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This is an excerpt from Whitley Stokes' translation of an Irish life of Brendan, entitled Betha Bhrenainn meic Fhinnlogha ("Life of Brenainn, son of Finnlugh"). The original version forms part of the Book of Lismore.
Stokes' translation appeared in the 1890 work Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, published by Clarendon Press in Oxford, England. The transcription appears on pages 99-116, whilst the translation runs from page 247 to page 261.
The Betha Bhrenainn begins at line 3305 with an account of Brendan's birth & early years. The excerpted text starts some way into the document, from line 3554.


3554Now after the Rule of the angel and the Rules of the saints of Ireland, with their usages and with their piety, had been written by Brenainn, he returned to bishop Eirc and received ecclesiastical orders from him.

There he heard in the gospel: "Every one that hath forsaken father or mother or sister or lands (for my name s sake) shall receive a hundredfold in the present, and shall possess everlasting life."

After that, then, the love of the Lord grew exceedingly in his heart, and he desired to leave his land and his country, his parents and his fatherland, and he urgently besought the Lord to give him a land secret, hidden, secure, delightful, separated from men.

Now after he had slept on that night he heard the voice of the angel from heaven, who said to him, "Arise, O Brenainn," saith he, "for God hath given thee what thou soughtest, even the Land of Promise [Tir Tairngire]."

Then Brenainn arose, and his mind was glad at that answer, and he goes alone to Sliab Daidche, and he saw the mighty intolerable ocean on every side, and then he beheld the beautiful noble island, with trains of angels (rising) from it. After that he remains there for the space of three days, and again he fell asleep.

So then the angel of the Lord came to commune with him, and said, "I will be along with thee," saith he, "henceforward for ever and ever, and I will teach thee how to find the beautiful island which thou hast seen, and which thou desirest to obtain."

Brenainn then wept exceedingly, because of his delight at the angels answer to him, and he renders thanks unto God.


3573Thereafter Brenainn went from the mountain, and comes to his family, and said to them, "Let three great vessels be built by you," saith he, "and three rows of oars for each ship, and three sails of hides; and thirty men in each ship." But they were not all clerics, as said the Poet:

Three vessels, the sage said
Over the wave-voice of the flowing [?] sea.
men in each vessel he had
Over the storm of the crested sea.
Three ranks of can had they
For every vessel, fair the decision,
A sail of hides, with a powerful knowledge,
In the three vessels which sailed.
They were not all clerics who went
On the voyage, fair the host!
A family [...] bare its [...]
In the three sailing vessels.


3589So Brenainn, son of Finnlug, sailed then over the wave-voice of the strong-maned sea, and over the storm of the green-sided waves, and over the mouths of the marvellous, awful, bitter ocean, where they saw the multitude of the furious red-mouthed monsters, with abundance of the great sea-whales. And they found beautiful marvellous islands, and yet they tarried not therein.

3594Thus they abode for the space of five years on the ocean marvellous, strange, unknown to them. And during that time not one of them departed. and they suffered loss of none of their people, and body or soul of not one of them was injured. And that was a marvel, for Brenainn had not let them take provisions with them; but he said that God was able to feed them wheresoever they might be, even as He fed the five thousand with the five loaves and the two fishes.


3602Now when the Easter was nigh, his family kept saying to Brenainn that he should go on land to celebrate the Easter.

"God," saith Brenainn, "is able to give us land in any place that He pleases."

Now after the Easter had come the great sea-beast raised his shoulder on high over the storm and over the wave-voice of the sea, so that it was level, firm land, like a field equally smooth, equally high. And they go forth upon that land and there they celebrate the Easter, even one day and two nights. After they had gone on board their vessels, the whale straightway plunged under the sea. And it was in that wise they used to celebrate the Easter, to the end of seven years, on the back of the whale, as Cundedan said:

Brendan loved lasting devotion
According to synod and company -
Seven years on the back of the whale
Hard was the rule of devotion.

3615For when the Easter of every year was at hand the whale would heave up his back, so that it was dry and solid land.


3617On a certain day, as they were on the marvellous ocean, they beheld the deep bitter streams, and the vast black whirlpools of the strong-maned sea, and in them their vessels were constrained to founder because of the greatness of the storm. Each then begins to look towards Brenainn, for exceeding was the danger in which they were biding.

Brenainn raised his voice on high and said, "It is enough for thee, O mighty sea! to drown me alone. but let this folk escape from thee!"

Then the sea grew still, and the sea abated the whirlpools at once. Thence-forward then they harmed no one else.


