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Hy-Brasil: The Supernatural Island

Hy-Brasil never existed, however, it was often shown on maps as a very small island west of Ireland. The name Hy-Brasil originated from Celtic mythology. According to Irish folklore an island named Hy-Brasil was visible from the west coast of Ireland for only one day every seven years, the rest of the time it was obscured by fog. The island had many variant names; some examples include Hy-Brasail, Breasal, Brazil, O’Brasil, The Enchanted Island and The Isle of the Blessed.

Brasil Island was shown on maps of the Atlantic Ocean for centuries. An island named Bracile was first shown on a portolan chart by Majorcan cartographer Angelino Dulcert in 1325. Venetian cartographer Andrea Bianco placed an island named Insula de Brasil on a chart in 1436. Historians believe that mapmakers placed the phantom island on their charts after hearing rumors about the existence of Hy-Brasil. Many expeditions were launched to try to find the island. Although it was never found, Brasil Island continued to appear on maps until 1873 when it was shown for the last time on a British Admiralty Chart.

In this post I have provided examples of maps that show the various locations and names for Brasil Island. Below is a detail from a map created by Spanish cartographer Diego Gutiérrez in 1562. The island is named Isola de brazil. It is located southwest of Ireland (Isola De Irlanda) and east of the sea monster.

Detail from Americae sive qvartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio. Map by Diego Gutiérrez, 1562. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Detail from Americae sive qvartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio. Map by Diego Gutiérrez, 1562. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The map featured below was published in 1570 by Abraham Ortelius. An island named Brasil is shown west of central Ireland.

Detail from Europae. A map from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, published by Abraham Ortelius, 1570. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Detail from Europae. A map from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, published by Abraham Ortelius, 1570. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Below is a detail from a nautical chart made in 1630 by Portuguese cartographer João Teixeira Albernaz. The island is shown with a circular shape in the lower left corner. It is divided in half by a river and named Do brasil.

Detail from Taboas geraes de toda a navegação. Map by João Teixeira Albernaz,1630. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Detail from Taboas geraes de toda a navegação. Map by João Teixeira Albernaz,1630. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

As maritime traffic increased, cartographers began to doubt the existence of Brasil Island. The image below is a detail from a map that  was published in 1753 by British cartographer Thomas Jefferys. The  island is shown southwest of Ireland as the “Imaginary Isle of O Brazil.”

Detail from Chart of the Atlantic Ocean with the British, French & Spanish Settlements. Map by Thomas Jefferys, 1753. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Detail from Chart of the Atlantic Ocean with the British, French & Spanish Settlements. Map by Thomas Jefferys, 1753. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Hy-Brasil was sometimes identified as a rock. Below is a detail from a map that was published in 1769 by French cartographer Guillaume de L’Isle. The island is named Rocher de Brasil (Brasil Rock). It is located beneath the lower left side of the title cartouche.

Detail from Carte d'Europe. Map by Guillaume de L'Isle, 1769. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Detail from Carte d’Europe. Map by Guillaume de L’Isle, 1769. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The Enchanted Island a chapter from Irish wonders...Book by D. R. McAnally, 1888. General Collections, Library of Congress.

The Enchanted Island a chapter from Irish wonders...Book by D. R. McAnally, 1888. General Collections, Library of Congress.

As early as the 12th century, the Irish believed in the existence of a strange island that could be viewed along the west coast of Ireland once every seven years. There was an oral tradition of telling stories about an island in a fog bank or a “floating island” that would disappear when people approached it. Later, the stories were printed in books about Irish folklore.The text on the left is a chapter from a book titled Irish wonders; the ghosts, giants, pookas, demons, leprechawns, banshees, fairies, witches, widows, old maids, and other marvels of the Emerald Isle; popular tales as told by the people. It is a story about an enchanted island that was visible for the first time to inhabitants of County Cork on July 7, 1878. The island vanished and would later appear once every seven years off of the west coast of Ireland. The Enchanted Island may be read in its entirety by clicking on the text.

There continues to be a widespread interest in the mythological island. The name Hy-Brasil is often used today in modern fiction, art and entertainment. In my opinion Brasil Island will always be a subject of fascination for many people, not only in popular culture but also for serious researchers.

 

 

 

Learn More:

Read an in-depth study in Hy Brasil: the metamorphosis of an island : from cartographic error to Celtic Elysium by Barbara Freitag.

