The belief of moving islands in these seas was very ancient. Giraldus tells us of an island on the Irish coast, which suddenly made its appearance one clear day, and which disappeared the moment any one approached it. At length a party went out in pursuit of it, and as they approached within bowshot, one of them struck it with a red-hot arrow, the consequence of which was that it immediately became stationary. The conclusion which Giraldus draws from this legend is curious. Multis itaque patet argumentis says he, phantasmati cuilibet ignem semper inimicissimum.Girald. Camb. Topog. Hib. lib. ii. c. 12W.
Milton thus poetically explains the idea entertained by northern voyagers of floating islands.
- . . . that sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim th' ocean stream:
Him haply slumb'ring on the Norway foam
The pilot of some small night-founder'd skiff
Deeming some island, oft, as sea-men tell,
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind
Moors by bis side under the lee, while night
Invests the sea, and wished morn delays.
Mr. Hardiman, in his Irish Minstrelsy, (a work which I regret to find so deeply tinged with the writer's political opinions), has an extremely curious note upon what he calls these Miranda loca of former times. In modern days, however, the minute search after the imaginary danger known by the name of
p.69Aitkins's rock, by Captain Vidal, of the Royal Navy, and the delineation of the sub-marine bank which now bears his name, are labours that have in some measure dispelled the mist of enchantment from the navigation of the north-west coast of Ireland, and which the survey of Captain Mudge will complete.
Mr. Hardiman refers100 to the unpublished manuscript History of Ireland, in the library of the Royal Irish Academy, where the author states that, the Tuathdedanans coming in upon the Fearbolgs, expelled them into the out islands which lay scattered on the north coasts, and they themselves were served the same measure by the Clanna Milidhes, but what became of the remainder of them I cannot learne, unless they doe inhabitt an iland, which lyeth far att sea, on the west of Connaught, and sometimes is perceived by the inhabitants of the Oulis and Iris. It is also said to be sometime seene from Saint Helen Head, being the farthest west point of land beyond of the haven of Calbeggs (Donegall). Likewise several seamen have discovered it att sea, as they have sailed on the western coasts of Ireland; one of whom, named Captain Rich, who lives about Dublin of late years, had a view of the land, and was so neere that he discovered a harbour, as he supposed, by two head lands on either sides thereof, but could never make to land, although when he had lost sight thereof in a mist which fell upon him, he held the same course several hours afterwards. This I am bold to insert by the way, because I have heard a relation hereof from many credible persons, and particularly from the said Captain Rich, allsoe in many old mapps (especially mapps of Europe or mapps of the world) you shall find it by the name of O'Brasile, under the longitude 03 [ordm ] 00 minutes, and the latitude 50 [ordm ] 20 minutes. So that it
p.70may be those famous enchanters now inhabitt there, and by their magick skill conceal their iland from forraigners. Yett this is my own conceipt, and would have it taken for no other.
But, says Mr. Hardiman, the most complete account of this fanciful island is to be found in a letter from a gentleman in Derry to his friend in England, printed in London in the year 1675. The narrative is so curious, and the pamphlet in which it appeared so scarce, that I am induced to lay it entire before the reader. To those possessing strong imaginative powers, it presents an ample field for romantic fiction.
O'Brazile, or the Enchanted Island, being a perfect relation of the late Discovery, and wonderful Dis-inchantment of an Island on the North of lreland, &c.
I have received yours of the 12th of February, and the printed relation of the certain death of that arch-pirate Captain Cusacke; of whose death all our merchants here in Ireland are very glad; especially my cousen Mathew Calhoon, from whom Cusacke took the last vessel; which it seems brought him to his deserved fatal end. And in requital of your news concerning Cusacke, I shall acquaint you with a story no less true; but I believe much more strange and wonderful, concerning the discovery of that long-talk't-of island O'Brazile, which (I believe) you have often heard of.
I know there are in the world many stories and romances concerning inchanted islands, castles, and towers, &c., and that our king's dominions may in nothing be inferiour to any other nation, we have had an inchanted island, upon the north of
p.71Ireland, long talk't of. And indeed when I went first into the kingdom of Ireland to live, and heard those many stories which were common in every man's mouth, concerning the island of O'Brazile (as they called it), which multitudes reported often to be seen upon the coast of Ulster, in that kingdom; yet I lookt upon it as a perfect romance, and many times laught the reporters to scorn; though many sober and religious persons would constantly affirm, that in bright days (especially in summer time) they could perfectly see a very large absolute island; but after long looking at it, it would disappear. And sometimes one friend and neighbor would one call another to behold it, until there would be a considerable number together; every one of which would not be persuaded but that they perfectly saw it, and some of them have made towards it with boats; but when they have come to the place where they thought it was, they have found nothing. And many old people in the countrey would tell many old probable stories, how it came first to be inchanted. I confess there were (in those days) two things made me little to wonder.
