Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Bethada Náem nÉrenn (Author: [unknown])

Life 5


{folio 70b}

The Twelve Apostles of Ireland

The twelve apostles61 of Erin were in Clonard studying with Finnian; and Finnian made a feast to the apostles62 and to the other saints of Erin. When their enjoyment of the feast was at its height, they saw an indescribably large flower come to them as a token of the Land of Promise. Then they held earnest counsel as to going in search of the land of the flower. No one of them was before another in undertaking the journey thither; so lots were cast between them, that is between each pair of them; and the lot fell on the two Brendans to go. The two Brendans then cast lots between themselves, (to see) to which of them it would fall to go and seek for the Land of Promise. And the lot fell on Brendan of Birr to go.

Then all the saints of Erin became silent and troubled out of concern that it should have fallen to the Senior, that is to the eldest of the saints of Erin, and to the prophetic sage, to venture into the jaws63 of the sea and mighty ocean. Then said Brendan, the son of Findlug: ‘I am the younger; it is I who will venture on the ocean.’ And thereof one composed this lay:

    1. 1] They were studying for a long while,
      2] They recited diligently their lessons
      3] Under Finnian with his scores of cells,
      4] The twelve apostles of Erin.
    2. 5] They saw coming to them a flower,
      6] The comely noble company,
      7] From the bright (?) land of promise,64
      8] From the King of kings, from the royal Sovereign.
    3. 9] They all spake together,
      10] They came to a good resolve,
      11] Till they should reach it—mysterious the matter of it—
      12] They would seek the land of the flower.

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    5. 13] God separated from each pair of them,
      14] Of the ancient saints, the completion65 of the labour;
      15] By the will of the wondrous great lot,
      16] So that it fell to the two Brendans.

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    7. 17] Thus the glorious (?) God blessed them,
      18] With their vessels of malt,
      19] Brendan of Birr, an excellent prince,
      20] And Brendan son of Findlug.
    8. 21] They cast a fair goodly lot
      22] In the presence of the apostles;
      23] Brendan of Birr the famous,
      24] To him the journey fell.
    9. 25] (It seemed) hard to his just companions
      26] Amid their fair drinking horns,
      27] That he should venture in the track of the mighty sea,
      28] Their perfect sage and senior.66
    10. 29] ‘As I am the youngest here now,’,
      30] Said Brendan the younger aloud,67
      31] ‘Let what shall come of it fall on me;’,
      32] ‘It is I that will go on the ocean.’

Then was made by Brendan an excellent coracle for size and fullness of the crew; forty-five and seventy-three, that was the number that embarked in the coracle.

Then Brendan son of Findlug set sail on the roar of the roughcrested sea, and on the noise of the green-sloped waves, and on the hissing deep-blue brine, and into the jaws of the unknown ocean with its many creatures, wherein they found many marine monsters. And there too they would discover islands strange and beautiful, but they would not tarry longer in them.

They were then a year on the voyage, and Easter was then drawing near. So his company were saying to Brendan, that they must land in order to celebrate Easter. ‘God is able,’ said Brendan, ‘to give us land in any place68 that he pleases.’ When Easter came therefore, the great beast (whale) raised its shoulders aloft out of the sea, and it formed an even, firm, settled, broad, level, beautiful land.69 They disembarked on it, and celebrated Easter there. One day and two nights they remained in the place, till they had accomplished the ritual of Easter; after which they embarked in their coracle, and the great beast plunged under the sea. Each year, as Easter drew near, the great beast would raise its back above the sea, forming firm dry ground.

Once as they were on the ocean they saw vast70 eddies71. {folio 71a} The storm drew them against their will to the edge of the whirlpool. Then


great fear seized them because of the force of the storm72. Each of them began73 to gaze in Brendan's face, for the danger in which they were was exceeding great. Brendan then raised his voice on high and said: ‘Enough for thee, O mighty sea,’ said he , ‘to drown me; therefore release this company.’74 Then the sea grew calm at once, and the ebullitions (?)75 of the whirlpool abated thenceforth, and never harmed any one again.

Another day when they were on the sea, the devil came to them in an enchanted,76 most horrible, impure, and hellish form, and settled on the mast of the ship in the presence of Brendan alone. No one else of them saw him, but only Brendan. Brendan asked the devil why he had come from hell before his proper time, that is before the time of the great resurrection. ‘It is for this I am come indeed,’ said the devil, ‘to be tortured in the deep prisons of this black dark sea.’ Brendan asked him: ‘What and where is that hellish place?’ ‘Alas!’ said the devil, ‘no one can see it, and survive.’

Then the devil showed the door of hell to Brendan, and then Brendan saw the hard dark prison, full of stench, full of flame, full of filth, full of camps of poisonous devils, full of weeping,77 and shrieking and woe, of wretched cries and loud lamentations, of mourning and wringing of hands by the sinful people, and the life of grief and sorrow in the heart of pain, in fiery prisons, in currents of ever-blazing, streams, in the cup of lasting sorrow and of never-ending unceasing death, in dark sloughs, in seats of fierce flame, in abounding grief and death, and tortures, and chains, and heavy helpless struggles, amid the horrible screams of the poisonous demons, in the night ever dark, ever cold, ever fetid, ever foul, ever melancholy, ever rough, ever long, ever stifling, fatal, destructive, gloomy, bristling with fire, of the lower freezing hideous hell; on slopes of ever-fiery hills, without rest or stay, but hosts of demons haling the sinners into prisons78 heavy, strong, hot, fiery, dark, deep, lonely, futile, base, black, idle, foul, lengthy, enchanted, ever stinking, ever full of strife, and quarrel and weariness, ever dying, ever living.

