Clonony Castle, Ireland’s link with the Boleyn family


Cluain Damhna
Coordinates: 53°14′N 7°55′WCoordinates: 53°14′N 7°55′W
Country Ireland
Province Leinster
County Offaly
Time zone WET (UTC+0)
 • Summer (DST) IST (WEST) (UTC-1)

Clonony (Irish: Cluain Damhna Beag) is a hamlet in County Offaly, Ireland, on the R357 regional road. Located between the River Brosna and the Grand Canal, it is noted for its late medieval tower house of the same name, which was built in 1500. It is situated in the parish of Gallen and Reynegh and lies approximately one mile west of Cloghan and four miles east of Banagher.

Clonony Castle

Clonony Castle

Clonony Castle (Caisleán Chluain Damhna) is a Tudor castle built by the MacCoughlan clan, and ceded to Henry VIII by John Óg MacCoghlan, then to Thomas Boleyn when Henry wanted to marry his daughter Anne.[1] Mary and Elizabeth Boleyn, second cousins to Queen Elizabeth I, lived out their lives in this castle and their tombstone still stands on the castle grounds. The grave was discovered in 1803, approximately 100 yards from the castle. The inscription on the eight feet by four feet, limestone flag reads: “Here under leys Elisabeth and Mary Bullyn, daughters of Thomas Bullyn, son of George Bullyn the son of George Bullyn Viscount Rochford son of Sir Thomas Bullyn Erle of Ormond and Willsheere.”[2]

The castle was occupied from 1612 to about 1620 by Matthew de Renzi (1577–1634), a London cloth merchant originally from Cologne in Germany, who created the first English-Irish dictionary, according to his tombstone in Athlone. He acquired it after it had been forfeited by the MacCoghlans during the Nine Years’ War.[3]

The fifty-foot tower, an Irish National Monument, is surrounded by gardens and a moat. The castle is a few miles from Clonmacnoise, an ancient seat of Irish learning. Shannon Harbour and the towns of Cloghan, Banagher and Shannonbridge are close by. The castle is currently being restored, and is open to the public at no cost, and although there are no specific hours, the owners try to keep the castle open and encourage tours.

The castle has all the basic features of a tower house of this period such as machicolation, murder hole, base batter, mural passages, spiral staircase, gun-loops, garderobe and bawn. The first floor had collapsed but has been replaced in recent restoration works by the owners. The castle also boasts a barrel-vaulted ceiling making up the second floor which has been restored.[4] The Tower House is three storeys high with an entrance in the west wall with a machicolation above it. There is a fire-proof vault over the ground floor in the interior and a spiral stair leads to the upper floors. There are round-headed, ogee-headed and flat headed windows. The bawn wall with its two square corner towers and entrance, which had a coat of arms, was reconstructed in the nineteenth century and gives a good impression of how an original Tower House might have looked, with a set of perimeter and internal defences. The inner bawn building in front of the west entrance appears to be a nineteenth-century construction.[5]

The Annals of the Four Masters record “A great war broke out in Dealbhna between the descendants of Farrell Mac Coghlan and the descendants of Donnell, in the course of which James Mac Coghlan, Prior of Gailinne, and the Roydamna of Dealbhna Eathra, was killed by a shot fired from the castle of Cluain-damhna.”[5][6]


  1. Sweetman, David, Medieval Castles of Ireland, Dublin, 2000.
  2. Clonony Castle, Banagher, A Brief History, Banagher Parish Council, June 1951.
  3. Ryan, Brendan, A German Planter in the Midlands, History Ireland. Retrieved on 27 January 2013.
  4. Clonony Castle, The Standing Stone. Retrieved on 27 January 2013.
  5. Clonony Castle, Cultural Heritage Ireland. Retrieved on 27 January 2013.
  6. Annála Ríoghachta Éireann (Annals of the Four Masters), M1519.15: Coccadh mór i n-Dealbhna etir Sliocht Ferghail Még Cochláin & Sliocht Domhnaill dia ro marbhadhSemus Mag Cochláin prióir Gailinne, & ríoghdhamhna Dealbhna Ethra d’urchor do pheilér as caislén Cluana Damhna.

