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Did the Irish reach America before Columbus?

While Christopher Columbus is credited with being the first European to discover America, there are many scholars who believe there may have already been Irish people living there.

Irish reached America before Columbus. Image copyright Ireland Calling

A book that was published in 1526, just 34 years after Columbus arrived in America, provides compelling evidence that this may be true.

The book, De Orbe Novo (About the New World), was written by Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera following several weeks of interviews with contemporary travellers.

The book describes the groups of people already living in the newly discovered America.

A section about the land that became known as Georgia and North and South Carolina suggests it may have already been inhabited by Europeans.

Martyr told how the Spanish colonists were vicious towards the Native American Chicora Indians.

However, he also talked of another local tribe – The Duhare – who had a good relationship with the Spanish.

The Duhare

The Duhare were generally taller than the Spanish. They had a Caucasian European appearance including tanned skin, red hair and grey eyes.

Although they looked notably different to the Chicora Indians, their homes and pottery were very similar.

The king of the Duhare was called Datha. He was a giant compared to the Spanish and even compared to the other Duhare people.

He had a tall wife and five tall children. His body was painted or tattooed in bright colours as this distinguished him from the commoners of the tribe.

Could the Duhare have been Irish?

In 2006, a team of Native American scholars called ‘People of One Fire’ (POF) conducted research into the pre-European history of North America.

They translated all words used by pre-European tribes that had been recorded by the Spanish.

They could translate most words using modern Creek, Alabama, Koasati or Choctaw dictionaries but were unable to translate words of the Duhare tribe.

In 2011, they teamed up with Dr Joseph Kitchens, Director of the Funk Heritage Museum at Reinhardt University in Georgia.

Dr Kitchens was looking into the meaning of symbols carved into a boulder that was on display at his university.

The symbols on the boulder were carved in pre-European Georgia. They discovered that the symbols were identical to those found carved into boulders along the west coast of Ireland thousands of years ago.

Ancient Irish lullaby could hold the key

The POF explored the Ireland connection and found an ancient Irish lullaby, ‘Bainne nam fiadh’. The words were: “On milk of deer I was reared.

On milk of deer I was nurtured. On milk of deer beneath the ridge of storms on crest of hill and mountain.”

Heritage Village, Wexford
Heritage Village, Wexford

The Spanish had recorded that the Duhare people kept huge herds of deer and lived off the milk, cheese and meat that they provided. The other tribes wouldn’t hunt the deer out of respect for the Duhare.

The POF then realised that it was possible to translate words used by the Duhare tribe by comparing them to words in ancient Gaelic dictionaries.

Translations are consistent with Duhare culture

Duhare can be translated to either ‘Place of Clan Hare’ or could come from the Irish word ‘du’hEir’ which means ‘Place of the Irish’.

Their king, Datha, got his name from a medieval Gaelic word meaning painted. He was the only member of the tribe to have had his body painted.

Painting the body of the king to show his higher status than the rest of the tribe was also a traditional practise for Celts.

Could Irish have sailed to America in middle ages?

While much of the evidence about the Irish settling in America is intriguing it is by no means conclusive and many scholars remain sceptic.

Further research is needed and unless DNA evidence is found, we may never know for certain.

One factor against the theory is the difficulty of explaining how the Irish might have made the perilous 3,000 mile journey across the Atlantic to get America.

However, the voyages of St Brendan might suggest that such a journey was possible.

Voyages of St Brendan

St Brendan lived between 484 and 587 AD. It is believed that he sailed to faraway lands including Barbados, the Azores and Iceland.

He once returned to Ireland having been at sea for a great deal of time. He told of how he had seen things he had never seen before such as ‘crystal mountains’ and ‘islands with rivers of gold fire’.

Centuries later people who retraced St Brendan’s path believed he may have encountered a number of icebergs, which are likely to have been the crystal mountains, and have seen a live volcano which would have been the island with rivers of gold fire.

This was likely to have been close to Iceland.

If St Brendan could have made it to Iceland and back in the 6th century, then perhaps it is possible that other Irish explorers crossed the Atlantic and settled in America.

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  1. just another st Patrick’s story, lets all get on the bandwagon “ my g.great grandfather was from ireland, so i must be, even though my g. great grandmother was french! Pick and choose!!

  2. I once read an article that cited a Saga told by a Viking who was blown of course while sailing from Iceland to Ireland. He says after many weeks at sea he made land on a continent that was very hot and populated by tribes who were very hostile to him and would have killed him had another tribe not come to his rescue. He says this tribe were fair skinned and had red and blond hair with blue eyes. He also states that he was able to communicate with them through a form of Irish Gaelic they spoke. He says in his Saga they were called “Irelande et milka”? Also, it has since been proved by DNA that tall blond and red haired Irish with blues eyes from the northern counties of Ulster, had settled in New Zealand several hundred years prior to the arrival of the Moari. The descendants of these Irish are still alive and well in New Zealand today. Please check these articles out on the internet.

  3. I would know, for a fact, that this was true if only i was out of my mind on drink and drugs, or just simply insane..thank you for this very informative research.

  4. Interesting,I could so believe that…

  5. This first article says absolutely nothing about North or South America, it is all to do with the Med and Euro origins and artifacts. The second article speaks of a few artifacts which could very easily have been plunder from a viking raid. It does not speak of any type of architectural evidence as has been found with the remains of Viking long houses in Nova Scotia and points southward. That would be similar to someone blaming me for a murder because a gun was dropped in my yard. Further evidence required.

  6. My family go back to the 10th century in Ireland, we were swords smiths armor’rs. Does anyone know what kind of arms they used? Did they use flint knife’s, flint arrow tip’s, or did they have any blades forged from metal’s. If so i have illustration of weapons in Ireland used at the same time period.

  7. Well, I´m a mexican junior-high student and I´m pretty interested on the culture of my countrie and worldwide cultures as well since I was younger.
    Since today, I have noted a lot of things which are similar between Celtic and Scandinavian cultures to the prehispanic cultures. Actually, in Mexico, there have been a lot of studies about this topic because in lots of deppictions and descriptions of the god Quetzalcoatl (which means ‘feathered serpent’) he has been seen in the Earth as a blond or red haired man and he was a great leader.
    Both were associated to the idea that Vikings or Celts discovered America before Columbus.
    Before this day I just knew about Vikings theory due to the prehispanic belief and about a canadian tribe, but this article gave me a new perspective.
    ¡Muchas gracias! Thank you a lot! Go raibh maith agat!

  8. The MIkmaki people of Cape Breton Island in Canada east coast have in their traditional stores that an Irish monk came near 500 AD You can contact Indigenous Studies department and speak to Stephen Augustine he is a knowledge keeper and will give you more info and the name of the monk…

  9. Kevin Dean McDonough

    This is a great piece of information. Will share with everyone!

  10. In The Vinland Sagas (c. 1010 AD), there are two Irish/Scottish slaves on the ship when both Thorvald Eiriksson and Thorfinn Karlsefni venture to North America. The two slaves show the Norse the way to Vinland. More at: https://lavalhallalujah.wordpress.com

  11. Anastacia Byrne-Reed

    Seems there are a lot of plausible theories for the Irish making it to the new world early on. And why not? The Irish aren’t unfamiliar with the sea, they’re on an island for cryin out loud!!

  12. I really enjoyed that story
    as I had never heard this before ..so I SHARED it

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