1st. How it came to be inserted into many of our both ancient and modern maps (as you or any man may find it is), by the name of O'Brazile.
2d. The other is, what moved your cousen (that you know died but within these four or five years at Glasslough), who was a wise man, and a great scholar, to put himself to the charges and trouble (in the late king's time), to take out a 101 patent for it, whensoever it should be gained, certainly he and those that counselled him to it, lookt upon it as some inchanted
p.72(if any such thing there be) kingdom or island, that in time, might be recovered. And since the happy restoration of his Majesty that now reigns, many reports have been, that it hath been disinchanted or taken, yea, in the time of the sitting of the last parliament in Dublin (in the year 1663), one coming out of Ulster, assured the House of Commons (whereof he was a Member), that the inchantment was broken, and it gained; but it proved not so, and about two years after, a certain Quaker pretended that he had a revelation from Heaven, that he was the man ordained to take it, with a new ship built by inspiration, &c., and in order thereunto he built a vessell, but what became of him or his enterprize, I never heard, it seems that the full time was not then come. I assure you (dear cousen), I was not then so unwilling to believe it, as now I am certain of it from very good hands, but whether (in the original) it have been a trick of Rome, one of the works and mysteries of Babylon, I cannot say, neither dare I dispute, but this I am sure of, that the time, or inchantment (or what you please to call it), is now out and the island fully discovered, or taken, and the manner briefly thus
There is one Captain John Nisbet, who lived formerly at Lisneskey, in the county of Fermanagh; this man left Lisneskey, seven or eight years since, and came to live at Killebegs, in the barony of Boylagh and Bannagh, in the county of Dunnegall, in Ulster (a corporation you know right well). This man, Captain Nisbet, since he came to Killebegs hath fraught out several vessels to France and Holland, &c. with such merchandize as the country afforded. And in September last he fraught out a vessel of about 70 tons, laden with butter, tallow, and hides for France, which was to bring
p.73back French wines, which vessel being returning, and near the coasts of Ireland (as they thought) upon the 2d of this instant, March, 1674, after a most clear and frosty night, in the morning, about the time of sun rising, of a sudden, there fell a most terrible thick mist of fog, upon the sea, round about them, which continued the space of about three hours, and then cleared up again, very bright. But when the mist was vanisht, they found themselves upon a certain coast, close by the shore, and of a sudden also, a very high wind, driving them still nearer to the land. When the master, and the rest with him (who were but eight persons in all), viz. James MacDonnel, the master, Alexander Johnson, skipper, James Ross, carpenter, and five mariners, saw themselves so near an unknown shore, and could not imagine what place it should be, for though they knew most of the shores of Ireland and Scotland, yet they could not possibly give any guess where they were. Finding themselves therefore so near land, and some little rocks not far off them, the master gave orders to sound what waters they had; and finding it not three fathoms, they thought it was the best course to strike sails and drop an anchor (which accordingly they did), until they might inform themselves where they were. And having cast anchor, they resolved to set four of their eight men ashore, to see if they could learn where they were, and how to get off; which, after they had taken down their boat, they did. The persons that were to goe, were the carpenter, James Ross, and three mariners, who took with them swords and pistols. Presently after landing, they past through a little wood, and within less than an English mile in a most pleasant green valley (wherein were many cattle, horses, and sheep feeding), they saw a very strong-like castle appearing, unto which they repaired, and
p.74called thinking to find some that might direct them where they were, and what to do, but after they had long knockt, and saw nor heard any creature (not so much as a dog) answer, they concluded it was some waste place, and therefore left it, and going further up a most pleasant green hill, they saw multitudes of black rabbets, about a mile from the castle; but when they came to the height thereof, look which way they pleased, they could see neither man, woman, child, nor house; at last having ranged two or three hours about the country, and lighting on none to enquire of they returned again to their boat, and told their fellows aboard what success they had had; whereupon their fellows calling for the boat, resolved to come ashore also, all but one mariner; which they did, and dividing themselves into two parts, one part took the right hand shore, and the other the left; both parties wandering up and down, until four of the clock in the afternoon, but neither of them saw any people to enquire of; but much cattle, deer, rabbets, &c., but afar off in the country, they saw great woods, into which they dare not venture; so that both parties returned again to their boat. At last the weather being very cold and drawing towards night, finding abundance of old dry wood, in the side of the above named little wood, near unto the shore, they resolved to make a great fire, against a great old oak, that was fallen down with age; and in order thereto some brought wood, and some others struck fire; and at last, having made a rousing fire, and sitting warming themselves, discoursing and taking tobacco, on a sudden they heard a terrible hideous noise, towards that place, especially where they saw the old castle, and almost all over the island, which did so terrify and amaze them, that they presently left their fire, took their boat, and went all aboard as fast as they could, where they continued
p.75in great fear all night, yet neither could nor durst stir out to sea, because when they sounded again, they had not two fathoms of water, and the wind directly against them.