See also

External links

A German Planter in the Midlands

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 1 (Spring 2000), News, Volume 8

Born in Cologne, Germany, in 1577, Mathew de Renzi claimed descent from Albania’s national hero, George Castriott, also known as Scanderberg (d.1468), who defended his homeland against the Turks. De Renzi was a cloth merchant and operated from Antwerp, one of many foreigners who controlled trade in that city. But Antwerp’s trade declined as a result of the long drawn out conflict between the ruling Spanish Hapsburgs and the Dutch United Provinces to the north, and sometime before 1604 de Renzi moved to London. By January 1606 he found himself in financial difficulties, unable to recoup money owed from other merchants: he was declared bankrupt, his creditors were after him, and in August he beat a hasty retreat to Scotland en route to Ireland.
He arrived in Ireland penniless, but soon became friendly with Sir Arthur Chichester, then Lord Deputy. Chichester saw in him an enterprising man of trade, and thus an asset for the ‘benefit of the kingdom’. During his first year in Ireland he curried favour with important establishment figures in Dublin, also visiting the port towns of Waterford, Limerick and Galway. He stayed in Thomond for some time where he became friendly with the old Irish family of Mac Bruaideadh, who were the hereditary historians of the O’Briens, Earls of Thomond. Here he learned spoken or colloquial Irish. His teachers were Conchubhar and Tadhg Mac Daire MacBruaideadh, who were both associated with the cycle of poems known as Iomarbhaidh na bhFilé [The Contention of the Bards]. From Tadhg Ó hUiginn of Sligo he learned classical Irish so that he could read Irish manuscripts and write the language. Although de Renzi was a linguist of note (speaking Latin, Italian, English, German, French and Spanish), his object in learning Irish had nothing to do with missionary zeal or even linguistic curiosity: it was motivated by a practical need to establish himself as a landowner in a Gaelic lordship.
Sometime in 1612 de Renzi arrived in West Offaly, the territory known as Delvin Eathra or Delvin MacCoghlan (the MacCoghlans were the hereditary chieftains of the area), nowadays the barony of Garrycastle, encompassing the towns of Ferbane, Banagher, Cloghan and Shannonbridge. It was bounded on the west by the river Shannon, and bogs made it almost inaccessible on the other three sides. He acquired a hundred acres in the Clononey area, including Clononey Castle, property which had been forfeited by Cuchogrie MacCoghlan, killed in 1601 during the Nine Years War. De Renzi bought it from a middle-ranking administrator, Roger Downton, probably using the dowry from his first wife, whom he had married in 1608.
When he first arrived Delvin Eathra was a vast countryside of woods and bogs, almost totally inhabited by native Irish, who spoke only Irish, and whom de Renzi described as idle, backward in speech, manners, dress and customs. Many of them bore the name MacCoghlan. He moved into the castle which had very small windows and as a result was in a state of almost perpetual darkness. He had no way of knowing for sure the extent of his lands or its boundaries. The MacCoghlans ignored his presence and ploughed his land, a customary method of indicating a land dispute. He hired local labour but there were constant outbreaks of violence between both parties.
The MacCoghlans were under instructions from the head of the clan, Sir John Óg MacCoghlan, to shun this interloper, neither to sell to him nor to buy from him, except at excessive rates. De Renzi wrote many letters to the lords deputy in Dublin and to King James I in England, seeking help and proposing schemes of plantation. His many letters give useful insights into the difficulties experienced by a settler landowner.
In January he wrote from Killenboy, County Roscommon, to Sir Oliver St John. Killenboy, situated between Knockcroghery and Lanesboro, was the home place of Richard Maypowder who had received a grant of land in 1616. De Renzi’s second wife, Anne, was a daughter of Maypowder. The Maypowder family lived in Kilteevan House, in the adjoining townland of Cloontogher, until the early years of this century and the name still persists. De Renzi was afraid to spend the winter in Clononey for fear of the MacCoghlans. His possession of the land was being hotly contested: ‘I have thought good to spend the dark winter nights here in Connacht.’
He argued that plantation would civilise Delvin Eathra. He listed the barbarous customs of the natives, such as attaching ploughs to horses’ tails, the burning of straw, the Brehon Laws, and the custom of migrating each summer with their cattle to the uplands, known as ‘booleying’. Most, he claimed, built their house without chimneys:

They live upon oaten bread and spreckled butter all the year, lie in straw, wear a shirt for four months or till it be rotten afore it be washed, keep beastly houses, endure rain, cold, and snow all day and then roast themselves at night like hogs; go naked and cazer from one smokie cabin to another; eat their meat at unseasonable time, fast sometimes two or three days together, and then eat so much again when they come at it as will keep them three of four days fasting after, like unto hungry wolves.

