Hy-Brasil was an island which appeared on ancient maps as early as 1325 and into the 1800s. On most maps, it was located roughly 321km (200 miles) off the west coast of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean. Its name is derived from Old Irish hy, a variation of í, meaning ‘island’, and brasil, from the root word bres, meaning ‘beautiful/ great/ mighty’. It has also been explained as coming from Uí Breasal, meaning ‘of the clan of Bresal’, a people who once inhabited the North East of Ireland.
Legend has it that the island lies shrouded in mist most of the time, thus shielded from the eyes of mortals, but that one day in every seven years, the fog rolls back to reveal its distant splendour to anyone who might be looking.
Hy-Brasil was first noted on maps as early as 1325, by the Italian cartographer Angelino Dulcet, living in Majorca, where it was identified as “Bracile.” It continued to be shown on maps until the 1860s. Depicted as more or less circular in shape, it was bisected by a line through its centre running east to west, which could have been a river.
In 1480, John Jay Jr. departed from Bristol, England on a journey to find the fabled island only to come back empty handed 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 either.
Interestingly, in 1497, Spanish diplomat Pedro de Ayala reported to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, that John Cabot (the first European to visit North America since the Vikings) had “discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found Brasil.” This implied someone from one of the Bristol expeditions had actually managed to find it.
Nearly two centuries later Scottish sea captain, John Nesbitt, 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 the entire day on the island. There, they claim 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 Nesbitt’s findings.
A decade later, Irish historian, Ruairi O’Flaherty claimed in his publication, Ogygia, to have met a man, Morrough Ó Laoí, who said he had been abducted by strangers and ferried across to Hy-Brasil where he was held for two days, during which he became ill. When he recovered, he found himself mysteriously returned to Irish shores.
John O’Donovon, an Irish language scholar elaborated on this story in 1839. He said that Ó Laoí was a sailor on a ship which landed at the island. A strange man came down to the shore to warn them off on account of the island being enchanted. As the sailors prepared to leave, the stranger handed a book to Ó Laoí, but told him not to open it until seven years had passed. Ó Laoí followed this instruction, and afterwards was able to take up a career practising medicine and surgery. It seems the book contained much secret lore for treating illnesses.
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 rumoured 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 Hy-Brasil.
Source: Ancient Origins