The next morning, as soon as the sun was risen, they saw a very ancient grave gentleman, and ten men following him bareheaded (as if his servants) coming towards the shore, where the ship lay, and being come close to the water side, the old gentleman calling to the master (in the old Scotch language), who, with the rest stood upon the deck, asked him, from whence they came? whither they were bound? and with what they were laden? The master answered, they were come from France, were laden with French wines, with which they were bound to Killybegs, in the county of Dunegall, in Ireland, if it pleased God to give them leave. Then the old gentleman askt them, how they came thither? and whether they knew where they were? or how to get forth? The master told him that before the great fog fell upon them yesterday, they thought they were near the coast of Ireland, but where they now were, or how to get off, he knew not in the least. Then the gave gentleman told them, if they would please to come ashore again, they should be courteously entertained, told where they were, well rewarded, and guided to their own coast. Then the master asked whether they should have no wrong or harm done to themselves nor vessel if they came ashore? The old man promised they should not, whereupon the master and the rest seeing no arms with them, resolved six of them should come ashore well armed.
As soon as they were landed, the old gentleman embraced them one by one; telling them, they were the most happy sight that island had seen some hundred years; that the
p.76island was called O'Brazile; that his ancestors were sometimes princes of it, telling them also, that he and several persons of quality, by the malicious diabolical art of a great Negromancer, had been tyrannically shut up in the castle they knockt at yesterday, in which several of their progenitors had ended their miserable days: and the whole island a receptacle of furies, made (to mortals) unserviceable and invisible, until now that the cursed time was expired, which (saith he) continued until the last day of the last month, but three or four days since. Being askt why none answered in the castle yesterday when the mariners knockt so long, he answered that though the wicked time was expired, and that now the island was visible, and any might come upon it, yet he and the rest had neither power to answer any that spoke to them, nor free themselves from imprisonment, until fire was kindled upon the island by some good Christian; being askt whether it was now absolutely free, and would never be inchanted again? he told them it was now absolutely free, and should never be troubled again, but all the powers of darkness, when they heard that hideous noise, were finally departed.
After which words he led them towards the said castle (the chief tower being as it were demolished), where met them, several other grave persons, both men and women, who all embraced the master and the rest, giving them many thanks; then the other two were fetcht out of the vessel, and all nobly feasted and richly rewarded and shewed the glory and riches of the said island, which they say is above sixty miles in length, and above thirty in breath, abounding with horses, cows, sheep, stags, rabbets, but no swine, and all sorts of fowls, and rich mines of silver and gold, but few people, and little or no corn; there have been cities and great towns, but all consumed.
The men being richly rewarded, were conducted to their vessel, and shewed the way out of the harbour, and directed the way to their own coast; and came the next day, at night to Killybegs, where they acquainted the minister of the town, and many other persons of quality in the country who gave no extraordinary credit to their words at first, until the master and the rest shewed them many of the pieces of gold and silver which were given them there, which were large, and of a most ancient stamp, somewhat rusty, yet pure gold; the master also offering immediately to carry any gentleman to the said island, that desired to know the further truth, whereupon some gentlemen of the country, within three days after, sent out another vessel and the above-named Alexander Johnson, skipper, and some of the former mariners to guide her, to prove whether it were true or not, who brought them to the said island, where they were nobly entertained, and returned, in safety, with several gifts, which were bestowed upon them, as also some further relation of the nature of the countrey. Since then, several godly ministers and others are gone to visit and discourse them (but at the writing hereof I heard nothing of their return), who doubtless will bring a more perfect relation. Dear Cousen, you need not be afraid to relate this, for I assure you, beside the general discourse of the gentlemen of the country, I had it from Captain Nisbet his own mouth (whose the vessel, &c. was), since which several gentlemen have sent an express, with the true relation of it, under their hands and seals, to some eminent persons in Dublin.
Thus not troubling you any further at present, I restW. Hamilton.
Your most affectionate
Cousen and Servant,
Londonderry,March 14, 1674.
I think your young cousen Lesly is still in London; if yon can enquire him out, pray shew him this relation: it may be it may concern him, because his father had a patent for it.W. H.