Next, he wrote of the idleness of the people and the lack of tradesmen. However, most of his venom was reserved for Sir John Óg MacCoghlan (Seán Óg), head of the sept. Even though Sir John had remained loyal to the Crown during the Elizabethan wars, he was portrayed by de Renzi as a traitor and a threat. He saw MacCoghlan as the main force behind the attempts to thwart him in his acquisitions and his letters demonised him. Seán Óg could not be trusted because he was ‘but a bastard, born in double bastardy’, and ruled as a tyrant, suppressing his own people. He related tales of terror perpetrated by MacCoghlan on English settlers and on his own people. Finally, he saw Delvin Eathra as having a strategic location. It was an important access route to Connacht and contained two major crossings of the Shannon, at Banagher and Shannonbridge.
It is difficult to assess the sincerity of these arguments or if they were a cover for his own greed. His grant of a hundred acres soon grew to 1,016 and he acquired properties in Counties Westmeath, Wexford and Dublin. Delvin Eathra was eventually planted in 1619/20, as were parts of Westmeath, Longford and Leitrim. About that time he sold his interest in Clononey; like others before him, he had used it as a stepping stone to greater things. He moved to Dublin and became a government administrator, always with a view to his own aggrandisement. He was knighted in 1627.
His interest in the Irish language was complex. He had mastered both the written and spoken language and was able, through conversing with the natives, to trace the genealogy of the MacCoghlans back four generations. He used this knowledge of the local béaloideas to strengthen his claim to the disputed land at Clononey. Such was his deep knowledge of both colloquial and classical Irish that he was nominated by the poets of the South (Leath Mhogha) as their independent judge against the poets of the North (Leath Chuinn), in what became known as the Contention of the Bards (1616-24).
By June 1608 he had composed an Irish grammar. He also claimed to have composed an Irish dictionary, as well as ‘chronicles in the Irish tongue’. Yet he advocated the destruction of Gaelic culture and manuscripts, seeing in them a form of propaganda which glorified dynasticism and incited the Irish against the English conquest.
He died on 29 August 1634 at the age of fifty-seven. His son, also Mathew, commissioned a memorial in his honour. It was erected in St Mary’s Church, Athlone, in 1635. When the present St Mary’s Church was built in 1820 the memorial was inserted in the rear wall, where it may still be seen. However, there is no evidence that Sir Mathew died in Athlone. The inscription reads:

This monument was erected for the rightful worshipfull Sir Mathew de Renzi Knight: Who departed this life on 29th August 1634: Beinge of the age of 57 years. Born at Cullen [sic] in Germany: and descended from that famous and renowned warrior Cieorge Castriott Als Scanderbege (who in the Christian Warre fought 52 battailes with great conquest and honour against the great Turke). He was a great traveller and general linguist: and kept correspondency with most nations in many weighty affairs: and in three years gave great pfection to his nation by composinge a grammar dictionary and chronicle in the Irish tongue and in accompts most expert and exceedinge all others to his great applause. This work was accomplished by his sonn Mathew de Renzi Esqr. August 29 1635.

Brendan Ryan is a retired school teacher.

Clonony Castle, Co. Offaly.

Location – The castle is on the R357, not far from Clonmacnoise.
OS: N 052 216 (map 47)
Longitude: 7° 55′ 19.55″ W
Latitude: 53° 14′ 41.17″ N
See map at the bottom of the page.
Description and History – This well preserved tower house is a perfect example of this style of castle. Standing at roughly 15m in height the castle has all the basic features of a tower house such as; machicolation, murder hole, base batter, mural passages, spiral staircase, gun-loops and bawn.  The first floor has collapsed but has been replaced in recent restoration works. According to the Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly the spiral staircase has partially collapsed preventing access to the upper floors. However, according to the present owner, these stairs were deliberately destroyed to prevent people accessing the castle when it was derelict. This is certainly a case of ‘state sponsored vandalism’ in Ireland which has happened all too often.  This castle also boasts a wonderful barrel vaulted ceiling making up the second floor which has been very well restored.
The history of this castle is equally as interesting as the building itself.  It was built by the MacCoughlan clan the early 16th century and was the first place in Ireland to practice musketry but was then ceded to Henry VIII in early 17th century.  The castle passed into the hands of the Boleyn family.  It was given as a gift to Thomas Boleyn by Henry as he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn.  In fact, cousins of Anne are buried in the grounds underneath a hawthorn three.  The writing on the stone has eroded away but may still be recovered with a rubbing.  Luckily this castle escaped the campaign of Cromwell and is in relatively good condition. The castle did become ruined but the excellent renovation work of the present owner is slowly restoring this castle to its former glory.
Difficulty – This site is not difficult to find as on the side of the road on the R357, not far from Clonmacnoise. There is no official parking here so you will have to park on the grass verge. The castle is privately owned and is a residence so always knock on the door and don’t barge in.
For more castles, click here.
For more sites in Co. Offaly, click here.
The impressive gateway entrance. You can see above the arch where the coat of arms would have been located. The owner informed me that it was removed by the previous owners and is still in tact somewhere.
Machicolation above the bawn wall entrance.
The bawn entrance from the inside.
The Boelyn gravestone.
Inside the renovated ground floor.
The owner has painstakingly found antiques to give the castle an authentic feel.
The restored first floor level.
One of the mural passages.
Looking out of one of the gun-loops.
Looking down on the second floor. The castle is missing its roof.