3625On a certain day they were on the sea, the Devil came in a form inveterate, awful, hideous. foul, hellish, and sat on the sail of the vessel before Brenainn; and none of them saw him save Brenainn alone. Brenainn asked him why he had come before his proper time, that is. before the time of the great resurrection.

"For this have I come," saith the Devil, "to seek my punishment in the deep closes of this black dark sea."

Brenainn enquired of him, "What is this, where is that infernal place?"

"Sad is that," saith the Devil; "no one can see it and remain alive afterwards."


Howbeit the Devil there revealed the gate of hell to Brenainn. And Brenainn beheld that rough, hot prison, full of stench, full of flame, full of filth, full of the camps of the poisonous demons, full of wailing, and screaming and hurt, and sad cries, and great lamentations, and moaning, and hand-smiting of the sinful folks; and a gloomy mournful life in cores of pain, in prisons of fire, in streams of the rows of eternal fire in the cup of eternal sorrow and death, without limit without end: in black dark swamps, in forts of heavy flame, in abundance of woe, and death, and torments, and fetters, and feeble, wearing combats; with the shouting of the poisonous demons; in a night ever-dark, ever-cold, ever-stinking, ever-foul, ever-misty, ever-harsh, ever-long, ever-stifling, deadly, destructive, gloomy, fiery-haired, of the loathsome bottom of hell.

3642On sides of mountains of eternal fire, without rest, without stay, but hosts of demons dragging the sinners into prisons, wretched, heavy, strong, fiery, dark, deep, occult, empty, base, black, void, foul, stale, musty, constantly contentious, quarrelsome, wearying, deathful, and lamentable: sharp, rough, windy, full of wailing, shrieking, lamentation, and crying: keen, spectral. Worms curved, hard valiant, big headed, and monsters yellow, white, great-mouthed; lions fierce, greedy; dragons red, black, brown, demoniac; tigers mighty, treacherous; scorpions blue, [...]; hawks red, and tall; vultures rough, and sharp-beaked; stag-beetles black- and hump-backed; flies sharp and beaked; leeches crooked, bone-mouthed; mallets heavy, iron; flails ancient old-rough; sharp swords; red spears; black demons; stinking fires; streams of poison; cats scratching; hounds rending; dogs hunting; demons yelling; stinking lakes; great swamps; dark pits; deep glens; high mountains; hard crags; a hosting of demons; a filthy camp; punishment without ceasing; a greedy host; frequent fray, quarrel without ceasing; demons punishing; abundance of torture; a sorrowful life a place wherein there are streams frozen. bitter, ever-stinking, rushing [?], extended, mixed, lamentable, corrupt, melted, fiery, bare, swift, of full fire; straits hard, craggy, sharp-headed, long cold, deep, wind-swept, little, great; plains bare, flaming; hills pointed glens hard, full of reptiles; bogs rough, thorny; woods dark, fiery; roads foul, monsterful; seas thickened surface-sinking: nails huge, iron; waters dark, unsweet; places [?] abundant, various an assembly foul, ever-gloomy; winds bitter, wintry; snow frozen, ever-dropping; flakes red, fiery; faces base, darkened; demons swift, greedy; tortures vast, various.

3669Then his people asked of Brenainn: "With whom an thou conversing?" say they.

Brenainn told them that it was the Devil was conversing with him, and he related to them a fear of the torments which he had seen, as we have said, even as hath been found in the old writings of the ancient law.

3673Then said one of his people to Brenainn, "Let me," saith be, "behold somewhat of those torments."

On being permitted to behold Hell with its many torments, he died forthwith, and this he said when dying: "Woe, woe, woe," saith he, "to him who hath come, and will come, and cometh into that prison!"

Thereafter then Brenainn makes prayer, and that man of his people who died is brought again to life.


3678It was not long after they had gone thence when they found the maiden smooth, fully-grown, yellow-haired, whiter than snow, or the foam of the wave; and she was dead, the blow of a spear having gone through her shoulder and passed between her two paps. Huge in sooth was the size of that maiden, to wit, a hundred feet in her height, and nine feet between her two paps, and seven feet in the length of her middle finger. Brenainn brought her to life at once, and then he baptised her and asked her concerning her kindred.

"Of the inhabitants of the sea am I," saith she, "that is, of those who pray and expect their resurrection."

Brenainn asked her what she desired: "Wilt thou go at once to heaven, or wilt thou go to thy fatherland?"

The girl answered in a language which no other save Brenainn understood, and this she said: "To heaven," saith she, "for I hear the voices of the angels praising the mighty Lord."

