Brasil (mythical island)
Hy-Brasil, Hy Brasil, Hy Breasil, Hy Breasail, Hy Breasal, Hy Brazil, I-Brasil
|Etymology||Uí Breasail: in honour of the descendants of Bresail|
|Location||Mythical, Atlantic Ocean|
Brasil, also known as Hy-Brasil and several other variants, is a phantom island said to lie in the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland. Irish myths described it as cloaked in mist except for one day every seven years, when it becomes visible but still cannot be reached.
The etymology of the names Brasil and Hy-Brasil is unknown, but in Irish tradition it is thought to come from the Irish Uí Breasail (meaning "descendants (i.e., clan) of Bresail"), one of the ancient clans of northeastern Ireland. cf. Old Irish: Í: island; bres: beauty, worth, great, mighty.
Despite the similarity, the name of the country Brazil (Portuguese: Brasil) has no connection to the mythical islands (although J. R. R. Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories" has likened both together). The South American country was at first named Ilha de Vera Cruz (Island of the True Cross) and later Terra de Santa Cruz (Land of the Holy Cross) by the Portuguese navigators who arrived there. After some decades, it started to be called "Brazil" due to the exploitation of native brazilwood, at that time the only export of the land. In Portuguese, brazilwood is called pau-brasil, with the word brasil commonly given the etymology "red like an ember", formed from Latin brasa ("ember") and the suffix -il (from -iculum or -ilium).
Appearance on maps
Nautical charts identified an island called "Bracile" west of Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean as far back as 1325, in a portolan chart by Angelino Dulcert. Later it appeared as Insula de Brasil in the Venetian map of Andrea Bianco (1436), attached to one of the larger islands of a group of islands in the Atlantic. This was identified for a time with the modern island of Terceira in the Azores, where a volcanic mount at the bay of its main town, Angra do Heroismo, is still named Monte Brasil.
On maps the island was shown as being circular, often with a central strait or river running east–west across its diameter. Despite the failure of attempts to find it, this appeared regularly on maps lying south west of Galway Bay until 1865, by which time it was called Brasil Rock.
Piri Reis' map of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea from 1513
Abraham Ortelius' map of Europe from 1595
Gerardus Mercator's map from 1595
Searches for the island
Expeditions left Bristol in 1480 and 1481 to search for the island; and a letter written by Pedro de Ayala, shortly after the return of John Cabot (from his expedition in 1497), reports that land found by Cabot had been "discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found Brasil".
In 1674 a Captain John Nisbet claimed to have seen the island when on a journey from France to Ireland, stating that the island was inhabited by large black rabbits and a magician who lived alone in a stone castle, yet the character and the story were a literary invention by Irish author Richard Head. Roderick O'Flaherty in A Chorographical Description of West or H-Iar Connaught (1684) tells us "There is now living, Morogh O'Ley (Murrough Ó Laoí), who imagines he was personally on O'Brasil for two days, and saw out of it the iles of Aran, Golamhead [by Lettermullen], Irrosbeghill, and other places of the west continent he was acquainted with."
Hy-Brasil has also been identified with Porcupine Bank, a shoal in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 kilometres (120 mi) west of Ireland and discovered in 1862. As early as 1870 a paper was read to the Geological Society of Ireland suggesting this identification. The suggestion has since appeared more than once, e.g., in an 1883 edition of Notes and Queries.
In popular culture
Margaret Elphinstone wrote a novel, Hy Brasil (2002), about a woman who is sent to write the first-ever travel book on Hy Brasil.
In Jack Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy, the largest island of the Elder Isles, where the titular kingdom is located, is called "Hybras", which the prologue of the first book states to be the in-universe origin for the name of Hy-Brasil.
In the film Erik the Viking, the characters must travel to Hy-Brasil to obtain a magical horn. Fulfillment of a curse leads to the sinking of the island.
Mary Burke's short story uses the myth as an allegory of the breach caused by the Northern Irish Troubles. Mary Burke, “Hy-Brasil” in The Faber Best New Irish Short Stories, 2004-5 Ed. David Marcus. London: Faber & Faber, 2005, 101–05.
In his 1867 poem "Celtic Speech," Lionel Johnson refers to it as "Holy Hy."
Hybrasil are an Irish electronica musical group named after the mythical island.
A variation on the legend appears in the SCP Foundation article SCP-6078 ('Peekaboo Island'), in which the titular island was sealed off from the wider world by the mythical king Dyrmud the Ageless at some point in the eleventh century, only re-appearing every leap year. The island is separately featured as centerpiece of a canon called "War On All Fronts," involving the invasion of the Hy-Brasil island by massive oceanic creatures.
Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Russell includes a song titled "Hy-Brasil" on her 2021 debut album Outside Child.
- Etymology of the country Brazil's name:
- Irish mythology in popular culture
- Tech Duinn, a mythological island to the west of Ireland where souls go after death.
- Great Ireland, a similarly west-of-Ireland place, Irish myths of which are believed to have influenced the Vikings.
- McKillop, James (1998). "Hy Brasil". A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press.
- Hy Brasil, Hy Breasil, Hy Breasail, Hy Breasal, Hy Brazil, I-Brasil
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 438. .
- On Fairy Stories – On Fairy Stories, an essay by J. R. R. Tolkien (in English)
- CNRTL – Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales (in French)
- Michaelis – Moderno Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa (in Portuguese)
- iDicionário Aulete Archived 29 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine (in Portuguese)
- Seaver, K.A. (1995) The Frozen Echo, Stanford University Press, p. 212 ISBN 0-8047-3161-6
- Barbara Freitag – Hy Brasil: The Metamorphosis of an Island, Rodopi, 2013
- Velasco, Francisco; Jorge Landa; Joaquín Barrado; Marian Blanco (2008). "Distribution, abundance, and growth of anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) on the Porcupine Bank (west of Ireland)". ICES Journal of Marine Science. 65 (7): 1316. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsn130.
- Winsor, Justin (1889). Narrative and critical history of America (Volume 01). Houghton, Mifflin and Company. p. 51.
- Frazer, W. (December 1883), "O'Brazile or Hy Brazile", Notes and Queries, s6-VIII (207): 475, doi:10.1093/nq/s6-VIII.207.475a
- Gerald Griffin, Hy-Brasail—The Isle of the Blest in D. F. M'Carthy, editor, The Book of Irish Ballads, James Duffy, Dublin, 1846, p. 34.
- "Review: The Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories 2004-5". 27 May 2005.
- "War on All Fronts - Hub - SCP Foundation".
- Freitag, Barbara (2013). Hy Brasil: the metamorphosis of an island: from cartographic error to Celtic Elysium. Amsterdam: Rodopi. ISBN 9789042036413.
- Sean Lynch (2010). "Preliminary Sketches for the Reappearance of HyBrazil". Utopian Studies. 21 (1): 5–15. doi:10.1353/utp.0.0003. S2CID 145104066.
- Hy-Brasail by Gerald Griffin