Applications of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati

Applications of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati

A. M. King, L. Cromarty, C. Paterson, J. S. Boyd

Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati is considered to be a Scottish delicacy; however, depleting wild stocks have resulted in attempts to farm them. Selective breeding has been successful in modifying behaviour, increasing body length, reducing hair coat and improving fank (litter) size. However, there are still significant problems associated with the terrain in which they are farmed. This article describes the use of ultrasonography in the reproductive management of this species and the introduction of new genetic material in an attempt to address these problems, with the aim of improving welfare and productivity.

Dux magnus gentis venteris saginati (which translates liter- ally as ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race’), more commonly known as the haggis, is an ancient creature that inhabits mountainous areas of the world. However, it is usually associ- ated with the highlands of Scotland, where it is mentioned in the literature as far back as the year 10Oatcake (McCrumbly 10Oatcake). The Scottish haggis (Haggis Scoticus vulgaris) is a shy creature that is not commonly sighted in the wild (Fig 1). It has adapted uniquely to the inhospitable terrain in which it lives, in that its left ipsilateral pair of legs (membra thoracici et pelvine sinistra) are considerably longer than its right ipsi- lateral pair (membra thoracici et pelvine dextra), allowing it to graze along the steep mountain slopes towards the rising sun and move through the heather.

The wild haggis is a seasonal breeder with a gestation period of 56 days. Mating takes place on November 30, when libido increases as a result of the few wee drams partaken at St Andrew’s night parties up in the glens. As a result of these indiscretions, most hagglets are born on January 25. It is also on this date that the annual cull of mature hag- gii takes place. With the stappit (pregnant haggs) safely in their burrows, the entire village helps to drive the rest of the haggis scuddle towards the end of the glen where, forced to turn abruptly in a confined space, they are incapacitated by their uneven leg length and lose their footing to tumble down into strategically placed nets. The size of the mesh is carefully regulated to ensure that only mature animals are ensnared. The writings of Rabbie Burns greatly increased the popularity of the haggis as a culinary delicacy (Burns 1786), and the day of the annual cull is now celebrated by Burns’ suppers. However, because the harsh climate limits wild haggis fank (litter) size to only two or three hagglets,

Selective breeding has successfully increased body length, reduced hair coat, modified (drinking) behaviour, reduced seasonality and increased fank size. However, the uneven leg length still poses a problem as it requires the provision of suitably inclined grazing. Attempts to rear haggii on flat ground in the lowlands resulted in a high incidence of ‘falling-over disease’, a condition similar to that affecting a large number of Scotsmen and veterinary students on a Friday night, and colloquially known as ‘stoatin’ fu’’ (McTipsy and others 1969). Although not usually fatal, it can cause signifi- cant nagging within the scuddle, which disrupts production.

The aim of the present project was to introduce genetic material from a variety of haggis from the southern hemi- sphere, Haggis mundus novis, also known as Haggis backto- frontus. This variety is membra dextra longa as opposed to the Scottish membra sinistra longa. The intention was to produce even-legged haggii (membra aequae) that could graze on flat land, thereby improving welfare and productiv- ity under farmed conditions. Animal movement restrictions prevented the importation of a live male haggis or hagg from the southern hemisphere, and therefore artificial insemina- tion was attempted for the first time in this species.


An adult farmed Scottish hagg was scanned daily throughout the oestrous cycle using a Powervision (Toshiba) ultrasound system and a 12 MHz linear transducer. At ovulation, the hagg was sedated using 4 drams/kg uisge bheath (Whyte and MacKay) and artificially inseminated with imported frozen southern hemisphere haggis semen. The hagg was scanned daily until pregnancy was detected and then throughout ges- tation until parturition at 56 days.


The thick subcutaneous fat layer that the haggis has evolved to withstand the Scottish climate prevented penetration of the ultrasound beam and imaging of the internal organs


This is the first report of ultrasonography being used in the management of reproduction in the haggis. It successfully identified ovarian structures and allowed the detection and monitoring of pregnancy. Information regarding leg length and sex was also obtainable, which is likely to be important in future breeding programmes.

In addition, this is the first report of the use of artificial insemination in this species. Such ancient species often do not tolerate artificial interference with their reproductive patterns. However, the genetic tendency of this species to find ‘uisge bheath’ irresistible makes them an easy-going and friendly species to work with.

