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WE should not be astonished at the reality of St. Brendan's voyages, nor even consider them as something very extraordinary for his time. If Tacitus, at the end of the first century of our era, speaks' of the well-known approaches and harbors of Ireland, of its commerce and merchants; we may suppose that the Irish at the time shared with the Carthaginians the trade of the Mediterranean Sea, and supplied Rome itself not only with the tin of the Sorlingues, but also with the fish of the nothern Atlantic. We have noticed that its kings of the next following centuries were mightier on the seas than they were in their own land;’ and it is an admitted fact that, after St. Patrick had converted the Irish, the Isle of the Saints scattered its legions of apostles over the ocean north and west, as well as over the continent east and south. The Currachs of the monks rivalled with the merchantmen of their laic brethren; and it is no wonder if Procopius has received information in regard to Iceland, Greenland, and other boreal countries of America from men “who had seen the sun shine for forty successive days and nights.”
Adamnan, a fair writer of the seventh century, composed a reliable biography of his predecessor, the abbot St. Columba, who died in the year 595 or 597. In this Life of St. Columba, whose original manuscript was found in a monastery of Bavaria, are recorded several voyages of Irish monks similar to those of St. Brendan. Hundreds of disciples of St. Brendan and St. Columba set out, as their masters, on their nautical “pilgrimages,” either to discover solitary spots where they might live, undisturbed, a contemplative life, or to find pagan nations which they might convert to holy religion. Thus we learn from Adamnan that Baitan, a nephew of Niath-Taloire, asked Columba to bless him before setting sail in quest of an ocean desert." We translate from the same Life: “At another time, Cormac, a soldier of Christ, tried a second time to find an uninhabited land in the midst of the waves, and left his country with all sails set for the immense ocean. St. Columba happened to reside, at that very time.” beyond the Grampian Mountains, and met Brude, the king of Scotland, in company with the chieftain of the Orkneys. And he said to the king, “Some of our monks have recently started to discover unknown land in the wide water, and maybe they will, after long circumnavigations, arrive at the Orkney Islands. Recommend, therefore, to the earl, whose hostages are in your hands, that he should not allow any harm to be done them within the limits of his dominions.” Thus spoke Columba, because he foreknew that, after a number of months, Cormac would land at the Orkney group. Cormac actually arrived after some time; and, through the intercession of the holy man, the voyagers not only escaped impending death in the Orkneys, but even succeeded in converting many of their pagan inhabitants.” " From these statements it appears that St. Cormac * had sailed from one group of islands to another, all through the Atlantic, north of Great Britain. He made a third voyage, of which Adamnan writes as follows: “The third time that Cormac was laboring on the ocean he met with danger of his life. After leaving land his vessel was hurried under full canvas by a fair southern wind directly to the northern region of the heavens, during the space of fourteen summer days and of the same number of nights. He thus went farther than any man had been known to sail, and his return seemed to be impossible. It happened that, at the tenth hour of that fourteenth day, Cormac and his companions were overtaken with great fear and terror, for certain lands, unknown until that time, came in sight above the waves, and a host of obnoxious little animals attacked the vessel, fore and aft and on every side, with such violence that the sailors were afraid they might perforate the skins with which their craft was covered. They were, as the sailors afterwards related, about as large as frogs, and provided with very offensive stings; they did not fly, however, but swam.” They even as
'Vita Agricolae, cap. xxiv. * Supra, vol. i. p. 322. *Supra, p. 19.
* Acta SS. Bolland., ad diem 9. Brude, king of the Picts, yet beJunii, 19, p. 204; Fowler, p. 33. fore 577. (Fowler, p. 103, n. 3, p.
* Perhaps in the year 563, the lxxiii.) probable date of the conversion of
"Acta SS. Bolland., ad diem 9. Junii: St. Columba, 76, p. 224; Fowler, p. 116; Mémoires des Antiq., 1845–49, p. 220, ref. to Fordun, Scotichronicon, iv. 12.
* He also is noticed on the catalogue of Irish saints.
* It is suggested to the editor— Fowler, p. 117, n. 1—that the creatures referred to must have been the common stinging jelly-fish, clantea capillata. They are larger than frogs, but their brown color and the fact that the rounded bell
of a floating cyanaea above the water is not unlike the rounded back of a frog on the water's surface might have suggested the comparison. The jelly-fish are often a great impediment to rowing, their long tentacula becoming entangled in the blades of the oars; and fishermen know but too well the effect of their stinging filaments when they handle ropes, nets, oars, or anything that has come in contact with the jelly-fish. As to shoals of medusae in the North Sea, see
sailed the blades of the oars. Seeing all this and other
Baster, Opuscula Subseciva, 1765, * Pytheas and Dicuil.
We have, however, more ample and distinct intelligence regarding the continued and regular intercourse between Christian Ireland or Scotia, as it was called at the time, and the various groups of islands in the northern parts of the Atlantic; and it may not be out of place to give a few particulars here, because Iceland and its adjoining islets are geographical dependencies of America, and were the scene of a series of events which afterwards led again to the discovery of both the northern and the eastern regions of the American continent.
During his former voyage St. Brendan met with Irish monks or hermits on almost every island where he touched, and, according to various legends related by Gaffarel, it would seem that several islands of the Atlantic were inhabited by Irish religious shortly after their conversion by St. Patrick." These legendary reports are generally admitted by the learned.” Nay, Dicuil, in the beginning of the ninth century, and Adam of Bremen, in the eleventh, attested that the Irish monks were the first discoverers of some of these oceanic Solitudes,” although, from what we have said before," and from similar remarks of William Reeves, who, in his edition of St. Columba's Life, cites instances of the Irish finding in early times their way to Iceland, the Faroes, and the frozen seas, we should rather think that to pagan Erin, if not to Norway, belongs the honor of more ancient boreal discoveries.”
It is beyond all doubt that monks and bishops from
'O'Donoghue, pp. 137, 151, 170, * Von Humboldt, Examen, t. ii. etc.; Gaffarel, Découverte, t. i. ch. p. 160. viii. s. 1. * Supra, vol. i. p. 321; vol. ii. p. *Won Humboldt, Kosmos, S. 27. 273; Peschel, Erdkunde, ed. So- * Fowler, p. 116, n. 3; Vivier de phus Ruge, S. 81, and Zeitalter der Saint-Martin, Histoire de la GéoEntdeckungen, S. 80. graphie, p. 230.