Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I used to have a driver's license with the address of the main Post Office in Sarasota. While living on a boat, with no address but a P.O. Box, I tried to update my license. The girl at the counter balked at issuing the license. I explained that I couldn't furnish a street address. When she asked if there wasn't someone's address I could use, I had an idea. I left and walked down the street to a phone booth. Armed with the "address" of my mailbox, I returned. No one batted an eye and I got my license.

This week, Mom was digging through some St. Patrick's Day stuff in preparation for their celebrations in Florida. She came across a letter I had written in 1994! Dad typed the whole thing into an email for me. It was a pleasure to revisit the memory of a book I really liked and it is completely topical for this week. So, here it is, just the way it appeared back then. But please don't use that address. I've worked hard to lose the Florida Marine Patrol and the I.R.S. :o)

What is especially funny is the tag after my signature. Here it is 15 years later and I am almost in the same spot! Don't doubt for a minute, however, that I have never been as close to doing just that as I am today. Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!

Here's the letter:

From the bilges of . . .

Todd R. Townsend
PO Box 49821
Sarasota, FL 34230

March 15, 1994

Dear Irish Friends,

This won’t make it for St. Paddy’s Day because it is the 15th already, but as St. Paddy passes I thought you would like to know of an Irish bombshell that I discovered in my readings. The Irish discovered North America 400 years before the Vikings and a thousand before Columbus!

A Welshman who was an expert on medeival English literature was discussing a certain tale of the voyages of an Irish monk with his wife, an expert on medieval Spanish literature. (A terribly exciting couple I’m sure) They were struck by the fact that the story lacked most of the “special effects” of medieval Christian writing; that it seemed rather factual in its presentation. The story was about St. Brendan, an early Irish monk and his voyage along the “stepping stone” route from Ireland to North America by way of Iceland and Greenland. To cut a long story sideways, the Welshman (almost as good as an Irishman) decides to build traditional Irish leather boat and sail to North America in an attempt to prove if it could be done.

It seems that in the third and fourth centuries, the intellectuals of Europe were fleeing persecution to Ireland. The monks collected their books and recorded their knowledge. The Welshman’s research led him to think that most Irish monks believed the earth was round even then; having read of Ptolemy’s calculations and other astronomers’ work. Further, it seems the Irish, always intensely religious, made a habit of going off to some deserted shore to commune with their God. This made them accomplished navigators.

There is a modern lighthouse on a small island off the Irish coast. The windows, several hundred feet above sea level, are sometimes blown out in gales. During the construction of the lighthouse, they found evidence of a monastic community on the island!

St. Brendan was a bishop in Ireland in the fourth century. He tells of a long voyage to a land west of Ireland. Another church official, writing later about the geographical scope of the Catholic Church, complained that not enough had been written about the westward travels of the Irish. St. Brendan’s story was probably a story of many voyages, not one and a tour by a church “bigwig” rather than a voyage of discovery. In the story St. Brendan travels from Ireland north to the shores of what is now Scotland and then to the Faroes Islands. His voyage took him to Iceland and then Greenland and then to a land of plenty past Greenland; probably Newfoundland.

The voyage in 1976 and 1977 by the Welshman and a crew brought new light to certain aspects of the story. The ancient monk/mariner spoke of a pillar of crystal in the water – likely an iceberg. An encounter with s sea monster was probably a whale; a creature the monks would never have seen before. The modern voyage found the whales were quite smitten with the hull of the leather boat. An island called the Land the Smiths, throwing hot rocks at the monks, could have been volcano spewing lava from its shore. St. Brendan encountered tremendous fog before reaching Newfoundland; weather conditions that exist today.

The Welshman and his team made it!! In fact, they discovered that traditional wool clothes and traditional dried meats were better suited for the trip than hi-tech materials and dehydrated rations. There is no evidence yet of the Irish on North American soil, but the Brendan Voyage 1976 and 1977 prove that it could have happened much like Thor Heyerdahl’s Pacific voyage in a Polynesian raft. _May_ 17th is St. Brendan’s Day in Ireland. The true Irish will have another occasion to imbibe, while our loyal fans will wonder anew why the Irish don’t rule the world.

The book, “The Brendan Voyage” is very well written and should be available at a good library. I hope you enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and propose that you remember St. Brendan in May as well. An Irishman and a mariner; he must have been a good guy.

Warm Irish regards,

Todd R. Townsend

Living like a monk,
Wishing I was a mariner!

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