The production of a hagglet that was membra diagonale longa was a worrying occurrence. This state has been reported to occur in the wild as a mutant variant where affected ani- mals cope by grazing the sides of narrow ditches and streams with their two long legs in the water and their two shorter legs on either bank. However, their anatomy predisposes them to

recurrent bouts of ‘falling-over disease’ (McTipsy and others 1969), although some observers claim that they walk straight and upright at Hogmanay after the ingestion of large volumes of uisge bheath (D. R. Stalker, personal communication). Membra diagonale longa hagglets are therefore undesirable in the farmed variety, and further work will involve attempts to increase the proportion of the fank that are membra aequae while reducing the incidence of this mutant state.


The authors thank M. Paterson for selflessly sacrificing his ‘Hey, Jimmy!’ wig and N. Milne for fearlessly restraining the hagg during the ultrasound examinations.


BURNS, R. (1786) To a Haggis. Caledonian Mercury. December 20, 1786 MCCRUMBLY, I. M. (10Oatcake) Ye olde haggis. In McCrumbly and Wrinkle’s

Guide to Ancient Scottish Beasties. 1st edn. Auchinshoogle Press. pp IV-X MCTIPSY, R. U., STEAMER, A., SHED, P. I. & WHISKY, M. A. C. (1969) Falling over disease in Scotsmen, students and haggii as a result of inappropriate

ground levels – honest! Prohibition Monthly 1, 1-3

Authors’ note

No haggii were harmed during this study. Hagglet 9 has been rehomed to a little old lady in Plockton who has called him Hamish, and he is living happily on a diet of hand-picked heather and Old Pulteney.

On a serious note, this work is entirely fictitious (apart from one scientific fact – haggis contains too much fat and air for ultrasound to penetrate at diagnostic ranges). It is being published to coincide with Burns Night (January 25) and its intent is pure and harmless fun.

The Veterinary Record, January 20, 2007

Photos of Ireland in the 1930s: The past is a foreign country


This amazing collection of colourised photographs was taken by an American photographer Branson DeCou (1892-1941) between 1932 and 1935.  DeCou spent nearly thirty years travelling the world and his images of Ireland give us a rare glimpse into a way of life that has long since disappeared. His fantastic catalogue of photos is now stored at the University of California, Santa Cruz where they can be accessed digitally here. The photos were originally taken in black and white and colour was then added by DeCou with aniline ink.

Connemara woman

Connemara woman

Connemara men

Connemara men


Bringing the turf home, Connemara

Blacksmith/wheel wright, Connemara

Co. Clare

Creamery, Co. Kerry

Digging turf, Kiltoom, Co. Kerry

Nolan’s pub, Tralee, Co. Kerry

Chimney sweep, Tralee

Ladies selling vegetables, Tralee

Macroom, Co. Cork

Newcastle West, Co. Limerick

 Carpenter at work, Adare, Co. Limerick

Cottage garden, Adare, Co. Limerick

 The Treaty Stone, Limerick city

 School children, Co. Kerry

 Cattle drover, Hanlon’s corner, Dublin city

 Bringing the hay home, Co. Dublin

 Delivering kegs of guinness, Dublin city

 Feeding the hens, Co. Donegal

Arklow harbour, Co. Wicklow

 Cottage, Co. Mayo

The Claddagh, Galway city

Clothes drying, The Claddagh, Galway city

Inside a Claddagh cottage

 St. Anne’s church, Cork city

Georgian doors, Merrion Square, Dublin

 St. Laurence’s gate, Drogheda, Co. Louth

 Bunratty castle, Co. Clare

Monasterboice, Co. Louth

Glendalough, Co. Wickow

Carrickfergus castle

St. Patrick’s cross, Cashel, Co. Tipperary

Britain’s Drunkest Pub Is Not What You Need When You’ve Had A Few Pints

We’ve all felt our legs going a bit wobbly when we’ve had a pint or several, but generally the pubs we all frequent have pretty level floors. However, if your local is the aptly named Crooked House in Himley, Staffordshire, you’ll know that the floors of this one are a little more wonky than normal.

The bent boozer has one end 4ft lower than the other, meaning the whole building, inside and out, is all over the place. Mining in the 1800s caused the building to have an obscure lean, meaning coins roll up the bar and glasses slide off seemingly flat surfaces.

Dan Lewis is the pub’s manager, and he said:

It can be really disorientating at first. When I first came in I didn’t have a drink because I felt so dizzy. I’m a local lad and have known about it all my life, but even that didn’t prepare me. It’s brilliant to run such a unique place. Dan Lewis, The Crooked House manager

The 27-year-old also added that people come from all over the world to see whether the pub is actually real.

We get visitors come from all over the world – as far as Japan and Australia – and they just can’t believe it. They’re convinced it was designed like this but it certainly isn’t!

Would you be able to stomach a pint here?

