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An image of a sea monster with Brasil Island shown east of it.
Detail from Americae sive qvartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio. Map by Diego Gutiérrez, 1562. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Hy-Brasil: The Supernatural Island

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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. Featured above 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.

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 featured above is from a chapter in 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.

 

 

 

Comments (36)

  1. 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.

    • 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. I found this to be so interesting. Thank You.

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

  7. 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

    • There are beautiful chocolate-coloured hares in the west of Ireland. I came eyeball to eyeball with one on the Blasket. That’s the ‘tall black rabbits’ I presume.

  8. 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. 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. It sunk into the sea

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

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

    • 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. 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.

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

  14. thanks

  15. i will find it

  16. Very intriguing hy-brasil is still a mystery but there are 3 islands The Aran Islands are a group of three islands off the coast of Ireland. Inishmore Inis Mór Inishmaan Inis Meain and Inishorr Inis Orr are all reachable by ferry from either Galway city or Doolin in Clare but this may very well be the legend behind Hy-brasil back then maps where not so accurate as well as surveying the oceans and it’s land masses so today with satellite technology there’s a 99.8% chance this so called hy-brasil could be the Aran islands

  17. The topic Hy-Brazil I found so interesting!

  18. If you go on Google Earth you can see 2 small “bumps” under water off the coast of Ireland that most likely are Hy Brasil and the other island pictured in the maps. The island which is most likely Hy Brasil is directly west of Limerick close to where the deep ocean starts. With all the climate change and mini ice age Europe experienced in the 1700’s the sea level could have been low enough to cause the island to “pop up” out of the ocean,and as the climate warmed and sea levels rose, it would have been covered up. Cartographers were very detailed and would not place something on a map that did not exist. Just because it doesn’t exist now does not mean it didn’t exist previously. This is a fascinating topic.

  19. Hey-brazil did exist. It existed before the last ice age. The maps are copies from older maps that are now lost to time. The sea level was way lower before/during the last ice age. Graham Hancock covers this in his book and several of his talks.

  20. I truly HATE how you place your biased talk about it being mythical and you think your reporting accurately but it’s really just your personal statements about clear facts you are presenting.

    The historians of the past kept records as best as they could to preserve knowledge so why the hell do you dismiss these maps? They were stupid?

    Sick of your style of talk. We just want the facts and not journalism commentary so we can form our own opinions. Thanks

  21. An interesting article presenting history as accurately as possible and from several perspectives. The sources seem credible. I believe map makers did copy from each other and from older maps. What’s the term used for the degradation of information as it is passed from one to another over generations? The concept is that you look to the most original source to be the most accurate.
    The comments that followed were also enlightening even when the sources were dubious. I love a good mystery as much as anyone. Without modern evidence of HyBrazil, it will remain a mystery.

  22. I think the reason it takes Hy-Brasil once every 7 years to appear as an island to the surface is because of the built up of an underwater volcano that continues to build the harding of lava into rocks on top of one another when it cools down and get harden by the ocean waters. Then by the time it builds on top of one another reaching the surface as an island, it tumbles over back into the ocean in one day off the lack of supporting rocks beneath it like trying to stack as many dominoes on top of one another and expecting it to eventually tumble over. I also think the reason why it has a greater chance on tumbling over back into the ocean once reaching the surface as an island because the structure of how the volcanic rocks are being stacked on top of one another isn’t secure enough to withstand the length of which the island is built upon or the under water volcano isn’t pushing out lava fast enough to produce more rocks at the base where the island will need the most support sustaining it at the surface. you also have to keep in mind how strong the current could be that can also change the gravity in the water that would make the island struggle even harder to stay afloat.

  23. Truth is cataclysmic events happen far more often than people realise. We’ve been conditioned to think in terms of thousands even millions of years. The earth is in constant flux and if we new our true history people might act a little differently. The land likely sunk beneath the waves as apposed to sea level rising.

  24. I would love to know where to get the book, please? Great work and mostly excellent commentary. Pam, you need to chill.

    • The book “Hy Brasil: the metamorphosis of an island : from cartographic error to Celtic Elysium” by Barbara Freitag is available on Google Books.

  25. I was looking around the general area on Google maps and I think I’ve found it, the Rendalsham coordinates were slightly out. Zoom in here and you’ll see a raised area beneath the sea with a very similar ‘coffee bean’ shape to those on earlier maps.

    52.601172,-14.236757

  26. There was an island off the coast of southern New Jersey. It actually had a school house lighthouse and a few hotels. It finally sank 1800s. Late 1800s. It still pops up once in a while and there are photographs of this pkace. So that kind of stuff exists. However the binary code and the message is something I truly believe. Why would we think we are the only life form in the universe or the whole shebang. Ridiculous. Of course there are other forms of life

  27. YES someone should have already made a movie of that mystical island BUT if that Island is covered in fog for a reason to keep people from seeing it the falling angel’s might stay hidden there and that’s why no one has ever tried anything. You do know what the falling angel’s are right?? If you don’t; READ YOUR BIBLE. There evil and that’s what’s running our world; it isn’t the president. Have you heard of THE WIZARD OF OZ someone else runs the show behind closed curtains………

  28. I am not going to advocate for the existence, now or in earlier ages, of the island. However, while it is usual for myths and legends to be passed orally down generations, I find that harder to believe in terms of a geographical location. Are we to assume that cartographers heard about the island and the approximate location and just put it there, without an idea of the real location, size or shape? If that is the case, what a lousy cartography job. If you just invent it you might as well invent the shape and size of the rest… If the island was copied down from earlier sources, there has to be an origin, possibly based on some sighting of whatever it was, if anything

  29. I used floodmap (dot) net and set the sea level to -50 meters. When you do this, the island of Hy-Brasil appears! If more of the water was tied up in glaciers during the last ice age, a 50m drop of sea level would be possible. Has anyone explored this area? Anyone rich enough to finance this exploration? I would love to go.

  30. I have been searching my Ancestors through DNA, my family has been in America for 400 years ( when it was still just a british colony), my surname is Brazeel ( Irish) and appears to have came from a An Old Irish Clann of Ui-Bhreasail ( has been anglicized to Brazeel) from the 5th century. I also was intrigued by this” Island of O’Brazeel ” as seen in some English literature….and I do believe that it once existed and has sunken into the sea… It also seems that they have recently found “the lost City of Atlanis” , it was sunken in the Sahara Desert and was covered in mud, but seems to have been found right where it was suppose to be….the city didn’t move, the earth,land, and sea moved..

  31. I am reading Hybrasil by Margaret Elphinsyone.

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