The Island of Hy-Brasil

Hy-Brasil was a phantom an island which appeared on ancient maps as early as 1325 and into the 1800's. Stories about the island have circulated throughout Europe for centuries with tales that it was the promised land of saints, a paradise where an advanced civilization lived, or even as a home to the gods. 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 name Hy-Brasil is derived from the name ‘Breasal’ meaning the High King of the World in Celtic history. On most maps, it was found off the west coast of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean. One of the most distinctive geographical features of Hy-Brasil is that it often appears as circular with a channel (or river) running east to west across the diameter.

One of the first accounts of a ship making it to Hy-Brasil claims that the captain and his shipmates sailed through a deep fog and that their ship landed in shallow waters upon a beach shrouded in mist. As they explored the strange island, they found it to be the home of large black rabbits and a wise, grizzled magician, who invited them to a large stone castle. He explained that he had cast a spell on the island to prevent it from being seen by ordinary eyes – but the spell had somehow been broken. He gifted them gold and silver and he sent them on their way.

In the 1480’s, several different expeditions to find the fabled islands, with sailing captains and merchant vessels intrigued by what they could find upon reaching the island. They voyaged in large numbers in search of Hy-Brasil, all of which were unsuccessful. Nearly two centuries later a Scottish sea captain 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. 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.”

Beyond the supernatural theories about Hy-Brasil, many mainstream historians simply consider it a case of mistaken identity. The legend could also be a story that was passed down through generations from the end of the last Ice Age when sea levels were much lower. Another explanation is that the island has never existed; that it appears only as an optical illusion. One type of mirage that can account for this is the Fata Morgana, in which a layer of warm air which sits on a layer of cold, acting as a refracting disc and can created inverted images from distant areas and coastlines.

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. There, they all witnessed it appear out of nowhere only to see it vanish again before their very eyes.