Hy-Brasil, the other Atlantis

Posted by: Fiona 

Brasil showing up on the map of Ireland by Abraham Ortelius in 1572

When discussing underwater lore and legends, Atlantis is an obvious subject of interest. However, the lost island of Hy-Brasil is just as intriguing and has more first-person accounts.Hy-Brasil is also spelled Hy-Breasal, Hy-Brazil, Hy-Breasil, Brazir and related variations. It may be the reason that the South American country, Brazil, was so named. The central image on the Brazilian flag, a circle with a channel across the center, is the symbol for Hy-Brasil on early maps.

The name of Hy-Brasil may come from the Middle Ages term brazil, which seems to indicate a source of rare red dye. The dye may have acquired its name from the legendary island, or vice versa.

Or, the name Hy-Brasil, also called the Fortunate Island, may originate with the old Irish word, breas,meaning noble or fortunate.

In folklore, this island country takes its name from Breasal, the High King of the World, in Celtic history.

(He may or may not be related to Bresal Echarlam mac Echach Baethlaim, from the stories of Lugh at Tara. He was not St. Breasal, although pre-Christian folklore may be the foundation for that saint’s legends.)

Hy-Brasil was noted on maps as early as 1325, when Genoese cartographer Dalorto placed the island west of Ireland. On successive sailing charts, it appears southwest of Galway Bay.

On some 15th century maps, islands of the Azores appear as Isola de Brazil, or Insulla de Brazil.

After 1865, Hy-Brasil appears on few maps since its location could not be verified.

Regardless of the name or location, the island’s history is consistent: It is the home of a wealthy and highly advanced civilization. Those who visited the island returned with tales of gold-roofed towers and domes, healthy cattle, and opulent citizens.

The lore of Hy-Brasil is equally fascinating. For example, it is shrouded in fog or perhaps beneath the ocean, and appears only briefly, once every seven years.

The island has been visited by many people for centuries. Both Saint Barrind and Saint Brendan found the island on their respective voyages, and returned home with nearly identical descriptions of Hy-Brasil, which they dubbed the “Promised Land.”

One of the most famous visits to Hy-Brasil was in 1674 by Captain John Nisbet of Killybegs, Co. Donegal, Ireland. He and his crew were in familiar waters west of Ireland, when a fog came up. As the fog lifted, the ship was dangerously close to rocks. While getting their bearings, the ship anchored in three fathoms of water, and four crew members rowed ashore to visit Hy-Brasil.

They spent a day on the island, and returned with silver and gold given to them by an old man who lived there. Upon the return of the crew to Ireland, a second ship set out under the command of Alexander Johnson.

They, too, found the hospitable island of Hy-Brasil and returned to Ireland to confirm the tales of Captain Nisbet and crew.

The last documented sighting of Hy-Brasil was in 1872, when author T. J. Westropp and several companions saw the island appear and then vanish. This was Mr. Westropp’s third view of Hy-Brasil, but on this voyage he had brought his mother and some friends to verify the existence of Hy-Brasil.

Researchers and archaeologists have searched in the most likely locations west of Ireland, and there is evidence that islands existed there. Shallow-water shells have been found at Porcupine Bank, somewhat northwest of the most likely location of Hy-Brasil. Even further north, similar shells were discovered at Rockhall.

So, there is evidence of land mass changes in that part of the Atlantic Ocean.

The most distinctive geographical feature of Hy-Brasil, is that it appears on maps as a perfect circle, with a semi-circular channel through the center. The circular perimeter of the island was confirmed by both Saints Barrind and Brendan, who separately walked the shore to determine where the island ended, but never found it. Most likely, they were walking in circles.

Although Hy-Brasil does not have the fame of Atlantis, outside role-playing games, it is a story worth exploring.

Other names for Hy-Brasil: Tir fo-Thuin (Land Under the Wave), Mag Mell (Land of Truth), Hy na-Beatha(Isle of Life), and Tir na-m-Buadha (Land of Virtue). Fourteeth and Fifteenth century maps spell Hy-Brasil as Ysole Brazil, Bracir, and Hy Breasail.


  • Phantom Islands of the Atlantic, by Donald S. Johnson
  • Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, by Peter Berresford Ellis
  • Celtic Myth and Legend, by Mike Dixon-Kennedy

You may find other articles from Fiona at her website, Faerie Magick.


Fiona Broome is an author, historian and consultant. Her research is usually extreme and groundbreaking, applying to a variety of fields. Online, she’s respected as the founder of Hollow Hill, one of the Internet’s oldest and largest websites about ghosts and haunted places.

