Mythical Brasil beside Ireland. Ortelius Map of 1572

Hy Brasail — The Isle of the Blest, by Gerald Griffin

On the ocean that hollows the rocks where ye dwell,
A shadowy land has appeared, as they tell;
Men thought it a region of sunshine and rest,
And they called it Hy-Brasail, the isle of the blest.
From year unto year on the ocean's blue rim,
The beautiful spectre showed lovely and dim;
The golden clouds curtained the deep where it lay,
And it looked like an Eden, away, far away!

A peasant who heard of the wonderful tale,
In the breeze of the Orient loosened his sail;
From Ara, the holy, he turned to the west,
For though Ara was holy, Hy-Brasail was blest.
He heard not the voices that called from the shore--
He heard not the rising wind's menacing roar;
Home, kindred, and safety, he left on that day,
And he sped to Hy-Brasail, away, far away!

Morn rose on the deep, and that shadowy isle,
O'er the faint rim of distance, reflected its smile;
Noon burned on the wave, and that shadowy shore
Seemed lovelily distant, and faint as before;
Lone evening came down on the wanderer's track,
And to Ara again he looked timidly back;
Oh! far on the verge of the ocean it lay,
Yet the isle of the blest was away, far away!

Rash dreamer, return! O, ye winds of the main,
Bear him back to his own peaceful Ara again.
Rash fool! for a vision of fanciful bliss,
To barter thy calm life of labour and peace.
The warning of reason was spoken in vain;
He never revisited Ara again!
Night fell on the deep, amidst tempest and spray,
And he died on the waters, away, far away!


This fictitious island was one of the most persistent, appearing on maps for more than 500 years. The legend started with the Celts, who told of a land of plenty and happiness located somewhere in the west, "where the sun touched the horizon or immediately on its other side." The legend of St. Brendan's Isle, the Isles of the Blessed, and the Fortunate Isles share similar features and have most likely cross-fertilized. The legend was told among Bristol fishermen, who reported to have seen it, and several major expeditions were mounted to find it. Though it always eluded those who searched for it.

One of its first appearances on a map was on the Dalorto map of 1325. It is generally located west of Ireland, although it appears in many different locations, shifting closer and closer to North America as the centuries progressed. It was recorded by the 12th c. cleric, Giraldus Cambrensis, to be cloaked in mist, except for one day each seven years when it became visible but could still not be reached. It is usually depicted as round, divided in two by a wide river, which is not unlike Plato's description of Atlantis.

Several expeditions left to search for it in the late fifteenth century, the last led by John Cabot. The last supposed sighting was in 1872, but it appeared regularly on maps lying south west of Galway Bay from 1325 until 1865, by which time it was called Brazil Rock. Despite its name, it shares no relation to the country of Brazil, which was named for the brazilwood tree that grew there. 

Brasil and Maydas, Blaeu map, 1617