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Strange Island in Fog

Hy-Brasil: The Legendary Phantom Island of Ireland


Hy-Brasil is a mysterious island appearing on maps from 1325 to the 1800s. 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. Stories about the island have circulated throughout Europe for centuries, with tales that it was the promised land of saints or a paradise where an advanced civilization lived.

On most maps, the island was located roughly 321 km (200 miles) off the west coast of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean. One of the most distinctive geographical features of Hy-Brasil on those maps is that it often appears as a circle with a channel (or river) running east to west across it.

Hy-Brasil on a map from 1325

Hy-Brasil on a map from 1325. (Ocultoreveladoaverdade)

The Many Names of the Mysterious Island

Hy-Brasil (also called Hy-Breasal, Hy-Brazil, Hy-Breasil, and Brazir) is derived from the name Breasal meaning the High King of the world in Celtic history. It was noted on maps as early as 1325 by the Genoese cartographer Angelino Dulcert, where it was identified as “Bracile.” It later appeared in the Catalan Atlas in 1375, which placed it as two separate islands with the same name, “Illa de brasil”.

In 1436, it showed up as “Sola De Brasil” in the Venetian map by cartographer Andrea Bianco. Attached to one of the larger islands of a group in the Atlantic, this was identified for a time with Mater Island. It would show up again in 1595 on the Ortelius Map of Europe and Europa Mercator Map and occasionally show up in slightly different locations on different maps over time.

Hy-Brasil (here simply Brasil), close-up of the Ortelius Map of Europe

Hy-Brasil (here simply Brasil), close-up of the Ortelius Map of Europe. (Public Domain)

Expeditions in Search of Hy-Brasil

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.

The  Nautical chart of Western Europe (1473) shows Hy-Brasil in a circular shape

The  Nautical chart of Western Europe (1473) shows Hy-Brasil in a circular shape. (British Library)

Nearly two centuries later Scottish sea captain, John Nisbet, 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.

Large Black Rabbits and a Mysterious Magician

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 Nisbet’s findings.

In the following years, Hy-Brasil would retreat into anonymity. 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.”

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.

Myths and Legends About Hy-Brasil

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 rumored 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.

An artistic representation of what Hy-Brasil may have looked like

An artistic representation of what Hy-Brasil may have looked like. (Wikia)

In one famous UFO encounter, known as the Rendlesham Forest incident, a strange craft is reported to have landed outside a U.S. military base in the U.K. Sergeant Jim Penniston claims to have touched this craft and telepathically receive 16 pages of binary code into his mind. He wrote down the code the next day and had it translated decades later. The code was said to list very specific coordinates of Hy-Brasil and listed the location where ancient cartographers had it mapped. The message also listed the coordinates of several other ancient sites around the world such as the Pyramids at Giza and Nazca Lines. At the very bottom of the message, coordinates of Hy-Brasil were listed again along with an origin year of 8100.

Binary Code showing the coordinates of Hy-Brasil and other locations

Binary Code showing the coordinates of Hy-Brasil and other locations. (Tribelightstation)

Hy-Brasil as Ireland's Atlantis

While Atlantis may be the most famous lost civilization, Hy-Brasil is better documented and has more eyewitness accounts behind it. 

The legend could be a story that was passed down through generations from the end of the last Ice Age when sea levels were lower. For example, the so-called Porcupine Bank, discovered in 1862, appears to have been an island at some point in time. Located about 193 km (120 miles) west of Ireland, it is a shoal exposed at extreme low tide and is where an 1830 chart had ‘Brazil Rock’ located. The bank’s highest point is around 200 meters (656 feet) below sea level and was sunk either due to a catastrophe or rising sea levels.

Porcupine Bank and Seabight, bathemetry of the Northeast Atlantic

Porcupine Bank and Seabight, bathemetry of the Northeast Atlantic. (Public Domain)

Today, no such island called Hy-Brasil exists on any maps or nautical charts and no historical documents were ever recorded to indicate what happened to it. Mainstream historians simply consider it a case of mistaken identity. Nevertheless, it is a peculiar riddle in history that is likely to be debated and discussed into the future.

A Map of Europe from 1570 showing Hy-Brasil at another location (look beside the foot of the animal 'Europa' is riding)

A Map of Europe from 1570 showing Hy-Brasil at another location (look beside the foot of the animal 'Europa' is riding). (Public Domain)

BBC Radio Four made a program based on legends and the story of Hy-Brasil, it can be found here:

Top Image: Strange Island in Fog. Hy-Brasil allegedly disappeared into the mist. Source: BBC

By Bryan Hill


Jacobs, Frank. "572 - The Phantom Island of Brazil | Big Think." Big Think. July 3, 2012.

"Hy-Brasil, the Other Atlantis - Historic Mysteries." Historic Mysteries. December 31, 2010.

"Hy-Brasil: The Real Mysterious Island." Top Secret Writers. February 15, 2012.

"The Lost Island of Hybrasil - Altered Dimensions Paranormal." Altered Dimensions Paranormal. December 28, 2012.

Swancer, Brent. "The Lost Phantom Island of Ireland | Mysterious Universe." Mysterious Universe. March 19, 2015.

"St Brendan the Navigator." MYSTERIOUS WORLD.

"Did Mythical, Vanishing Island off the Western Coast of Ireland Really Exist?" IrishCentral. July 25, 2015.

"Before John Cabot's Voyage of Discovery." Visitnewfoundland.

"The Phantom Island of Hy-Brasil (The Brazil That Wasn’t)." The Basement Geographer. March 31, 2011.



I say it got flooded, together with some other "phantom islands". What we need is affordable submarines, to look for those things under the water.

Plutarch in Moralia, "The face on the moon", (941 on the original text) writes: "An isle, Ogygia, lies far out at sea, a run of five days off from Britain as you sail westward..." That could be Hy Brasil, and elsewhere Plutarch implies that this Ogygia is the very island of Calypso in Odyssey by the same name. Nevertheless, Ogygia for the ancient Greeks meant a vaguely remote and mythical place, and probably as such Homer uses the name to evantually cover a quite different story for his hero (Calypso means "to cover" in Greek).

The ancient maps depict Hy Brasil in the Atlantic Ocean to the West of Ireland, but a voyage between France and Ireland should not go so far West. The location of an island between Ireland and France could be the Scillies, but the one in the story seems to fit Lambay Island. There have been rabbits on Lambay since at least the late medieval period: “the tithes of Lambay's rabbits to the nuns - at that time the rabbit taxes were worth 100 shillings a year.” Wikipedia further states: “in the mid 16th century [...] Challoner [...] was to inhabit Lambay "with a colony of honest men". He was a very active man who worked four mines for silver and copper [...]. During this period, Lambay Castle - a small blockhouse or fort - was built on the western side of the island.” The presence of silver mines is consistent with the silver of the story. At times, the population of the island has been very low, only three in 2014 for example. It could be a tale with some truth in it.

Wikipedia reads:
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.

Could it be Avalon?


Bryan Hill's picture


Bryan graduated with a Bachelor of Art in History from Suffolk University and has a background in museum volunteering and as well as working with children’s groups at the Museum of Science and the National Park Service.  He has traveled... Read More

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