It seems altogether likely that “Brazil” was applied to the entire outjutting region of America surrounding the Gulf of St. Lawrence—that part of this continent which is by far the nearest Ireland. Besides the facts above stated, certain coincidences of real geography and of these old maps favor that belief, and they are quite unlikely to have been guessed or invented. Thus certain maps, beginning with 1375, while keeping the circular external outline of Ireland, reduce the land area to a mere ring, enclosing an expanse of water dotted with islands; and certain other maps show it still nearly circular externally, and solid, but divided into two parts by a curved channel nearly from north to south. The former exposition is possible enough to one more concerned with the nearly enclosed Gulf of St. Lawrence and its islands than with its two comparatively narrow outlets; the second was afterward repeated approximately by Gastoldi’s map illustrating Ramusio when he was somehow moved to minimize the width of the Gulf, though well remembering the straits of Belle Isle and Cabot. There are some other coincidences, but it is unnecessary to dwell on them. Land west of Ireland must be either pure fancy or the very region in question, and it is hardly believable that fancy could guess so accurately as to two different interpretations of real though unusual geography and give them right latitude, with such an old Irish name (Brazil) as might naturally have been conferred in the early voyaging times. That an extensive region, chiefly mainland, should be represented as an island is no objection, as anyone will see by examining the maps which break up everything north of South America in the years next following the achievements of Columbus and Cabot. There was a natural tendency to expect nothing but islands short of Asia.
It seems likely, therefore, that America was actually reached by the Irish even before the Norsemen and certainly long before all other Europeans.
Babcock: Early Norse Visits to North America, Smithsonian Publication 2138 (1913); Baring-Gould: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages; Beauvois: The Discovery of the New World by the Irish; Cantwell: Pre-Columbian Discoveries of America; Daly: The Legend of St. Brandan, Celtic Review, vol. I, A Sequel to the Voyage of St. Brandan, Celtic Review, Jan. 13, 1909; Hardiman: The History of Galway; Hull: Irish Episodes of Icelandic History; Joyce: The Voyage of Maelduin; Nutt: The Voyage of Bran; Stokes: The Voyage of Maelduin (Revue Celtique, vol. 9), Voyage of Snedgus (Revue Celtique, vol. 9), Voyage of the Hui Corra (Revue Celtigue, vol. 14); Moran: Brendaniana.
By Rev. P.S. Dinneen, M.A., R.U.I.
“The distinguishing property of man,” says Cicero, “is to search for and follow after truth. Therefore, when disengaged from our necessary cares and concerns, we desire to see, to hear, and to learn, and we esteem knowledge of things obscure or wonderful as indispensable to our happiness.” (De Officiis I., 4).