The Irish monks were intrepid and adventurous missionaries in the 6th and 7th centuries. St Columba founded the monastery on the island of Iona (563), which became a way-station for the conversion of the British Isles. St Columba spread the mission to continental Europe in the late 6th century. The Icelandic sagas report credibly that, when the Vikings first reached Iceland in 874, they found ‘papar’, religious hermits, already living there. St Brendan’s exploits are more tendentious. Born in Tralee bay in southern Ireland in c. 484, he received an impeccable religious education, from the nun St Ita. He made well-attested journeys to Argyll, Wales and Brittany, and founded a number of monasteries. But his fabled voyage to an Edenic land across the Atlantic is harder to credit, even if Tim Severin replicated the route 1976-77 in an ox-leather curragh of the type Brendan might have used.
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