Monday, July 11, 2011

Hy-Brasil, Ireland's Atlantis??

The Island of Hy-Brasil.

I’m sure that you have all heard of the ‘lost Island ‘of Atlantis but I wonder how many of you have heard of Hy-Brasil?

The Island of Hy-Brasil is said to lie somewhere off the west coast of Ireland. According to ancient legend it was a mysterious Isle ruled over by priests who were said to have possession of the secrets of the universe. The Island was said to be shrouded in mist but every seven years it became visible for one day although it was still notoriously difficult to reach.

The name Hy-Brasil, also called the Fortunate Island, may have its origins in the old Irish word, Breas, which means noble or fortunate. In Folklore it is said that this Island takes its name from Breasal. The High King of the World in Celtic history. He may be related to Bresal Echarlam mac Echlach Baethlaim, from the stories of Lugh at Tara.

There have been many attempts in the past to locate this mythical land. In 1497 the explorer John Cabot reported that he had found the land and the renowned navigator Pedro Alvarez Cabral claimed to have reached the Island in the 1500’s.

In the 1674 Captain John Nisbet, sailing in the waters off the west coast of Ireland encountered a thick fog. As the fog lifted he and his crew saw an Island close by. He decided to drop anchor and send four members of the crew to investigate. It is claimed that they spent a day on the Island returning to their ship laden with gold and silver which they said had been given to them by an old man who they had found living on the Island. When they returned to Ireland, a second ship under the command of Alexander Johnson set off to find the Island, no doubt encouraged by talk of gold and silver. He returned to Ireland and confirmed Captain Nisbet’s story.

The last time the Island was sighted was in 1872 when the author T.J. Westropp and a number of companions claimed to have seen the Island appear and then vanish.

In his book "Ireland - A Journey into Lost Time", P.A. Ó Síochán says that knowledge of a lost land is "inherent all through Celtic literature and history".

In Ireland, he says, "the legend concerned a lost island in the Atlantic off the west coast, called Hy-Brasil: Hy meaning island and Brasil (Breasal) meaning mighty and beautiful in the Gaelic."

"It lay to the west and north-westwards from a junction with the Aran islands and the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare."

The most distinctive geographical feature of Hy-Brasil, is that it appears on maps as a perfect circle, with a semi-circular channel through the centre. The circular perimeter of the island was confirmed by both Saints Barrind and Brendan, who separately walked the shore to determine where the island ended, but never found it. Most likely, they were walking in circles.

There is of course an explanation for what people have claimed to see. There is an area near Ireland called the Porcupine Bank. This is an area of the Irish shelf approximately 200 kilometres off the west coast. This is a raised area of seabed that lies between the deep-water Porcupine Seabight and Rockall Trough that features many species of cold-water corals. It is quite possible that during extreme spring tides that this Bank is exposed to the surface and in 1870 a paper was read to the Geographical Society of Ireland that suggested this could be the case.

So in conclusion there are three questions you could ask yourself

1) Is Hy-Brasil Ireland’s version of Atlantis? The mist shrouded land of mystery.

2) Is it The Land of The Ever Young (Tir na Nog)? The Land Beneath The Wave.

3) Is it really just a sandbank? Less romantic but more practical.

I am only the storyteller, I leave you to decide.


On the ocean that hollows the rocks where ye dwell

A shadowy land has appeared, as they tell;

Men thought it a region of sunshine and rest,

And they called it Hy-Brasil, the isle of the blest.

From year unto year on the ocean’s blue rim,

The beautiful spectre showed lovely and dim;

The golden clouds curtained the deep where it lay,

And it looked like an Eden away, far away!

A peasant who heard of the wonderful tale,

In the breeze of the Orient loosened his sail;

From Ara, the holy, he turned to the west,

For though Ara was holy, Hy-Brasil was blest.

He heard not the voices that called from the shore–

He heard not the rising wind’s menacing roar;

Home, kindred, and safety he left on that day,

And he sped to Hy-Brasil, away, far away!

Morn rose on the deep, and that shadowy isle,

O’er the faint rim of distance, reflected its smile;

Noon burned on the wave, and that shadowy shore

Seemed lovely distant, and faint as before;

Lone evening came down on the wanderer’s track,

And to Ara again he looked timidly back;

O far on the verge of the ocean it lay,

Yet the isle of the blest was away, far away! p. 248

Rash dreamer, return! O ye winds of the main,

Bear him back to his own peaceful Ara again,

Rash fool! for a vision of fanciful bliss,

To barter thy calm life of labour and peace.

The warning of reason was spoken in vain;

He never revisited Ara again!

Night fell on the deep, amidst tempest and spray,

And he died on the waters, away, far away!

From Tales of the Enchanted Isles by Dorothy P. Lathrop (1926)


  1. Your blog is absolutely one of my favourites! You really have a magical and mythical touch. Your writing style, and stories, keep me inspired. Wishing you all the best always...

  2. Thank you Susanne for your kind comments. I really appreciate it and will try to keep writing stories that will be of interest. Keep reading and let me know what you think.
    All my best wishes and enjoy. Silentowl.

  3. Regular reader here, agreeing with what Susanne wrote.

  4. Hi Mararios, how are you. Thank you for your kind comments, as always I appreciate and value your contribution. Hope you are well and keep smiling. Silentowl.