Hy Brasil: The Metamorphosis of an Island From Cartographic Error to Celtic Elysium


Hy Brasil: The Metamorphosis of an Island

From Cartographic Error to Celtic Elysium

 Barbara Freitag

 Rodopi, Amsterdam/New York, NY 2013. XII, 343 + 5 colour ill. pp. (Textxet 69)

ISBN: 978-90-420-3641-3                                 Paper

ISBN: 978-94-012-0910-6                                 E-Book

Online info: http://www.rodopi.nl/senj.asp?BookId=TEXTXET+69


Brasil Island, better known as Hy Brasil, is a phantom island. In the fourteenth century Mediterranean mapmakers marked it on nautical charts to the west of Ireland, and its continued presence on maps over the next six hundred years inspired enterprising seafarers to sail across the Atlantic in search of it. Writers, too, fell for its lure. While English writers envisioned the island as a place of commercial and colonial interest, artists and poets in Ireland fashioned it into a fairyland of Celtic lore. 

 This pioneering study first traces the cartographic history of Brasil Island and examines its impact on English maritime exploration and literature. It investigates the Gaelicization process that the island underwent in nineteenth century and how it became associated with St Brendan. Finally, it pursues the Brasil Island trope in modern literature, the arts and popular culture.




List of Images


The Cartographic History of Brasil Island

Mediterranean Mapping and Naming


The Bristol Voyages and King Arthur on Brasil Island

Brasil Island in Irish Folklore

Oral Lore

Brasil Island in Literature and Legend: The Older Tradition

Gaelic Otherworlds

Clerical Sea Voyages and St Brendan’s Visit to Brasil Island

Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century English Travellers’ Tales

An Aborted Irish Attempt to Write about the Island

The Vision of Ulster: Brasil Island and National Identity


“Hy Brasil: Paradise of the Pagan Irish” in Modern Literature and the Arts

From High Art to Popular Culture: Hy Brasil’s Broad Appeal


Appendix: Cartographic Appearances of Brasil Island



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