Tim Severn’s unscheduled visit to Ballywhoriskey Pier on the Fanad Peninsula

Ballywhoriskey Pier. We once had a very special visitor to this pier. According to legend and some medieval manuscripts, Irish monk-explorer, St. Brendan, the Navigator, with his crew of seventeen monks set sail in leather hulled currach over the western ocean in search of “The land promised to the Saints”. After a voyage which lasted seven years, the legend tells us they discovered a huge lush island divided by a mighty river. Did they discover America before Columbus? Did they have a boat capable for such a voyage?

Well in the seventies Tim Severn the English historian and explorer painstakingly researched and built a boat identical to the currach that carried Brendan on his epic voyage. With four other experienced sailors he left Brandon Creek in Co. Kerry on the 17th May, 1976 in his own currach, named “Brendan”. Tim Severin later wrote a book, detailing the voyage, which became an international bestseller, translated into 16 languages, and of course in it he details their dramatic visit to Fanad, in the early stages of their voyage.

A dramatic rescue

Peter Mullet the photographer was injured, during a storm up along the Irish coast. On the evening of the 26th of May his condition worsened and Tim knew he would have to be taken ashore to get medical help. Subjected as they were to the run of tides and winds he decided to contact Malin Head Station and make them aware of their plight. The operator at Malin contacted Din Friel, a local fisherman at his home in Rinboy at 1.00 am on the 27th May. A short time later Din and his three sons were on board their boat “Rhealt Fhanaide” where radio contact was made with the Brendan and her position fixed at 2 miles west norwest of the Limebourner Rock. Within an hour of being alerted, Din and the lads had a tow line aboard the currach and an hour later both vessels were alongside the pier at Ballywhoriskey where the local Doctor and an ambulance were waiting and the injured photographer was soon en route to Letterkenny Hospital.

Recreating a legendary voyage

Tim and the other crew stayed in Din’s home until the evening of Saturday the 29th, where they were again taken in tow by Din and the lads to the point where they had been rescued. Din and his family were kept informed of the progress of the voyage by cards and letters sent by Tim and the crew from every port of call. On June the 26th 1977 the Brendan landed in Peckford Island,Newfoundland. Tim considered that his recreation of the voyage helped to identify the basis for so many of the legendary elements of the story and proved that an Irish monk in the 6th century could 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.

My father brought us youngsters to the pier at Ballywhoriskey to see the currach and Tim Severn had us all enthralled with his tale of building the Brendan and the story of St. Brendan The Navigator. Little did we know or understand at the time that we partaking in a bit of history in Ballywhoriskey on the Fanad Peninsula.

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