So after the girl had partaken of the Body of Christ, and of His blood, she died without any distress, and she is buried honourably there by Brenainn.


3691On a certain day when they were prosperously on the sea and they were rowing, they beheld a certain beautiful island and it was lofty. Howbeit they found no easy harbour or port in it for entrance. They continued on round about it to the end of twelve days, and during that space they were unable to land upon it. Howbeit they heard men's voices therein praising the Lord, and they beheld therein a church high, famous, delightful. When they heard the sound of the voice of the folk of the island, Brenainn with his people straightway slumber in their spiritual sleep.

Now since they were not allowed to land on the island, from above a waxed tablet is cast down to them, and it was inscribed, and this was thereon: "Spend no toil in trying to enter this island. for ye will never come therein; but the island which Ye seek ye will find, and this is not it. And to thy country and to thy land, for there is a multitude seeking thee, and who would fain see thee. And search the holy scriptures wherein hath been said: Mansiones Dei multæ sunt, as if this were what was said: 'The Lord hath many places and other mansions apart from this island.'"

Thereafter then they turn from that island, and in token of the welcome and care of the folk of that island, they take with them yon waxed tablet which it had given to them, and they used to read it every day as if it had been given them by God.


3707Now on a certain day they were voyaging over the sea. An exceeding great thirst seized them, so that death was nigh unto them. Then they beheld the beautiful pure-brinked streams of water dropping and flowing out of the rock.

The brethren asked, "Shall we drink the water?" saith they.

"Bless it first," saith Brenainn, "in order to know what thing it is."

Now after blessing the water. and after singing hallelujah over it, suddenly yon streams ebb away, and then they beheld the Devil, squirting the waters from him, and killing those that would drink them. So then they are saved through Brenainn"s powers, and their thirst disappeared straightway. Howbeit that place is shut upon the Devil, so that from that time forward it did no ill to man or to other animals.


3717Now after Brenainn had been for seven years a-voyaging, he turned again to his own country and land as he had been ordered in the island. Then came the folk of his country and his own tribe to meet him, and they were asking him how much he had from his voyage; and they brought him treasures and gifts as if they were giving them to God. Now after many of them had left the world, they then follow Christ; and he (Brenainn) then performs many miracles and marvels, and healed the sick and [freed] the bound, and expelled devils and vices.

3724There after he communed with his foster-father bishop Eirc. He then came to the place wherein his foster-mother Ita dwelt, and he asked her what he should do as regards voyaging.

Ita made welcome to him as she would have made it to Christ with His apostles, and this she said to him: "My dear son, why didst thou go on a voyage without taking counsel with me? For the land which thou art seeking from God, thou wilt never find it after those dead stained skins, for it is a holy consecrated land, and men's blood hath never been spilt therein. Howbeit," she saith, "let wooden vessels be built by thee, and it is probable that thus thou wilt find the land later."

3732So after that Brenainn went into the district of Connacht. And there a great marvellous vessel is built by him, and it was distinguished and huge. And he embarks in her with his household and his people, and they came with them various plants and seeds to put therein and then they take wrights and smiths who had entreated Brenainn to let them go along with him.

Then came the buffoon to Brenainn and prostrated himself before him, and said, "O Brenainn," saith he, take me for God's sake, and have pity on my misery, so that I may go with thee."

Brenainn then took him with him, and he enters the vessel with them.

Now sixty men, this was their number, and they were all praising the Lord, and their minds were towards God, as the writings declare.


3741Now this is the direction they first took, towards Aran, to the place wherein Enda dwelt, and Pupu, and Rochath; and in their company they remained for the space of a month.


3743Now, after they had sailed for some time westward from Aran they see the island great, lofty, remarkable, beautiful. Now therein dwelt mice like sea-cats, which filled the strand at once to swallow them up.

Now the brethren ask of Brenainn, "What do these mice desire?" saith they.

"To eat us and to swallow us up," saith Brenainn. Then Brenainn said to the buffoon: "Go," saith he, "and partake of Christ"s Body and His Blood, and then to eternal life, for I hear the quire-singing of angels calling thee to them."

That seemed good to him, and he said, "Lord," saith he, "what good thing have I done, since I am taken at once to heaven?"

So after the buffoon had partaken of Christ's Body and His Blood, he leaps at once (ashore) with exceeding joy, and the sea-cats devoured him all save a few of his bones. And he is buried by the brethren. and his name is written in a martyrology, for he was a wonderful martyr. It is manifestly from the mercy of the Lord, that the notoriously sinful man who came last into the vessel should be chosen to go first to heaven. Even so then will every well-meaning person who shall come last into the Church go first unto heaven, through excess of good beyond those who had been before him: as Christ saith, "The first shall be last, and the last first."


