Hy-Brassil: Irish origins of Brazil

By Roger Casement



Editor's Notes

[1] One of the three double paged folios contains: "Brazil - at Bathsheba 7 September 1907"

[2] There is further scribbled material on this subject to be found in NLI MS 13,087 (23/ii) - which contains a more scholarly essay on possible Irish manuscripts that contain information on the etymological origins of Brazil and the legend of Atlantis. Casement questions Alexander von Humboldt’s belief that Brazil originated in Asiatic culture before entering the parlance of European trade. He also attacks as vague the idea of a Norman-Breton discovery of America by drawing attention to Beregerson Histoire de la Navigation (Paris, 1630), p.107. Bergerson argued for a French explanation of the name Brazil, which Casement felt was “grotesque.”

[3] See William H. Babcock - Legendary Islands of the Atlantic: A Study in Medieval Geography (1922); T.J. Westrropp, Brazil and the Legendary Islands of the West Atlantic (1912); Donald Johnson, Phantom Islands of the Atlantic - Legends of Seven Lands that never were (1994).

[4] Santos is the coffee port on the South Atlantic coast below São Paulo where Casement took up his first consular position in Brazil in 1906. The following year he moved to Belem do Pará, at the mouth of the Amazon, and the following year he was promoted to consul general in the former Brazilian capital of Rio de Janeiro. In 1910 he was recruited for a “special mission” by the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, to investigate rumours of atrocities in the disputed frontier region bordering Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia. Casement stayed on the case until his resignation from the Foreign Office in the summer of 1913.

[5] Pedro Alvarez Cabral (c.1467-c.1520) - Portuguese navigator, in 1500 he embarked from Lisbon with a fleet of thirteen ships bound for the East Indies. His first landfall was in Brazil in southern Bahia, where he claimed the land for the Portuguese crown. In April 2000 Brazil marked 500 years of official history.

[6] Alice Stopford Green (1847-1929). Historian. Born in County Meath, she was one of the closest of Casement's friends and they travelled together through many areas of Ireland and collaborated in much work. After the death of her husband, the historian J.R. Green in 1883, she became increasingly radical, sympathising with much of the intellectual discontent. She was the force behind the founding of the The Mary Kingsley Society of West Africa, founded in 1900. The Society tried to give African culture a fairer status in the public mind. Among its General Committee members: H.H. Asquith; Rev. Dr Butler, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge; Viscount Cromer, Dr. J.G. Frazer, John Holt, Sir Alfred Lyall, George Macmillan, Major Matthew Nathan C.M.G. Mrs. Green subsequently became a force behind the Congo reform movement and along with Roger Casement and Arthur Conan Doyle helped organise the Morel Testimonial Luncheon on 29 May 1911. In 1908 she published The Making of Ireland and Its Undoing, a work on early Irish history which Casement did much to promote. They also co-operated on Irish Nationality (1911) and both shared the platform with Captain J.R.White and the Rev. Armour on Casement’s entry onto the political stage at Ballymoney in October 1913. This event, known as the Protestant Protest, was a meeting held by Protestants that hoped to explain to the wider Protestant community of the North how they might better live at peace inside a United Ireland. The recent release of KV files at Kew Public Record Office in London shows how Mrs. Green was branded a “red hot revolutionist” by British Intelligence as a result of her close connection with some of the rebel leaders. After the executions she returned to Ireland and to St. Stephen’s Green to live. Her house continued to be a hive of discussion on several matter including how the Irish spirit might be better enlightened. She will remain as one of the most outstanding Irish scholars of her age. Casement’s correspondence with Green held in the National Library of Ireland is evidence of how important their discussion was in the construction of a new attitude to Irish history and a counter-history that opposed the Imperial version.

