Hy-Brasil: Truth Behind the Legendary Phantom Island of Ireland?

By Bryan Hilliard
Bryan Hilliard
Bryan Hilliard
October 13, 2015 Updated: October 19, 2015

Hy-Brasil was an island that appeared on ancient maps as early as 1325 A.D. and into the 1800s. On most maps, it was located roughly 200 miles (321 kilometers) off the west coast of Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the most distinctive geographical features of Hy-Brasil on those maps is that it often appears as a circle with a channel (or river) running east to west across it. Stories about the island have circulated throughout Europe for centuries with tales that it was the promised land of saints or a paradise where an advanced civilization lived. In Irish myth, it was said to be clouded in mist except for one day every seven years when it became visible but still could not be reached.

The Many Names of the Mysterious Island

Hy-Brasil (also called Hy-Breasal, Hy-Brazil, Hy-Breasil, or Brazir) is derived from the name Breasal, meaning the “high king of the world” in Celtic history.

The island was included on a 1325 map by the Genoese cartographer Angelino Dulcert where it was identified as “Bracile.” It later appeared in the Catalan Atlas in 1375, which placed it as two separate islands with the same name, “Illa de Brasil.” In 1436, it showed up as “Sola de Brasil” in the Venetian map by cartographer Andrea Bianco. It would show up again in 1595 on the Ortelius Map of Europe and the Europa Mercator map.

It was occasionally depicted in slightly different locations on various maps over time.

Expeditions in Search of Hy-Brasil

In 1480, John Jay Jr. departed from Bristol, England, on a journey to find the fabled island only to come back unsuccessful after spending two months at sea. In 1481, two more ships, the Trinity and the George, departed from Bristol on an expedition to find Hy-Brasil with no success. 

In 1497, Spanish diplomat Pedro de Ayala included in a report to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain a reference to “the men from Bristol who found Brasil.” This implied someone from one of the Bristol expeditions had actually managed to find the island.

Scottish sea captain John Nisbet claimed to have spotted Hy-Brasil on his voyage from France to Ireland in 1674. He is said to have sent a party of four ashore where the sailors spent an entire day. 

Large Black Rabbits and a Mysterious Magician

On the island, Nisbet’s crew is said to have met a wise old man who provided them with gold and silver. Strangely, the captain said the island was inhabited by large black rabbits and a mysterious magician who lived in a large stone castle by himself. A follow-up expedition was led by captain Alexander Johnson who also claimed to have found Hy-Brasil, confirming Nisbet’s findings.

In the following years, Hy-Brasil would retreat into obscurity. As attempts to find it failed again, map-makers started leaving it off most nautical charts. When it was last observed on a map in 1865, it was simply noted as “Brazil Rock.”

About 120 miles of the west coast of Ireland, we can see today a shoal exposed during extremely low tide known as Porcupine Bank.

At the location of this Brazil Rock, about 120 miles of the west coast of Ireland, we can see today a shoal exposed during extremely low tide known as Porcupine Bank. It may have been an island toward the end of the last Ice Age when sea levels were lower. If this is the Hy-Brasil of legend, it would have been passed along through tradition for a very long time. 

The last documented sighting of Hy-Brasil was made in 1872 by Robert O’Flaherty and T.J. Westropp. Westropp claimed to have visited the island on three previous occasions and was so captivated by it that he brought his family with him to see it in person. They purportedly all witnessed it appear out of nowhere only to see it vanish again before their very eyes.

Myths and Legends About Hy-Brasil

There are many myths and legends surrounding Hy-Brasil. In some of them, the island is the home of the gods of Irish lore. In others, it is inhabited by priests or monks rumored to hold ancient knowledge which allowed them to create an advanced civilization.

Some think that St. Brendan’s famous voyage to find the “Promised Land” may have been to Hy-Brasil.

The island became part of modern UFO lore following the famous “Rendlesham Forest incident.”

The island became part of modern UFO lore following the famous “Rendlesham Forest incident,” a purported UFO encounter. A strange craft was said to have landed outside a U.S. military base in the U.K. Sergeant Jim Penniston claims to have touched this craft and telepathically receive 16 pages of binary code. The code was said to give coordinates of several ancient sites around the world, such as the pyramids at Giza. Among the coordinates was the location of Hy-Brasil as ancient cartographers had mapped it. 

Republished with permission. Read the original at Ancient Origins

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