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“Hy Brazil”: the History of the Legendary Island in the West of Ireland

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Have you ever considered that Brazil could be found not in South America but in Northern Europe, off the coast of Ireland? Never? Yet, if you had consulted the maps until the first half of the nineteenth century, precisely until 1853, you would have noticed a small island called “Hy Brazil” (or simply “Brazil” or “Brasil”) located just northwest of the Ireland, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Atlas Catalan, 1375

The similarities with the homonymous country of South America, however, were limited only to the name that was, in the case of our island, apparently due to the Gaelic “uì Breasail”, indicating the descendants of the Irish clan of the Breasal or, more likely, due to the dense island vegetation, characterized by the tall pernambuco trees, called “brazilwoods” in English.
“Apparently” because, after being considered certain since the Middle Ages, the existence of Hy Brazil was considered mythical in the Victorian era and its presence on the geographic maps removed with the same speed with which it appeared, in 1325, by Angelino Dulcert, a famous cartographer from Palma de Mallorca. For centuries the legendary island was represented as a small, circular-shaped territory crossed diametrically by a river.

Piri Reis Map, 1513

An alleged landing on the island was reported by the Scottish captain John Nisbet, who arrived near the island in 1674, who reported that he had sent four men from his crew to patrol on the mainland. The witnesses reported that they had received precious metals as gifts, a fact that fueled for centuries the fame of the ungraspable island, because it was surrounded by the mists that almost always prevented the sighting, on which probably lived an advanced and benevolent civilization, which some they even wanted to identify with the lost Atlantis.

Europe’s Map, 1570

As is known, geographic maps and maps of the globe have been relatively inaccurate for centuries, and the case of Hy Brazil would appear to be part of the mistakes made by the geographers of the past. To rectify the error the British Admiralty thought about it in 1873, when the little island definitively disappeared from the navigation maps, after being labeled, already in 1859, as “Brasil Rocks, higly doubtful” in the Atlantic Map of the famous publishers of James Imray & Son.

Abraham Ortelius Map, 1572

The persistence of the myth of Hy Brazil may perhaps be due to the nature of the Irish coast, characterized by rocks that suddenly emerge from the water, a geology that may have misled the sailors, deluding them of having really found themselves to see an island. The island also may have been identificate with the elusive world of the dead so beloved by Celtic traditions. If these are the most plausible explanations, a recent episode is still disconcerting for its strange coincidences.

Gerardo Mercatore Map, 1595

There is a story, referred to an alleged UFO sighting that took place years ago in Great Britain, by two American soldiers. During this sighting, one of the two witnesses would telepathically receive a binary message that, once decoded by an expert, would give precise coordinates, coinciding strangely with those in which, they was believed, was located a time the legendary island of Hy Brazil.
Fortuitous coincidences that seem destined to feed the mystery of the small island for a long time, in spite of its disappearance from the maps and its absence on any satellite detection…

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