3760Now after they had left that island, a sudden illness seized the smith, so that death was nigh him.

Brenainn said to him, "Why marvellest thou?" saith he: "Go to the heavenly kingdom as thou hast sought till today, or if thou desirest to abide still in the world, I will make prayer for thee unto God, and thou wilt find health."

Howbeit the smith said, "I hear the voice of the Lord calling me;" and after partaking of Christ's Body and His Blood, he goes to heaven.

So there was a great question amongst the brethren as to the body being without burial, for there was no land near them. Then Brenainn declared that it should be buried among the waves of the sea: for that He who had made heaven and earth and the rest of the elements was able to constrain the waves of the sea, to keep the body in them immovably. So without reaching the land they bury the smith amongst the waves of the sea, down, without rising to the top of the brine, without moving hither or thither, but as it were on land; and he will abide there without corrupting till the day of the judgement shall come.


3774Now after they had left that place they beheld a little insignificant land. After they had taken harbour there, the harbour is filled with devils in the shape of dwarfs and pigmies, with their faces as black as coal.

Then said Brenainn, "Cast out the anchor, for no one will be able to enter this country save he who shall fight human battles against devils and shall spill blood over them."

So they remained there to the end of seven days and their nights, and they could not hoist up their anchor from below, and there they leave it sticking among the rocks, and then they pass away.

3781Now they were in great distress from the want of the anchor and the death of the smith, for they had neither an anchor nor a smith who would make one for them.

Then said Brenainn to a priest of his household, "Do thou smith"s work to the end of this month."

So Brenainn blessed the hands of the priest, for he had not learned smithying. Then the priest made an anchor so excellent that none equally good was ever found before it and will not be found after it.


3787Then they voyage on the ocean for a space westward. And they find the small, delightful, beautiful island, and therein abundance of excellent fish which had left the seashore and were in the enclosures and in the cashels of that lofty island. So while they were going round about the island, they behold therein a church built of stone, and a penitent white-faced old man praying therein. Thus was that old man, bloodless, fleshless, only a thin wretched leather on those hard-bare bones.

3792Then said yon old man: "Flee swiftly, saith he, "O Brenainn! There is a great sea-cat here like a young ox or a three-year-old horse, overgrown by feeding on the fish of this sea and this island. Avoid ye him," saith the old man.

They get at once into their vessel, and then row rapidly over the ocean. As they were biding there they beheld the monstrous sea-cat swimming after them. Bigger than a brazen cauldron was each of his eyes: a boar's a had he: furzy hair upon him; and he had the maw of a leopard with the strength of a lion, and the voracity of a bound. Then each of them began to pray unto God because of the greatness of the fear that seized them.

Then said Brenainn, "Almighty God," saith he, "order the monster away from us that he may not devour us!" Then a huge sea-whale arose between them and yon monstrous sea-cat. And each of them began drowning the other, and battling savagely, till each of them drowned the other in the depth of the sea, and neither of the twain was seen thenceforward. Then Brenainn and his people render thanks to God, and go again to the place wherein the old man dwelt. And the old man made them welcome, and wept for the greatness of the joy, and in making welcome to Brenainn composed these little staves:

God thy life, O Brenainn, here, etc.

3833"Of the men of Ireland am I," saith the old man, "and we were twelve men when we went on our pilgrimage and we brought yon monstrous sea-cat with us, as a little bird, and he was very dear to us, and after that he waxed greatly, and never did any hurt to us. And eleven men of them are dead, and I am here alone, entreating thee to administer unto me Christ's Body and His Blood, and that I may then go to heaven."

Now the old man revealed to them the land which they were seeking, even the Land of Promise. So after the old man had partaken of Christ"s Body and His Blood, he went to heaven, and he is buried there in the island along with his brethren, with honour and great reverence, and with psalms and hymns, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.


3843After that, then, they reached the land which they had been seeking for the space of seven years, even the Land of Promise: as it is in the proverb, Qui quærit inuenit.

Now, after they had come nigh that land, and they desired to take harbour there, they beard the voice of a certain old man, and this he said to them: "O ye toilsome men, O hallowed pilgrims, O folk that entreat the heavenly rewards, O ever-weary life expecting this land, stay a little now from your labour!"

