Hy-Brassil: Irish origins of Brazil
By Roger Casement
Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, Vol. 4, No. 3 (2006)
Abstract: 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.
Introduction: 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. 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.
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’.