’s life:
Some of the places on this trail
are open to the public. You are asked to
respect the private property of owners where there is not public access. Do not trespass where there is no right of access.
Slí Bhreanainn begins on
To the east can be seen the Blennerville
windmill outside Tralee; to the south, Cathair Chonroí, a prehistoric hill fort that is shrouded in myth
and that could communicate by fire with the Aran
Islands, 65 miles to the north. To the
The monument was sculpted by Tighe O Donoghue of Glenflesk and cast in Bronze by Cast of Dublin. The boat-shaped plinth was constructed by local stonemasons Tom and Eugene Farrelly. In keeping with the tradition of the Fianna, Brendan is depicted as following their battle strategy – glún le glaoi agus troig le taca (knee bent toward the battle tumult, rear foot against a support – so there could be no retreat), leaning into a force 10 storm, like those he must often have faced at sea on his own travels, with his cloak blowing out behind him, grasping the Gospel, pointing out to sea and urging ever forward to spread the word of God.
The artifacts in the
theme park, which is wheelchair accessible, are largely the work of Eoghan and D’Ana O Donoghue of
Glenflesk. Bas-reliefs under the statue
depict scenes from the Navigatio
(Voyage) of Brendan. Further down are a
depictions of a tri-circle motif from Newgrange, Co. Meath, a 5,000 year old burial chamber,, representing the unendingness of eternity; Ogham writing of 400-800AD; the Riasc stone near Ballyferriter, West Kerry c.700AD; a
bronze age wedge grave, common in West Kerry; a clochán,
or beehive hut, used by monks c.500-900AD, and a bullán,
or Neolithic stone art, of which there are countless examples in Kerry. Subscribers from all over the world paid for
the park and statue with the help of Tuatha Chiarrai, the local LEADER group. Partnership Trá Lí funded the Slí Bhreanainn, the
Go north, along the viaduct and R558 for 1,000 metres to the Post Office. Turn left and go 900 meters to the start of the Causeway that leads to Fenit Island.
Do not go beyond the limits of the beach.
To the north is
Together with Kilfenora
(3), Fenit was one of the most important parishes in the diocese of Ardfert as
evidenced by the taxation lists of 1300.
To the east can be seen the present parish church of Churchill and
beyond it Cathair Áirde (4) the home of Áirde Mac Fidaigh, foster father of Brendan. Slightly to north of
east, five miles away, can be seen the spire of the present
On the day of his birth came two important visitors. First, came Áirde of Cathair Áirde (4) with gifts. Bec Mac Dé had foretold the birth of Brendan the previous night in Cathair Áirde. Áirde was likely the local chieftain and he claimed Brendan (then named Mobhi) as his foster child. After a year with his parents, Brendan would spend the next four years with Áirde in his cathair in Listrim. Next came Bishop Erc who had seen a bright light shine over Fenit the previous night. He took Brendan to Tobar na Molt (6) for baptism.
Return south for 900 metres; turn left on R558 at the post office and go 2,000 metres. On your left is Kilfenora. This is on a blind bend so please be careful. There is no access to the site.
Kilfenora was also called Kilmore
(Cill Mhór, the
Carry on east for 950 metres; just beyond the Tankard turn left under the railway bridge. Keep on this road for 2,800 metres to the second crossroads (Scrahan). Be careful of the first crossroads (Ballygarron, at 1,200 metres) as it is blind and requires a zig-zag, left and right. Turn left at the second crossroads and go 1,200 metres. The highest point on your left is Cathair Áirde, about 400 metres in from the road. There is no access.
4. Cathair Áirde
This hill fort, clearly the home of a most important person, is named
in the Beatha Bhreanainn, the Irish Life of Brendan,
written in the first part of the eight century.
It is also named in 16th century maps and is so called to
this day – a remarkable incidence of continuity, given the turbulent history of
the area. From the top, one is granted a
superb view over
The Irish Life tells us that, on the night of Brendan’s birth, Becus Mac Dé, the ‘chief prophet of Ireland’ came to the house of Áirde Mac Fidaigh to announce to him “There will be born this night, between you and the sea, your true and worthy king, whom many kings and princes will adore….”. Airde’s own great-grandson would be Finian, founder of Inisfallen Abbey.
Carry on straight for 3.700 metres to
Ardfert, passing the modern
5. Ardfert Cathedral
Cathedral is built on the site of a monastery founded by Saint Brendan
about 520 AD. This was probably a
wooden structure of which nothing remains.
