The Brendan voyage

by Timothy Severin

Paper Book, 1978



Call number

G470 .S48


New York : McGraw-Hill, c1978.


Could an Irish monk in the sixth century really have sailed all the way across the Atlantic in a small open boat, thus beating Columbus to the New World by almost a thousand years? Relying on the medieval text of St. Brendan, award-winning adventure writer Tim Severin painstakingly researched and built a boat identical to the leather curragh that carried Brendan on his epic voyage. He found a centuries-old, family-run tannery to prepare the ox hides in the medieval way; he undertook an exhaustive search for skilled harness makers (the only people who would know how to stitch the three-quarter-inch-thick hides together); he located one of the last pieces of Irish-grown timber tall enough to make the mainmast. But his courage and resourcefulness were truly tested on the open seas, including one heart-pounding episode when he and his crew repaired a dangerous tear in the leather hull by hanging over the side--their heads sometimes submerged under the freezing waves--to restitch the leather. A modern classic in the tradition of Kon-Tiki, The Brendan Voyage seamlessly blends high adventure and historical relevance. It has been translated into twenty-seven languages since its original publication in 1978. With a new Introduction by Malachy McCourt, author of A Monk Swimming… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Could Irish monks in leather boats have reached North America before the Vikings? That's the question Tim Severin and his crew set out to answer in the summer of 1976. Mining the text of the Navigatio sancti brendani and other medieval sources for clues, Severin built a curragh of the same wood,
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leather, and flax that were used in early medieval Ireland. As they followed a northern route across the Atlantic, they discovered that the Navigatio is based on more than legend. Both their nautical experiences and the geographical features along their route bore too much resemblance to the text of the Navigatio to be coincidence. The re-creation of a medieval voyage will appeal to history lovers, while the exhilaration and dangers of the ocean journey will appeal to adventure and survival enthusiasts. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Sarahsponda
Wow! This was fascinating! Severin balances narrative and research/archaeology very well, supplying background information while keeping the story moving. Though the book is not lacking in photographs, I still wanted more. I'll be tracking down his other books.
LibraryThing member WrathofAchilles
I've read this several times, and love it more each time. Big research plus big preparation plus big balls equals big adventure.
LibraryThing member mdoris
This fantastic book has been languishing on my shelves for far too long. After I read Haven by Emma Donoghue about three monks venturing off the west coast of Ireland (7th century) to establish a retreat on the outer islands, I was intrigued with the notion of ocean travel in skin boats. There is a
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theory that the Irish monks traveled in skin boats to North America in the 500's A.D. so Tim Severin figured out how these boats would have been made from tanned skins, flax thread and sheep fat as a sealant and ventured in the 1970s in a replica boat built to make the same trip. The trip was a nail biter going north along the coast to the Hebrides, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, past Greenland and finally to Newfoundland with 4 sailors and with success. It managed severe gale force storms, ruined food, harsh elements of driving rain and plunging temperatures and frightening battles with sea ice that punctured their boat. What a great book! The book has a number of amazing photographs and drawings. Many years ago I saw Severin's boat, the curragh, at at the Craggaunowen open-air museum in County Clare, Ireland.
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LibraryThing member janglen
Fascinating. Full of detail about the building of the boat, and the links to the 6th century voyage of St Brendan from Ireland to Newfoundland, but always very readable. The voyage itself makes a gripping story.
LibraryThing member kenno82
I was unfamiliar with stories of ocean setting Irish monk explorers from the 8th century, setting out to uncover new lands. Sounds like fantasy. However, by recreating the voyage of Saint Brendan with traditional boat building materials such as leather, Severin sets out to prove that the historical
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account is factual, yet simply naiive in its retelling.

Severin's adventure and commitment to the historical value of his trip is comendable. I found the early parts of the book to be the most interesting as he tried to source the correct materials to build the boat. The characters involved seemed fascinating and I would've loved to learn more about them.

From a different writer, I think this book could have been much more entertaining to read. However, Severin treads a fine balance between appealing to all interests.
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LibraryThing member pmarshall
Tim Severin sets out to, as historical as possible, replica the voyages of the Irish monk Saint Brendan to the Promise Land to the west of Ireland, the new world. Saint Brendan made his voyages over a period of seven summers, approximately one thousand years ago. Severin made his aboard the Brendan
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in the summers of 1976 and 1977.

Following closely the information in the [Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis] the recorded history of the saint's voyage, an open curragh was made of forty-nine oxhides stitched together with a flax thread to forming a patchwork quilt and then stretched over an ash frame. The flexibility of the hide and the ash was extremely important in the sailing and survival of the craft. Two tarpaulins mid and aft provide shelter, covered storage, sleeping quarters for the five then four crew, as well as cooking and radio facilities. Saint Brendan traveled with a crew of twelve to fourteen.

Based on his interpretation of the Navigatio Severin believed the route was north to the Hebrides, then west to the Faroes, Iceland and then to Newfoundland, Canada. His account of the wild North Atlantic waters, the icebergs of Greenland, the people encountered on route would make for a wild seafaring yarn except this is nonfiction, a true life adventure!

Severin provides detailed information on his research and even the ebook contains some photos. What is missing are maps, for me a deduction of half
a star. Highly recommended Four ✨.
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Original publication date


Physical description

viii, 292 p.; 25 cm


0070563357 / 9780070563353


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