The Brendan Voyage

A few weeks ago I finished reading The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin. I actually stayed up late into the night to finish, I really couldn't put the book down.

It's an amazing story of Tim Severin's recreation of the 6th century voyage of St. Brendan from Ireland to North America. Yes, 6th century! The tale of the original voyage is told in the Voyage of Saint Brendan, which dates back to around 900AD.

The book begins with the author's quest to re-create the original boat as closely as possible to what would have been available to a 6th century Irish monk, also following details recorded in the original text. It turns out that this means a boat made out of wood with a leather hull. This is followed by much discussion and research into how well a leather boat could possibly survive years at sea, if at all! I found it really fascinating how Severin finds over and over again how traditional methods and materials actually perform quite well in the harsh environment of the North Atlantic. In fact, over the course of his voyage much of his more modern equipment breaks down with the constant exposure to salt water, where the traditional materials fare quite well.

Severin's planned voyage begins from the coast of Ireland, then continues north past Scotland, passing by the Faroe Islands on the way to Iceland. I found the passages describing the life of people living on these remote islands fascinating. It seems impossible that 6th century Irish monks had sought out and established monasteries on many of these lonely pillars of stone in the sea.

Tim Severin makes a really convincing case that not only was Saint Brendan's voyage possible, but that he wasn't the first Irish sailor to visit Iceland, Greenland, and possibly even North America.

The book was recommended on an episode of the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast, The First Saint in North America

I gave it 5 stars on goodreads. Highly, highly recommended book.