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Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic

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Author Topic: Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic  (Read 3660 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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« Reply #120 on: January 27, 2009, 11:50:00 pm »

The island of St. Brandan's was sometimes supposed to lie in the Northern Atlantic, sometimes farther south. It often appears as the Fortunate Isle or Islands, "Insulæ Fortunatæ" or "Beatæ."

On some early maps (1306 to 1471) there is an inlet on the western coast of Ireland called "Lacus Fortunatus," which is filled with Fortunate Islands to the number of 358 (Humboldt, "Examen," II. p. 159), and in one map of 1471 both these and the supposed St. Brandan's group appear in different parts of the ocean under the same name. When the Canary Islands were discovered, they were supposed to be identical with St. Brandan's, but the latter was afterwards supposed to lie southeast of them. After the discovery of the Azores various expeditions were sent to search for St. Brandan's until about 1721. It was last reported as seen in 1759. A full bibliography

p. 245

will be found in Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History," I. p. 48, and also in Humboldt's "Examen," II. p. 163, and early maps containing St. Brandan's will be found in Winsor (I. pp. 54, 58). The first of these is Pizigani's (1387), containing "Ysolæ dictæ Fortunatæ," and the other that of Ortelius (1587), containing "S. Brandain."

XIII. HY-BRASAIL
"The people of Aran, with characteristic enthusiasm, fancy, that at certain periods, they see Hy-Brasail, elevated far to the west in their watery horizon. This has been the universal tradition of the ancient Irish, who supposed that a great part of Ireland had been swallowed by the sea, and that the sunken part often rose and was seen hanging in the horizon: such was the popular notion. The Hy-Brasail of the Irish is evidently a part of the Atlantis of Plato; who, in his 'Timæus,' says that that island was totally swallowed up by a prodigious earthquake." (O’Flaherty's "Discourse on the History and Antiquities of the Southern Islands of Aran, lying off the West Coast of Ireland," 1824, p. 139.)

The name appeared first (1351) on the chart called the Medicean Portulana, applied to an island off the Azores. In Pizigani's map (1367) there appear three islands of this name, two off the Azores and one off Ireland. From this time the name appears constantly in maps, and in 1480 a man named John Jay went out to discover the island on July 14, and returned unsuccessful on September 18. He called it Barsyle or Brasylle; and Pedro d’Ayalo, the Spanish Ambassador, says that such voyages were made for seven years "according to the

p. 246

fancies of the Genoese, meaning Sebastian Cabot." Humboldt thinks that the wood called Brazil-wood was supposed to have come from it, as it was known before the South American Brazil was discovered.

A manuscript history of Ireland, written about 1636, in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, says that Hy-Brasail was discovered by a Captain Rich, who saw its harbor but could never reach it. It is mentioned by Jeremy Taylor ("Dissuasives from Popery," 1667), and the present narrative is founded partly on an imaginary one, printed in a pamphlet in London, 1675, and reprinted in Hardiman's "Irish Minstrelsy" (1831), II. p. 369. The French Geographer Royal, M. Tassin, thinks that the island may have been identical with Porcupine Bank, once above water. In Jeffrey's atlas (1776) it appears as "the imaginary island of O’Brasil." "Brazil Rock" appears on a chart of Purdy, 1834 (Humboldt's "Examen Critique," II. p. 163). Two rocks always associated with it, Mayda and Green Rock, appear on an atlas issued in 1866. See bibliography in Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History," I. p. 49, where there are a number of maps depicting it (I. pp. 54-57). The name of the island is derived by Celtic scholars from breas, large, and i, island; or, according to O'Brien's "Irish Dictionary," its other form of O’Brasile means a large imaginary island (Hardiman's "Irish Minstrelsy," I. p. 369). There are several families named Brazil in County Waterford, Ireland ("Transactions of the Ossianic Society, Dublin," 1854, I. p. 81). The following poem about the island, by Gerald Griffin, will be found in Sparling's "Irish Minstrelsy" (1888), p. 427:--

p. 247


    HY-BRASAIL, THE ISLE OF THE BLEST

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;
O far on the verge of the ocean it lay,
Yet the isle of the blest was away, far away! p. 248

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 labor 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!

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