Brazil’s Irish roots

20 Jul

Most countries have a clear definition of where their name comes from, but the 5th largest country on Earth, and certainly the most successful footballing nation, is not one of them.

Do we need a reason to show this girl supporting Brazilian football?

One thing many historians agree on is that Brazil probably got it’s name from the Brazilwood which was traded from that region to Europe.  However, not everyone agrees, and there are some holes in that theory.

There is another theory which exists, which has been around since the 16th century, almost immediately after the country was first discovered, that Brazil may have been named after a mythical island named Hy-Brasil, which was often simply known as Brasil.

The story goes that when Pedro Alvares Cabral landed in South America, his men thought it was an island and called itIlha de Vera Cruz (Island of the True Cross), and that when tales of his discovery reached Europe, those who read his exploits thought this may very well be the mythical island of Brasil, which is why they named it such.

But what was this mythical island?

A 1572 map of Ireland, with Brasil shown to the west.

Many sailors tried to find this magical island, said to be shrouded in mist except for one day in every seven years, and it appeared on many maps from as long ago as early 14th century, and still popped up in some until as late as 1865.  There were a number of expeditions sent to find this island, including one led by John Cabot (credited with discovering North America), and several reported sightings, the last one in 1872.

A number of known islands have been identified at one time or another as Brasil, including Terceira, one of the larger islands in the Azores.

Though mythical, the island of Brasil was famous across western Europe, and it was accepted by some that the name came from the Portuguese word Brasa, which meant Ember, which is where the name for Brazilwood came from, because of the colour of the wood when polished.

However, there was never any proof for this origin of the word, and it’s worth noting that this mythical island was also identified strongly with Ireland, who had strong trading connections with the Iberian coast.  In Ireland, the legend of the island identified it with an ancient clan called Ui Breasil, Ui translates as Clan, and Breasil could mean Beauty, Worth or Great Mighty.

So there we have it, is Brazil actually named after the beautiful and mighty Irish people?

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Posted by on Wednesday 20th July 2011 in History, Places


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