About 800 AD a ‘cyclopian’ church was built (A), using the huge
stones that were incorporated into the North wall of a later church of
c.1200. This site also included a Romanesque church built c.1145. All these churches were burnt by Viking,
Irish and Norman spoilers. Clear
evidence of burning can be seen in the north wall. When the Romanesque church was
destroyed, Teampall na hOighe (C, of the Virgin)
was built c.1190, largely with material taken from the Romanesque church,
of which the west wall and doorway remain (B). The
round tower, the tallest in Teampall
1579 English soldiers took over the Cathedral for the ‘reformation’,
installed the first Tudor bishop in 1588 and within thirty years reduced it
to a ruin. In 1641, Lord Kerry,
whose castle was close to the East side of the Cathedral, sided with
Cromwell and Confederates burned his castle. Flames spread to the Cathedral and left
it much as it is today. In
1670, a ‘makeshift’ structure (K) was run up using ill-fitting material
from Lord Kerry’s castle and from Teampall na
Ardfert Cathedral is built on the site of a monastery founded by Saint Brendan about 520 AD. This was probably a wooden structure of which nothing remains. About 800 AD a ‘cyclopian’ church was built (A), using the huge stones that were incorporated into the North wall of a later church of c.1200. This site also included a Romanesque church built c.1145. All these churches were burnt by Viking, Irish and Norman spoilers. Clear evidence of burning can be seen in the north wall. When the Romanesque church was destroyed, Teampall na hOighe (C, of the Virgin) was built c.1190, largely with material taken from the Romanesque church, of which the west wall and doorway remain (B).
round tower, the tallest in
In 1579 English soldiers took over the Cathedral for the ‘reformation’, installed the first Tudor bishop in 1588 and within thirty years reduced it to a ruin. In 1641, Lord Kerry, whose castle was close to the East side of the Cathedral, sided with Cromwell and Confederates burned his castle. Flames spread to the Cathedral and left it much as it is today.
1670, a ‘makeshift’ structure (K) was run up using ill-fitting material
from Lord Kerry’s castle and from Teampall na
Go back the
150 metres onto the Tralee road (R551) and go east 350 metres towards
6. Tobar na Molt – Wethers’ Well
Tobar na Molt is a holy well that has been a place
of devotion since pagan times. It is the
source of the Tyshe river
that supplied Ardfert in Brendan’s time.
It is a spring of pure water.
Near it is a mound that is thought by some to be the grave of Saint Ita, a friend of Brendan. There is a large monument that may have been
an altar or tomb from Ardfert Cathedral or Friary or from Kyrie
Eleison Ab77bey in Abbeydorney.
Three figures are on the front of this monument. These are reckoned popularly to be Bishop Erc
in the middle with Brendan and Ita
on either side. There is a legend that
at one time a planter from Oakpark in
The source of the name is also a subject of controversy. Some say that Áirde Mac Fidaigh gave three wethers as a baptismal fee to Bishop Erc for baptizing Brendan. Others relate the name to an incident that occurred during penal times when priests were celebrating Mass at the well. English redcoats with dogs came upon them and things looked very serious until three wethers jumped out of the well and led the dogs and soldiers north to a place near Ballyheigue called Akeragh – or Áth Caorach, the ford of the sheep - where they disappeared. Meanwhile the hunted priests made their escape.
Bishop Erc brought Mobhi, as he was then called, to Wethers’ well for baptism. Immediately, a white mist covered them and Erc, taking this as a sign, called the child Bréan Fhionn (White drop or mist) which is the name by which he was known thereafter. After baptism, Brendan returned to his parents for a year, after which he went as foster child to Áirde. At age five he returned to his parents and to the tutelage of Bishop Erc.
Continue north to the Ardfert-Abbeydorney road (1,000 metres), cross it and wend your way
1,600 metres to the next T-junction. Go
right for 200 metres, go left for 100 metres and left again for 1,500 metres to the Ardfert-Causeway
road. Make a right and go north for 2,100
metres to Lerrig Cross. Make a left for
Tearmon Eirc (locally called the Múcán) has
been venerated from time immemorial.
There is very little left of the place that was Bishop Erc’s See, just about half an acre of grass-grown mounds
that have been jealously preserved from disturbance by the local people. Tradition has it that this is the oldest
church in Kerry. The word Tearmon means Sanctuary
and shows that this was a privileged place of refuge in troubled times, a place
no one dared violate. It was here that
Brendan was ordained a priest about 510.
Meanwhile he had spent time in Connaught with
Saint Jarlath and had learned the rules of the saints of
Proceed west for 3,800 metres and turn
left on R551 for Ardfert, 4,000 metres.