The Mythical Island of Hy-Brasil

Magini map c.1597

Hy-Brasil, also spelled Hy-Breasal, Hy-Brazil, Hy-Breasil, Brazir and related variations, is a phantom island which features in many Irish myths. It was said to be cloaked in mist, except for one day each seven years, when it became visible but could still not be reached. It probably has similar roots to St Brendan’s Island. Another basis may be Helluland (probably Labrador), discovered by the Vikings. The names Brazil and Hy-Brazil are thought to come from the Irish Uí Breasail (meaning “descendants (i.e., clan) of Breasal”), one of the ancient clans of North-Eastern Ireland.

It appears that as the north Atlantic was explored, the name of Hy Brazil may have been attached to a real place. A Catalan map of about 1480 labels two islands “Illa de brasil”, one to the south west of Ireland (where the mythical place was supposed to be) and one south of “Illa verde” or Greenland. Expeditions left Bristol in 1480 and 1481 to search for it, and a letter written shortly after the return of John Cabot from his expedition in 1497

Off Ireland- Canepa, Map 1489
reports that land found by Cabot had been “discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found Hy Brasil. Some historians claim that the navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral thought that he had reached this island in 1500, thus naming the country of Brazil. However, Cabral didn’t choose the name ‘Brazil’. The country was at first named Ilha de Vera Cruz (Island of the True Cross), later Terra de Santa Cruz (Land of the Holy Cross) and still later ‘Brazil’. The generally accepted theory states that it was renamed for the brazilwood, which has an extreme red color (so “brasil” derivated from “brasa”: ember), a plant very valuable in Portuguese commerce and abundant in the new-found land.

Others claimed to have seen the island, or even landed on it, the last supposed sighting being in 1872. Roderick O’Flaherty in A Chorographical Description of West or H-Iar Connaught (1684) tells us “There is now living, Morogh O’Ley, who immagins he was himself personally on O’Brasil for two days, and saw out of it the iles of Aran, Golamhead, Irrosbeghill, and other places of the west continent he was acquainted with.”

On maps, the island was shown as being circular, soon with a central strait or river running east-west across its diameter. Despite the failure of attempts to find it, it appeared regularly on maps lying south west of Galway Bay from 1325 until 1865, by which time it was called Brazil Rock.

One of the most famous visits to Hy-Brasil was in 1674 by Captain John Nisbet of Killybegs, Co. Donegal, Ireland. He and his crew were in familiar waters west of Ireland, when a fog came up. As the fog lifted, the ship was dangerously close to rocks. While getting their bearings, the ship anchored in three fathoms of water, and four crew members rowed ashore to visit Hy-Brasil. They spent a day on the island, and returned with silver and gold given to them by an old man who lived there. Upon the return of the crew to Ireland, a second ship set out under the command of Alexander Johnson.

Wagenhaer, Map 1583
They, too, found the hospitable island of Hy-Brasil and returned to Ireland to confirm the tales of Captain Nisbet and crew.

The last documented sighting of Hy-Brasil was in 1872, when author T. J. Westropp and several companions saw the island appear and then vanish. This was Mr. Westropp’s third view of Hy-Brasil, but on this voyage he had brought his mother and some friends to verify the Island’s existence.

On my celtic folklore travels through the internet and books, I have come across several mythicial Lands. The fairy islands off the coast of Pembrokeshire Wales, Lyonesse south west of Cornwall and now Hy Brazil West of Galway Bay in Ireland. These lost Islands live in the earliest versions of the Celtic tales and I do wonder, did these islands once exist and have now been lost to earthquakes and other geological events? Or are they a fantasy utopia created to give hope to those living in constantly chaotic societies? or maybe even the vestiges of the Islands Falias, Gorias, Murias and Findias, the homes of the Tuatha De Danaan.? I guess we will never really know the truth but it does give food for thought!!

Hy Brasil

Brasil showing up on the map of Ireland by Abraham Ortelius in 1572

Brasil, also known as Hy-Brasil or several other variants,[1] is a phantom island which was said to lie in the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland. In Irish myths it was said to be cloaked in mist, except for one day every seven years, when it became visible but still could not be reached. It probably has similar roots to other mythical islands said to exist in the Atlantic, such as AtlantisSaint Brendan’s Island, and the Isle of Mam.

