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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.