Brendan of Birr

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Saint Brendan of Birr
Birr St. Brendan's Church St. Brendan Window 2010 09 10.jpg
Stained glass window depicting St. Brendan in St. Brendan's Church, Birr.
Prophet of Ireland
Died c. 573[1]
Birr, Ireland
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion
Orthodox Church
Feast 29 November

Saint Brendan of Birr (died c. 572) was one of the early Irish monastic saints. He was a monk and later an abbot, of the 6th century. He is known as "St Brendan the Elder" to distinguish him from his contemporary and friend St Brendan the Navigator of Clonfert.[2] He was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland,[3] a friend and disciple of Saint Columba.[4]


In early Christian Ireland the druid tradition collapsed with the spread of the new faith. Study of Latin learning and Christian theology in monasteries flourished. Brendan became a pupil at the monastic school at Clonard Abbey. During the sixth century, some of the most significant names in the history of Irish Christianity studied at the Clonard monastery. It is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard was 3,000.[3] Twelve students who studied under Saint Finian became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland; Brendan of Birr was one of these.


Brendan of Birr is said to have been of a noble Munster family.[5] It was at Clonard that Brendan became a friend and companion of Ciarán of Saigir and Brendan of Clonfert.[1]

He founded the monastery at Birr[1] in central Ireland in about 540, serving as its abbot. He emerges from early Irish writings as a man of generous hospitality with a reputation for sanctity and spirituality who was an intuitive judge of character.[2] He was considered one of the chief prophets of Ireland. This is evidenced both in his title ('Prophet of Ireland'), and by his attendance at the synod of Meltown, in which Saint Columba was brought to trial over his role in the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561. Brendan spoke on Columba's behalf, prompting the assembled clerics to sentence Columba with exile rather than excommunication.[4] His friendship and support for Columba resulted in important connections between Birr and the Columban foundations.[2] An adviser of Columba said that the saint saw a vision of Brendan's soul being carried away by angels after his death. He thereupon ordered for a mass to be said in his honour.[6]

The feast day of Brendan of Birr is 29 November.

Brendan's monastery at Birr was later to produce the MacRegol Gospels, which are now housed at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Duffy, Patrick. "Brendan of Birr, Abbot", Caitlicigh Ar An nGreasan
  2. ^ a b c "St. Brendan the Elder of Birr", Birr Historical Society
  3. ^ a b Gratton-Flood, W.H. (March 1, 1907). "The Twelve Apostles of Erin". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. I. Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  4. ^ a b c Farmer, David Hugh (1997). The Oxford dictionary of saints (4. ed.). Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-19-280058-2. 
  5. ^ Lanigan, John. An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland: from the first introduction of Christianity to the beginning of the thirteenth century, Chap. X, J. Cumming, Dublin, 1829
  6. ^ Adomnan of Iona. Life of St. Columba, Penguin UK, 1995

See also[edit]