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Mythical Islands and Ghostly Vessels

Medieval European mapmakers depicted both real and mythical islands in the Atlantic. One of the most famous of the phantom islands was Hy-Brasil, which featured on sea charts from 1325 until 1865. A sort of Gaelic Elysium, the misty island was said to be a magical land of peace and plenty that appeared off the west coast of Ireland once every seven years. Some sources explain it as a simple optical illusion, other sources cite ancient beliefs about a land where the sun goes down.

Ghostly Vessels
Ghostly Vessels by Sadie Cramer

In Galway folklore, Hy-Brasil could sometimes be seen from the Aran Islands and was known as Árainn Bheag or ‘Little Aran’. A Connemara man named Morogh O’Lee claimed to have spent two days on the island in April 1668. While there, he says he was bestowed with the gift of healing and an elaborate medical manuscript (Book of the O’Lee’s or Book of Hy-Brasil), which still exists.

The Irish antiquarian T. J. Westropp claimed that he, along with several family members and friends, saw the island appear and then vanish in the summer of 1872. If the seven year rule is applied, it is next due to reveal itself in 2026!

In 1947, a Galway skipper named Marcheen MacDonagh told a journalist that “Galway Bay is full of ghosts. Lost ships come back just like lost souls”. He referred specifically to three ghost ships that formerly belonged to Galway’s seafaring merchants: The Bonita, lost off the coast of Cuba in May 1864, the Celt, last seen leaving Birkenhead in December 1869, and the Nima which disappeared in April 1874. Stories of smaller phantom or fairy boats forewarning fishermen of storms or drownings are also common along the shores of Galway Bay.

To learn more about the local history, legends and folktales of the Corrib come along to #HeritageWeek2022 at Galway City Museum. FREE Corrib Talk and Trail events every day from Tuesday 16 August to Saturday 20 August from 12pm until 1pm. BOOK NOW by phoning 091 532460 or email Bain sult as!

An online version of the Corrib Walking Trail along with an online exhibition on ‘The Corrib, Myth, Legend & Folklore’ will be developed as part of the new museum website, supported by the Heritage Council under the Community Heritage Grant Scheme 2022.  Coming soon!




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