What is Hy Brasil?

Updated: May 14

In The Faerie Apothecary Mysteries, a tourist arrives on the island to see if it is the fabled city of Hy Brasil, but what is Hy Brasil and could it be Moss Hill?


Could the island of Moss Hill be the legendary Hy Brasil?

In the 1330's a chart in a book on sailing made a reference an island to the west of Ireland called Hy Brasil (Byrne, 2015). The island continued to be included in maps into the seventeenth century. But by then, cartographers had realized that such an island does not exist. Or does it?


Though the island is no longer included in maps, myths about the island have persisted. References to the island as the "Happy Isles," "islands for the dead," and even the "otherworld" have all been used through the years to describe this mythical place (Byrne, 2015). There are very few books devoted to the topic today (Byrne (2015) reviews one by Barbara Freitag), but references to Hy Brasil can be found in various texts to this day.


A 1911 version of the Encyclopedia Britannica states that "Brasil" in this context refers to red dye woods. It further suggests the first occurrence as being from a 1430's Venetian map and it was located near the Azores. This particular island was later inhabited and renamed Terceira. The entry suggests that the South American country of Brazil might derive its name from the legendary island. Although this encyclopedia entry provides a plausible origin for real islands and countries, the earlier 1330's charts mentioned above would predate the Venetian maps and do not correspond in location, leaving it open as a possibility that this is not the same island of lore.


In Lady Gregory's Complete Irish Mythology (2014) the Tuatha de Danann are said to have the power to cover islands in mists and several islands of magic are noted in folklore. For example, Tir-nam-Beo is mentioned in the myth "His Call to Connla" (p.92-94, Gregory & Yeats, 2014). This island is called the "Land of the Ever-Living Ones" and is said to be home of the sidhe people and a place where there is no death. In another story in the folklore, called "Tadg in Manannan's Islands" there are two islands referenced that are inhabited by the faerie people, magical birds, golden apples, unknown berries and other various wonders. The human visitors found that it was spring there while it was winter at home and that time passed differently, as one day there was a whole year in the human realm.


In The Faerie Apothecary Mysteries, this difference in time passage does not exist in Moss Hill. Yet, a visitor does appear on the island with the theory that Moss Hill is, in fact, the legendary Hy Brasil. Is he correct? All I can say for now is that more than one mythical island will be included in the series and that Moss Hill is definitely special. To find out more, read The Faerie Apothecary Mysteries!


References:

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brazil (island). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclopædia_Britannica/Brazil_(island)


Angela Byrne (2015) Hy Brasil: the metamorphosis of an island. From cartographic error to Celtic Elysium, Irish Studies Review, 23:1, 97-98, DOI: 10.1080/09670882.2014.986842


Gregory, A., & Yeats, W. B. (2014). Lady Gregory's Complete Irish mythology. London: Chancellor Press.

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