Brendan (490?-573) (DNB00)


BRENDAN or BRENAINN, Saint (490?–573), of Birr, which was so called from the abundance of wells there (birr, birra, water), now Parsonstown, in the King's County, was born about A.D. 490. He was son of Neman, a poet, and Mansenna, and belonged to the race of Corb Aulam, great-grandson of Rudhraighe, from whom were the Clanna Rudhraighe. A disciple of St. Finnian of Clonard, he is described in the Life of St. Finnian as 'a prophet in those schools.' He belonged, like the other Brendan (of Clonfert), to the second order of Irish saints, and is sometimes distinguished as Brendan the Senior. He was present at the council in which St. Columba was excommunicated, but was his intimate friend, and is said to have been consulted by him as to the place he should choose for his exile, on which occasion he recommended Hy. The foundation of his monastery of Birr is placed by some immediately before 563, but by others somewhat earlier. In the 'Felire' of Oengus Céle Dé" he is referred to at Nov. 29 as follows:

The royal feast of Brenann of Birr, Against whom burst the sea-level.
Fair diadem, much enduring,
White head of Ireland's prophets.

'Much enduring' is explained 'very great was he in enduring tribulations and troubles, or, in supporting the poor and needy for God's sake.' The note from the 'Lebar Brecc' explains the incident in the second line thus : 'The surge of the sea rose against him when he went thereon, and Brenainn, son of Findloga, caught him by the hand.' The term 'white head' seems to refer to the meaning of his name, for it may be observed that in the popular form of the name (Brendan) the termination is not the word ān, 'noble,' usually the suffix to Irish ecclesiastical names, as Colm-ān, Aid-ān, for the correct form in all Irish authorities is Brenann or Brenainn, of which Brenaind is a later form ; this is interpreted Braen-fhind, or Braen the Fair (Felire, lxxxvi).

His death, which took place in the eightieth year of his age, the night before 29 Nov., has been assigned by Ussher to 571, but by Tighernach to 573, which Dean Reeves thinks more likely. St. Columba is represented as having been aware of his death at the time of its occurrence, and to have seen his soul entering heaven accompanied by angels. 'Get ready the sacred service of the eucharist immediately' (he said to his attendant), 'for this is the natal day of Brendan.' 'Why,' said the attendant, 'do you order the sacred rites to-day, for no messenger has come from Ireland with tidings of that holy man's death ?' 'Go,' said Columba, 'and obey my orders, for last night I saw heaven open and choirs of angels descending to meet the soul of St. Brendan, and the whole world was illuminated by their brilliant and surpassing radiance.' His day in the calendar is 29 Nov.

[Reeves's Adamnan, pp. 209, 210, Dublin, 1857; Martyrology of Donegal, Dublin, 1864; Felire of Oengus Céle Dé, Transactions of Royal Irish Academy, pp. lxxxvi, clxvi, clxxiii; Ussher's Works, vi. 594, 595.]

T. O.