Hy-Brassil: Irish origins of Brazil

By Roger Casement (1 September 1864 - 3 August 1916)

Edited by Angus Mitchell (*)

West view from the Sky Road, Clifden, county Galway

The name Brazil could only have come to the Portuguese from the Celtic legendary name applied to the 'islands of the blessed', the Tír na nÓg of the land of the setting sun, which the Galway and Mayo peasant still sees in the sunset just as the Galician and Lusitanian wayfarers in Cabral's day dreamt of it before their eyes had actually fallen on the peaks of Porto Seguro rising from the western waves.



Catalan Atlas by Abraham Cresques,
showing Hy-Brassil west of Ireland, 1375
(Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris)

This lecture, held in the National Library of Ireland Ms. 13,087(31), was written by Roger Casement during his time as a British consul in Belém do Pará at the mouth of the Amazon sometime during 1907-1908. [1] In broad terms it puts forward an argument that the origins of the name Brazil derive from the mythical Hy-Brassil. This imagined island, located to the west of Ireland, is variously described as a 'promised land', the island of the blesséd - Tír na nÓg - the land of the setting sun, and features most largely in the voyages of St Brendan. [2]

In arguing such a root, Casement was current with Irish historical study of the day. He believed that Hy-Brassil was a name derived from the legends of the Atlantic sea-board, with Celto-Iberian origins dating from 'Atlantis and the submerged mother-land of the early Irish, Iberians and possibly Phoenicians'.

The name Brazil as a surname is current and common to both Ireland and Portugal today and in Irish place names such as Clanbrassil. Certainly 'Brazil', in a number of variant spellings, can be found in several ancient Irish manuscripts. 'Breasail' is the name used for a pagan demigod in Hardiman's History of Galway. Another possible derivation is from St Brecan, who shared the Aran islands with St Enda about 480 or 500 and was originally called Bresal. The name appears to have been built upon two Gaelic syllables 'breas' and 'ail'.

On a number of medieval maps Brazil also appears as the name for a land south west of the Skelligs. Elsewhere, it is one of the islands of the Azores, possibly Terceira. The earliest map is one drawn by Angellinus Dalorto of Genoa in 1325, where Brazil appears as a large disk of land to the south of Ireland. But on many later Italian and Catalan maps the name frequently reappears. [3]

Geraldo Cantarino's Uma ilha chamada Brasil: o paraíso irlandês no passado brasileiro
(2004) is the most authoritative recent work on
the subject of Hy-Brassil.

Before setting out for America in 1492, Columbus is alleged to have said, when pointing at the Isle of St Brendan on Toscanelli's map: 'I am convinced that the Earthly Paradise is on the isle of St. Brendan, which nobody can reach save by the will of God.'

In looking at how the Irish origins of Brazil had been written out of the history books, Casement was able to show how the Anglo-Saxon interpretation of history had obscured and corrupted the history rooted in a more ancient Irish origin. It gave him the chance to analyse the orthodox view of 'discovery' history and a group of historians who, he felt, had neglected the Irish influence in Atlantic culture through their ignorance of the Irish language and their denial of a more ancient and mystical source of knowledge.


Angus Mitchell


(*) Anyone wishing to quote from this document should seek permission from the Department of Manuscripts, National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 July 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Mitchell, Angus (ed.),
Roger Casement's Hy-Brassil: Irish origins of Brazil' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 4:3 (July 2006). Available online (, accessed .


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