Etymology of the name

The etymology of the names Brasil and Hy-Brasil are unknown, but in Irish tradition it is thought to come from the Irish Uí Breasail (meaning “descendants (i.e., clan) of Breasal“), one of the ancient clans of northeastern Ireland. cf. Old IrishÍ: island; bres: beauty, worth, great, mighty.[2]

Despite the similarity, the name of the country Brazil has no connection to the mythical islands. It was at first named Ilha de Vera Cruz (Island of the True Cross) and later Terra de Santa Cruz(Land of the Holy Cross) by the Portuguese navigators who discovered the land. After some decades, it started to be called “Brazil” (Brasil, in Portuguese) due to the exploitation of native Brazilwood, at that time the only export of the land. In Portuguese, brazilwood is called pau-brasil, with the word brasil commonly given the etymology “red like an ember”, formed from Latinbrasa (“ember”) and the suffix -il (from -iculum or -ilium).[3][4][5]

Appearance on maps

Nautical charts identified an island called “Bracile” west of Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean as far back as 1325, in a portolan chart by Angelino Dulcert. Later it appeared as Insula de Brasil in the Venetian map of Andrea Bianco (1436), attached to one of the larger islands of a group of islands in the Atlantic. This was identified for a time with the modern island of Terceira in the Azores.

Catalan chart of about 1480 labels two islands “Illa de brasil”, one to the south west of Ireland (where the mythical place was supposed to be) and one south of “Illa verde” or Greenland.

On maps the island was shown as being circular, often with a central strait or river running east-west across its diameter. Despite the failure of attempts to find it, this appeared regularly on maps lying south west of Galway Bay until 1865, by which time it was called Brasil Rock.

Searches for the island

Expeditions left Bristol in 1480 and 1481 to search for the island; and a letter written by Pedro de Ayala, shortly after the return of John Cabot (from his expedition in 1497), reports that land found by Cabot had been “discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found Brasil”.[6]

In 1674 Captain John Nisbet claimed to have seen the island when on a journey from France to Ireland. He stated the island was inhabited by large black rabbits and a magician who lived alone in a stone castle.[7] Roderick O’Flaherty in A Chorographical Description of West or H-Iar Connaught (1684) tells us “There is now living, Morogh O’Ley (Murrough Ó Laoí), who imagins he was personally on O’Brasil for two days, and saw out of it the iles of Aran, Golamhead [by Lettermullen], Irrosbeghill, and other places of the west continent he was acquainted with.”

Hy-Brasil has also been identified with Porcupine Bank, a shoal in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 kilometres (120 mi) west of Ireland[8] and discovered in 1862. As early as 1870 a paper was read to the Geological Society of Ireland suggesting this identification.[9] The suggestion has since appeared more than once, e.g. in an 1883 edition of Notes and Queries[10] and in various twentieth-century publications, one of the more recent being Graham Hancock‘s book Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization.

In popular culture

Hy-Brasil was featured in the 1989 British comedy-fantasy film Erik the Viking starring Tim Robbins.

Peter Bishop mysteriously travels to Hy-Brasil in the Beyond the Fringe comic book, a tie in for the Fringe television series.

In the PC Massively multiplayer online role-playing game Dark Age of Camelot, Hybrasil was expansion content for the Hibernia faction in the first expansion pack, Shrouded Isles, which depicted it as being occupied by attacking Fomorians.

The island of Hybras is the setting of Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance, and was geographically located in the Sea of Biscay, west of France and north of Spain, but it sank into the sea, in a parallel to Atlantis.

“Hy-Brasil” is featured on signs affixed on the façade of the Embassy of Brazil to Bridgetown, Barbados (pictured). Something which may reference when Barbados was claimed but later abandoned by the Portuguese.

  1. Hy Brasil, Hy Breasil, Hy Breasail, Hy Breasal, Hy Brazil
  2. “Hy Brasil” A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. James McKillop. Oxford University Press, 1998.
  3. CNRTL – Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales (French)
  4. Michaelis – Moderno Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa (Portuguese)
  5. Dicionário Aulete (Portuguese)
  6. Seaver, K.A. (1995) The Frozen Echo, Stanford University Press, p. 212 ISBN 0-8047-3161-6
  7. Lost Island of Hi-Brazil | Hoaxipedia”. Retrieved 2013-06-20.
  8. Velasco, Francisco; Jorge Landa, Joaquín Barrado and Marian Blanco (2008). “Distribution, abundance, and growth of anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) on the Porcupine Bank (west of Ireland)”ICES Journal of Marine Science 65 (7). doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsn130. Retrieved 18 November 2010.
  9. Winsor, Justin (1889). Narrative and critical history of America (Volume 01). Houghton, Mifflin and Company. p. 51.
  10. Frazer, W. (December 1883), “O’Brazile or Hy Brazile”Notes and Queries, s6-VIII: 475
  11. Freitag, Barbara (2013). Hy Brasil: the metamorphosis of an island: from cartographic error to Celtic Elysium. Amsterdam: Rodopi. ISBN 9789042036413.
  12. Sean Lynch (2010). “Preliminary Sketches for the Reappearance of HyBrazil”. Utopian Studies 21 (1): 5–15. doi:10.1353/utp.0.0003.