Read more about the phantom island on pages 132-135 in The phantom atlas : the greatest myths, lies and blunders on maps by Edward Brooke-Hitching.

Additional information about the mythology of Hy-Brasil is available on pages 61-69 of  Lost lands, forgotten realms : sunken continents, vanished cities, and the kingdoms that history misplaced by Bob Curran.

 

 

 

16 Comments

  1. JCitizen
    June 19, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    An interesting story to this mythical island was strangely discovered by an USAF member who encountered a UFO on base property and when he touched it, he instantly saw a binary vision of zeros and ones, that when 30 years later was decoded by a programmer to be the coordinates for this “mythical island”. The cryptic message made other suggestions. If one is interested, just watch the TV series “Ancient Aliens”. It is in the last episode of season 2.

    • Cynthia Smith
      June 19, 2020 at 1:04 pm

      Thank you for your comment. A search of our catalog shows that the Library of Congress holds 4 books pertaining to the Rendlesham Forest Incident.

  2. Una O’Neill
    July 13, 2020 at 12:41 am

    I found this to be so interesting. Thank You.

  3. Ashley Rolinso
    August 22, 2020 at 8:58 am

    recently they have found something under the water which they believe to be hy brasil, which could have been a sandbank that has gradually sunk

  4. alymcbeally
    August 31, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    why has no one RECENTLY visited this and filmed a documentary? Like, every web page tells the story of the visit in the 1400’s and 1800’s. It’s literally the digital age, someone go make a movie about it!

  5. Bill Cavico
    November 24, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    I am thinking this Island seems to match the description of their home as described by the “Green Children of Woolpit” near Suffolk, England.

  6. Stephanie Brazil
    December 20, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    I always love looking up stuff like this, makes you think

  7. Mary Clogston
    January 29, 2021 at 4:10 pm

    I wonder now that the “Black Irish” Irish with extremely white skin, jet black hair and dark brown eyes have been identified as Asian descent; dear Iceland is a totally volcanic,; and the red heads of Ireland are presumed to be by so because of volcanic activity, could there have truly been a Hy-Brasil in the North Atlantic. A native American in Montana having his DNA done found that he was related to the “Reindeer” people of Northern Europe. I believe they were called Lapps.

    It seems plausible, given these connections, the ice age, and given the continuous upheavals recorded around the world, there could indeed have been a connection to the North American continent.

    The Irish, God bless them, have a long love of story telling and like our cinema seem to love to enhance their tales. I love the Selkies and wonder if they have any connection to Rendelsham. I think that was the base where the Americans were located in England.

    There has been a lot of misinformation passed down through the centuries but they had no access to internet and history was written by the palace dwellers.

    Here’s to knowledge and peace on earth. I believe DNA is the answer

  8. Kisso
    January 29, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    With all the technology today,this island should not be a mystery. Surely I would love to see the inhabitants,their technology,what they est,dress and the oldest

  9. Catherine Harazi
    February 21, 2021 at 4:27 am

    Dear admin I would agree with the reader
    (alymcbeally) who made this why no one has done a documentary on this and did an underwater dive in the area that its allegedly supposed to have existed sea levels could easily have risen and that could be why its not visible today a place where I grew up in Ireland they have submerged under water allegedly a graveyard and a church so it’s worth to investigate it imagine what is under the water

  10. Brady
    April 9, 2021 at 12:14 pm

    It sunk into the sea

  11. Noah
    May 6, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    On ancient aliens it says that the island was inhabited by “tall black rabbits”. do you guys have anything on that?

  12. Noah
    May 6, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    On ancient aliens it says that the island was inhabited by “tall black rabbits” do you uys have anything on that?

    • Cynthia Smith
      May 6, 2021 at 4:09 pm

      The rumor about the black rabbits was based on a letter written by Captain John Nesbitt from Ireland. In 1674 Captain Nesbitt provided a detailed description of the island and wrote that “cattle, sheep and horses grazed there, as well as multitudes of black rabbits.” You may read more about it on page 58 in “The Undiscovered Islands” by Mallachy Tallack.

  13. Noah
    May 6, 2021 at 4:24 pm

    Thank you very much. where do you think i could find this book? If you know of any websites where i can get it for free that would be excellent.

    • Cynthia Smith
      May 7, 2021 at 7:33 am

      I have sent information about how you can find the book to your email address.

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