Hy-Brasil, The Irish Atlantis

By Karen Harris

This is probably what Hy-Brasil looks like with the morning mists rising over small loch, but this is the real-life Trotternish, Island of Skye, Scotland. Source: (Photo by: Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Most of you have probably heard of Atlantis, the mysterious island that Plato wrote about with an advanced civilization that supposedly sank into the ocean in a tragic, one-day disaster. Information is sketchy about Atlantis. Plato never saw or visited the island, nor can anyone pinpoint it on a map. But there is another strange disappearing island from antiquity that has more eyewitness sightings, visitations, and that appears in the same location on numerous maps. It was called Hy-Brasil and it is sometimes called Ireland’s Atlantis. 

The flag of Brazil features the same image as the mythical Hy-Brasil. Source: (flagz.co.nz)

No, Not Brazil…Hy-Brasil

The name of this so-called disappearing island sounds awfully close to South America’s largest country, which is not an island and has not disappeared. Why the confusion? The name “Brazil” seems to be a variation of the old Celtic word, “Breasal” which means the “High King.” No, ancient sailors didn’t stumble upon South America and think it was a small island off the Irish coast. Maps from the time indicated that folks knew they were two different places. Some historians think that the country of Brazil was actually named after the mythical Hy-Brasil and they point to an intriguing coincidence as proof. On old maps, Hy-Brasil was drawn as a circular island with a river or channel going across the center. We see this same image on the flag of Brazil. 

In Brigadoon, the Scottish village appears once every 100 years. Hy-Brasil, an Irish island, was said to appear every 7 years. Source: (pinterest.com)

The Legend of Hy-Brasil

In Celtic folklore, there are numerous tales about the island of Hy-Brasil. It is supposedly home to a sophisticated culture who had gold-roofed, dome-shaped buildings. According to these stories, the island remains hidden most of the time. It is either invisible, obscured by heavy fog, or descends beneath the ocean. It does, so say the stories, show itself once every seven years, but only for one day. If you think this legend sounds slightly familiar, try replacing “Irish island” with “Scottish village” and “seven years” with “100 years”, and you have the plot of the Lerner and Lowe musical, Brigadoon.

Hy-Brasil was said to lie about 200 miles from the Atlantic coast of Ireland. Source: (hyperallergic.com)

Where was Hy-Brasil?

Hy-Brasil appears on numerous maps, dating as far back as a 1325 map by noted cartographer, Angelino Dulcert. It was included on the 1375 Catalan Atlas and a 1436 Venetian map made by Andrea Bianco, as well as numerous other maps. On nearly every one of them, Hy-Brasil is shown in the same location…about 200 miles off the western coast of Ireland. 

Many explorers who sought Hy-Brasil could never find it. Source: (ancient-origins.net)

Expeditions to Find Hy-Brasil

An explorer named John Jay, Jr. set out from Bristol, England, in 1480 to locate the mysterious island. He sailed around the Irish coast for more than two months but never found to the island. The next year, another expedition from Bristol set off in search of Hy-Brasil, but they too were unsuccessful. A reference by a Spanish diplomat in 1497, however, made a comment about “the men from Bristol who found Brasil.” Could it be that one of the earlier expeditions actually did find the disappearing island, but kept the discovery secret?

Was Hy-Brasil inhabited by large black rabbits? Source: (strangedimensions.com)

Finding Hy-Brasil

For a mysterious, disappearing island that wants to stay hidden, there are accounts of sailors landing on the island and being greeting favorably. Perhaps the most well-known of these accounts took place in 1674. Captain John Nisbet of Donegal, Ireland, and his crew were all familiar with the Atlantic coast of Ireland. Sailing in the area one day, they were surprised by a sudden bank of fog that rolled over them. When the fog cleared, they saw that they were close to the rocky coast of an island. They went ashore, hoping to get their bearings so they could sail home. They soon learned they were on the legendary island. Nisbet and his men told stories about large black rabbits that roamed the island and about an old magician who lived in a castle on the island. This old man gave the sailors gold and silver. Another voyage, headed by Alexander Johnson, also claimed to set foot on the island. The description by Johnson and his men was nearly identical to that of Nesbit. In 1872, author T. J. Westropp and several members of his party stated that they saw the island appear before them and then vanish. 

Underwater ridges are located in the vicinity of Hy-Brasil. Source: (ancient-origins.net)

Is There Physical Evidence of Hy-Brasil?

Explorers in recent times have examined the Hy-Brasil legend and set out to look at the supposed location of the mysterious island. They believe that some of the underwater banks could have been above sea level in the past and point to Porcupine Bank as a likely candidate for Hy-Brasil. Rising ocean level may have submerged the island or, as some geologist suggests, the rising mantel of the Earth’s crust around Scotland could have caused adjacent land to push downward, under the waves. 

Did a UFO give us the coordinates to Hy-Brasil's location? Source: (geo.tv)

An Alien Connection?

Remember the famous alien encounter that was said to have taken place at England’s Rendlesham Forest near a military base? One of the people involved in this alleged incident, Sergeant Jim Penniston, said that, when he touched the alien spaceship, information was telepathically implanted into his brain. The next day he wrote down the information that he claims was given to him by the aliens. It was a 16-page list of binary code that seemed indecipherable. Decades later, however, the code was run through sophisticated computer software and deciphered to be a list of very specific coordinated to certain spots on Earth. One spot was the Pyramids of Giza. Another was the Nazca Lines in Peru. And one was the exact location where ancient cartographers placed Hy-Brasil. It could be a coincident or it could be proof, as some theorists claim, that Hy-Brasil really did exist. 

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.