[7] Washington Irving (1783-1859). Historian and man of letters. Irving was born in New York and began his literary career writing satirical history such as A History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809). For health reasons he lived in Spain from 1826-29 and produced a series of studies including The History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828) and Voyages of the Companions of Columbus (1831) and Tales of the Alhambra. He was appointed Ambassador to Spain (1842-1846).

[8] William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859). American historian. Prescott was born in Massachusetts into a wealthy legal family. He studied at Harvard where he was half-blinded by a piece of bread thrown accidentally in his eye. He devoted most of his life to the study of Spanish and Spanish-American history. His most well-known works were translated into French, German and Spanish, including History of Ferdinand and Isabella (1838); History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843); The Conquest of Peru (1847); and an unfinished three volume History of Philip II (1855-58). More than any historian Prescott had the most widespread influence on the shaping of Europe’s understanding of Ibero-American history until relatively recently.

[9] William Robertson (1721-1793). Scottish historian. Studied at Edinburgh University. He volunteered for the defence of Edinburgh against the Jacobite rebels in 1745 and in 1751 took up a prominent role in the General Assembly and soon became leader of the “Moderates”. In 1761 he became a royal chaplain; in 1762 principle of Edinburgh University and in 1764 the Royal historiographer. His most far-reaching work was his History of Charles V (1769) which was widely praised by figures such as Voltaire and Gibbon. In 1777 he published his History of America, mainly concerned with early Spanish conquest in the New World.

[10] Robert Southey (1774-1843). Historian and Poet Laureate. Born in Bristol. After expulsion from Westminster school for writing an article showing sympathy for the Jacobites, Southey went up to Balliol College Oxford. With the poet Samuel Coleridge he planned to form a communist society in the West Country that came to nothing. He became an authority on the Anglo-Portuguese world following trips there in 1795 and 1800 and wrote an extensive three volume History of Brazil and another History of Portugal.

[11] St. Brendan (483-577). Navigator, mystic, Bishop of Clonfert. Born Fenit peninsula. The Navigatio Brendani relates his legendary voyage to a land of saints far to the west and north, possibly the Hebrides. He founded a number of monasteries in Ireland and Scotland including a monastery-museum at Ardfert and the Church of Ireland cathedral at Clonfert. Brendan, it is said, was buried beside the Romanesque pyramid-tympanum, archway door. His voyage to the Americas was re-enacted by Tim Severin, leaving Brandon Creek on 17 May 1976 showing a proven possibility that by tracing the north west Atlantic sea-board through the Western Islands of Scotland beyond the Faroes to Iceland and thence past Greenland to the north Atlantic shores of America.

[12] Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). Genoese explorer. In 1470 he was shipwrecked on the coast of Portugal. As early as 1474 he had conceived the design of reaching India by sailing westward - a design in which he was encouraged by a Florentine astronomer, Paolo Toscanelli. In 1477 he sailed 100 leagues beyond Thule, probably to or beyond Iceland; with other journeys to the Cape Verde Islands and Sierra Leone. After seven years of searching for a patron his plans were accepted by Ferdinand and Isabella. On Friday 3 August 1492 Columbus set sail in command of the small Santa Maria, with fifty men and attended by two little caravels the Pinta and Niña. After landfall in Caribbean he returned to Iberia and reached Palos on 15 March 1493. He made a further three voyages before dying in austere poverty in Valladolid.

[13] Henry Hallam (1777-1859). English historian, born in Windsor and educated Eton and Christchurch College, Oxford. Helped by a private income, he was able to leave his study of law to pay for a life of letters and the writing of Whig history. His work includes: Europe during the Middle Ages (1818); The Constitutional History of England from Henry VII to George II (1827)

[14] Duns Scotus (c.1265-1308) Scottish scholar-philosopher and rival of Thomas Aquinas as the leading medieval theologian. His life is something of a mystery compared to his philosophy which was widely understood. He believed in the primacy of the individual and the freedom of the individual will and considered faith to be an act of the will, a practical issue and not speculative or theoretical. The Franciscan Order followed Duns Scotus.


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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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