St. Brendan of Birr, Abbot and “Prophet of Ireland”
St. Brendan of Birr, also known as “Brendan the Elder” was born around the year 500 in Ireland. He founded the monastery at Birr in Offaly, central Ireland c.540, and served as its abbot.
St. Brendan of Birr was a contemporary of the far more famous Saint Brendan the Navigator (d. 578). He was a member of The Twelve Apostles of Ireland — Irish saints of the 6th century who studied under St Finian at the rigorous monastery of Clonard Abbey at Cluain-Eraird. He was also a friend and disciple of Saint Columba of Iona.
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. Twelve students who studied under Saint Finian became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland; Brendan of Birr was one of these. It was at Clonard that Brendan became a friend and companion of Brendan of Clonfert.
He founded the monastery at Birr 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. 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. His friendship and support for Columba resulted in important connections between Birr and the Columban foundations. 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 honor.
Brendan died November 29th around 571. At Brendan’s death, Columba had a vision of the abbot‘s soul being carried away by angels.
Most glorious ascetic and chief of Ireland‘s Prophets, O Father Brendan, thou wast a bright beacon in the western isle guiding many to salvation. At thy heavenly birthday the Angels rejoiced and miraculously announced their joy to our Father Columba. The prayers of the righteous avail much for us sinners. Wherefore O Saint, pray to God for us that He will find us a place in the Mansions of the Blest.
~ Troparion of Saint Brendan of Birr