A.D. 577. He was born in Ireland, and in early youth became the disciple of Saint Jarlaath, of Tuam. He afterwards crossed over to Britain, and spent some years in the Abbey of Llancarvan, in Glamorganshire, where he is said to have baptised Machutus, whose name (under the French form of Malo), is cherished still as that of one of the apostles of Brittany.
Returning to Ireland, Saint Brendan founded several monasteries, the most important of them being that of Clonfert, on the Shannon. He is said to have had as many as three thousand monks under him in his various foundations. The saint was also closely connected with Scotland, where he founded monasteries; it is thought that one was in Bute and the other in Tiree. His many dedications are an indication of Scottish devotion to him, Kilbrannan (Church of Saint Brandan) in Mull, Kilbrandon in the Isle of Seil, Boyndie in Banffshire, Birnie in Moray and Kilbirnie in Ayrshire (where the saint’s fair is held on May 28th—16th old style) are some of these. At Kilbirnie is Saint Birnie’s Well; another named after this saint is in Barra. Another fair, granted in 1474, was held on this day at Inverary (Argyllshire). There is a ruined chapel bearing his name on Saint Kilda.
Saint Brendan’s name is associated with wonderful narratives—probably dating long after his time—of his voyages towards the west; they possibly contain some little truth mixed up with much that is entirely fabulous. It is beyond doubt that Saint Brendan and his companions in their missionary voyages sailed to regions hitherto unknown to the mariners of the time; it has even been maintained that they actually touched the American shore. However this may be, the tradition of the discoveries of the saint, familiar to every country in Europe, kept in mind the possibly existing western land, and issued at last in the discovery of the American continent by Columbus.
A curious custom in connection with Saint Brendan existed up to almost recent times. When they wished for a favourable wind the fishermen would cry repeatedly: Brainuilt! The word seems to be a contraction of Breanainn-Sheoladair (“Brendan the Voyager”), and was originally an invocation of the saint. The feast of Saint Brendan has been restored to the Scottish Calendar.