So after they had been for some time silent, yon old man said to them: "Dear brothers in Christ," saith he, "why do ye not take this noble, beautiful land, wherein a human being's blood bath never been spilt, and wherein it is meet to bury sinners or evil men? So leave ye all in your vessel everything that ye have, except a little raiment round you, and come from below."

Now after they had landed, each of them kissed the other, and the old man wept exceedingly with the greatness of the joy.

"Search ye and see," saith he, "the plains of Paradise, and the delightful fields of the land radiant, famous, loveable, profitable, lofty, noble, beautiful, delightful. A land odorous, flower-smooth, blessed. A land many-melodied, musical, shouting for joy, unharmful.

"A place wherein Ye shall find," saith the old man, "health without sickness, delight without quarrelling, union without wrangling, princedom without dissolution, rest without idleness, freedom without labour, luminous unity of angels, delights of Paradise, service of angels, feasting without extinction, avoidance of pain, faces of the righteous, partaking of the Great Easter.

"A life blessed, just, protected, great, loveable, noble, restful, radiant, without gloom, without darkness without sin, without weakness, in shining incorruptible bodies, in stations of angels, on plains of the Land of Promise. Vast is the light and the fruitfulness of that island, its rest, its lovableness, its dearness its stability, its security [?], its preciousness, its smoothness, its radiance, its purity, its lovesomeness, its whiteness, its melodiousness, its holiness, its bright purity, its nobleness, its restfulness, its beauty, its gentleness, its height, its brightness, its venerableness, its full peace, its full unity!

"Happy he who shall be with well-deservingness and with good deeds, and whom son of Finnlug shall call into union with him, on that side," saith the old man, "to inhabit for-ever and ever the island whereon we stand!"

3873Now after they had seen that paradise among the waves of the sea, they marvel, and wonder greatly at the miracles of God and His power and they honour and glorify the Lord after seeing those mighty miracles.

3876Now thus was the holy old man: without any human raiment, but all his body was full of bright white feathers like a dove or a sea-mew. and it was almost the speech of an angel that he had. After the striking of his bell the Tierce is celebrated by them. They sing thanks to God with their mind fixed on Him. They durst not ask anything, and they receive their spiritual instruction of him at the uplifting of the gospel.

3882This then was the preaching that Peter and Paul and the other holy apostles most often used to make, as preaching of the punishments and of the rewards, for they were displayed to them in the same manner. This, then, is the preaching that Sylvester, Abbot of Rome, made to Constantine, son of Helena, to the over-king of the world, in the great assembly when Constantine catered Rome to Peter and to Paul. This is the preaching that Fabian, Peter"s successor, made to Philip, son of Gordian, King of the Romans, when he believed in the Lord, and when many thousand others believed there, and he was the first king, of the Romans who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. This, then, is the preaching which Elijah is wont to make to the souls of the righteous under the Tree of Life in Paradise. Now, when Elijah opens the book for the preaching, then come the souls of the righteous in shapes of bright white birds to him from every point. Then he first declares to them the rewards of the righteous, the happiness and delights of the kingdom of heaven, and at that time they are exceedingly rejoiced. Then he declares to them the pains and punishments of hell and the banes of Doomsday. Manifest exceedingly is a countenance of sorrow upon themselves then, to wit, on Elijah and on Enoch: wherefore those are called the Two Sorrows of Heaven's Kingdom. Then Elijah shuts his preaching-book. The birds then make an exceeding great wailing, and beat their wings against their bodies till streams of blood come out of them for dread of the pains of hell and of Doomsday.

3899Now since it is the souls of the saints, whose lot it is to inhabit for ever the kingdom of heaven, that make that lamentation, it were meet for the men of the world, though they should shed tears of blood expecting Doomsday, in quo die mala erunt. Now there will be many evils and tribulations on that day, that is, on the Day of judgement, in quo die Judex justus sua suis reddet: impiis pænas, præmia justis. Then will the Lord pay to every human being in the world his own wage. Punishment He hath for the sinful, reward for the righteous. Then the sinful will be cast into the depth of the eternal pain. and the lock of God's word will shut them up under hatred of the Judge of Doom. Then the saints and the righteous the folk of charity and of be carried to the right hand of God the Father, to inhabit the kingdom of heaven for ever. Then they will abide in that great glory. in the unity of the Godhead and the Manhood of the Son of God: in the unity that is nobler than any unity, the unity of the holy, noble, almighty Trinity, Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.

3912I beseech the high, almighty God, through saint Brenainn's intercession, may we all deserve that unity, may we reach it, may we dwell therein for ever and ever!

Sir Graham