Weeping sharp, fierce, stormy; lamentation shrill, querulous, loud-voiced, bitter, sharp-toned, mournful. Worms crooked, cruel, daring, huge-headed. Monsters yellow, wan, widemouthed. Lions fierce, nimble, ravenous. Hawks swift, mighty, towering. Dragons red,79 dark, broad-backed, restless (or idle80), Tigers strong and treacherous, scorpions blue and hairy81, griffins fierce and sharp-beaked; gnats stinging, with large mouths; gadflies crooked, hard-beaked. Strong mallets of heavy iron; flails enchanted


and rough with age; sharp swords; red spears; black82 demons; fetid fires; {folio 71b} poisonous streams; stinking cataracts.

Cats scratching, dogs tearing, hounds hunting; demons screeching. Fetid loughs, great sloughs, dark pits, deep valleys, high hills, cruel crags. Hosts of demons, fotil encampment, pain unceasing, greedy swarms, frequent fighting, instant quarrel, demons tormenting, tortures innumerable, life of sorrow.

A place in which there are streams hoarse, bitter, enchanted, ever stinking, putrid, melting, burning, bare, swift, boiling, broad; straits cruel, rocky, long, cold, deep, small, great, boggy (?), ever-hot, extended, kneaded, sad. Plains bare and burning. Hills round and hairy; valleys crooked and wormy; bogs rough and prickly; woods dark and fiery. Roads filthy and beast-haunted; seas83 congealed giving off foul odours. Huge iron nails. Black bitter waters. Many strange places; a foul ever-putrid company; bitter wintry winds. Frozen ever dropping snow; red fiery griddles; base blackened faces; swift mangling demons; vast and strange torments.

After Brendan had seen these torments, he heard a lamentation great, intolerable, unendurable, and a melancholy wretched cry, and a helpless weeping in the depth of the bottom of hell. Then a great fear seized the cleric at the horror of that misery. And then Brendan saw a huge rock, and on it was that84 which he had heard. And the infernal sea would wash over the huge rock on every side; a wave of black-red fire (would break) over it from in front, and a cold icy wave from behind alternately.

And one wretched man was standing on the rock. Brendan asked him who he was. ‘I am Judas Iscariot,’ said he , ‘and it was I that sold my Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, for silver, and the despicable useless riches of the world. And vast,’ said he, ‘ is the greatness of my strange torments; and I shall be as thou seest from now till the day of doom.’ Then Brendan wept for the greatness of the misery in which he saw Judas to be. And then as a memorial for Brendan85 Judas made these little verses:

[Judas Ischariot]

  1. 1] I am Judas Iscariot to-day
    2] On the waves of the mighty ocean;
    3] Wretched is my perilous dark life,
    4] Tortured as I am in hell.
  2. 5] (Tossed) from a wave of fire to a cold wave,
    6] From a cold wave to every mighty wave:
    7] From every quarter am I tortured;
    8] Sad is the report of my torment.

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  4. 9] Woe is me that I forsook my King;
    10] Evil was the deed to which I put my hand;
    11] Therefore shall I be for ever
    12] Without peace and without gentle affection.
  5. 13] The depth of hell every alternate hour,
    14] Wretched the shrieking86 (?) beneath my side.
    15] Black demons are around me;
    16] Out, alack, (?) it is no fair fashion.
  1. 17] Woe to him who did it, woe to him who does it;
    18] Woe for his pilgrimage in this world;
    19] For him who is guilty of excessive covetousness,
    20] Woe twice over, and woe, O God.
  2. 21] Woe to me my covetousness which destroyed me,
    22] I see rude demons now;
    23] Woe my journey to them, O God;
    24] Woe said my cruel conscience.
  3. 25] Alas, O Brendan, look on me;
    26] All that I do is too much for me;
    27] Hell, luckless, base, black, blind;
    28] Alas 'tis there that I am alive.
  4. 29] Alas, alas, the price of the betrayal of my King,
    30] Long, long shall I feel the evil of it;
    31] Thirty circles87 of white silver,
    32] 'Tis that which has tortured my body.
  5. 33] For treasure I delivered up my King;
    34] Alas, it is for that my fate is evil;
    35] The treasure remains not at my pleasure,
    36] (But) I remain in torment for ever.
  1. 37] Alas, that I died not, O Son of my God;
    38] Alas, rude is the conflict I endure;
    39] Alas, I am burning a hundredfold;
    40] I find not death, but remain alive.
  2. 41] Twisted worms are beneath my side,
    42] Black and dusky, wretched the threat (?);
    43] Hounds of chase there alternately;
    44] Wretched is the shrieking88(?) which encompasses me.

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  4. 45] Alas, O silver; woe worth thy deed;
    46] Alas, thou hast robbed me of my God;
    47] Alas, O treasure, fair deceiver;
    48] Alas, it is a plague which I inflicted myself.
  5. 49] In company with demons am I;
    50] Alas, ill did my nature elate me;
    51] My mockery through pride was heard;
    52] I am Judas Iscariot.