Did the Irish reach North America before the Vikings?

A traditional Irish seafaring craft but without sails

According to the Norse sagas, the region south of Viking territory in medieval Canada was called “Irland it Mikla,” or “Greater Ireland.”

While archeologists have yet to corroborate the sagas’ claim, academic skepticism regarding Viking settlement of the Americas also persisted until 1960 when the remnants of a Viking village were uncovered in Newfoundland.

Those surveying Ireland’s own oral history also point to the tale of St. Brendan the Navigator, a 6th-century Irish monk, though his legendary exploits, which also include encountering the Loch Ness monster, could have been based on blarney as much as fact. In one popular yarn, the monk set sail after hearing another priest, St. Barinthus, speak of discovering the Biblical paradise beyond the western horizon.

Sailing with a currach, a canoe-shaped Irish boat built with wood and animal skins, St. Brendan described traveling past columns made of crystal as well as giants who hurled fireballs that reeked of rotten eggs, before he found a bountiful land full of fruit, flowers, and vibrant rock formations.

While it was said that St. Brendan himself believed he had discovered Paradise, and “St. Brendan’s Island” appeared on many medieval maps until the age of Christopher Columbus, some have proposed that the details of his travelogue correspond to real-life natural features at various points across the north Atlantic, albeit with a generous dose of colorful Irish storytelling. After all, crystal towers could stand in for icebergs while giants hurdling sulfuric fireballs could be swapped out for Icelandic volcanoes.

In 1976 British explorer Tim Severin set out to show St. Brendan’s trip was possible in the 6th century. After building a period-accurate currach, he successfully sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland, proving there could be more to the Irish myth than mere malarky.