Adventurer Tim Severin built a boat using only sixth-century materials to recreate the voyage of Saint Brendan, an Irish monk, who is rumored to have sailed to from Ireland to Greenland and then Newfoundland. Severin’s book about his voyage was published in 2000.

Were the Irish Living in the Southeast Before Columbus Arrived?

Christina Rose

Irish culture is filled with tales of fairies, banshees and leprechauns, and there is nothing as Irish as a good story. It only makes sense then that there could be a good Native American story about the Irish, maybe as unprovable as the others, but as one archaeologist said, “Anything is possible.”

There are records that suggest the Irish came to America before Christopher Columbus, but while there is no solid evidence, there certainly are hints.

One of the first recorded curiosities originated in 1521, when Spaniard Peter Martyr took reports from Columbus and other explorers who had investigated the Southeast coast of today's South Carolina and Georgia. A baptized Chicora Native and a Spanish explorer reported to Martyr that they had come upon a group of people who called themselves the Duhare.

The Duhare were different than the Chicora Natives in the area. While all of the local Natives were described as having varying degrees of brown skin, the Duhare were described as white-skinned with brown hair that hung to their heels. They were said to herd deer in the way that Europeans herded cattle. Martyr wrote that the fawns were kept in the houses and the deer would go out to pasture during the day, returning at night to suckle their fawns. After the deer had nursed their young, they were milked and the milk was turned to cheese.

Deer milk has been celebrated in Gaelic poetry but usually in mythical situations. Reindeer were herded in Scotland until the 1300s, and a paper by Erin NhaMinerva, from Ireland, mentions deer being milked, but more in mythic terms than as a regular part of the diet.

Three Irish Men by Albert Durer, 1521.


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Nootka's picture
Submitted by Nootka on
It's perfectly possible in my opinion,ancient peoples have always travelled whether by sea or land.It is very arrogant to think that they didn't.

StrawCat's picture
Submitted by StrawCat on
I think it is entirely possible that a small group of Irish could have settled somewhere on the east coast. Europeans, notably the Basque and Portuguese, among others had been fishing and whaling in the northern parts of the east coast (around Labrador and Newfoundland) as early as 1495, and possibly a decade or two earlier. It is likely that some of the whaling ships voyaged farther south to today's New England and even farther. There are some written records from the 1480s or so in the UK of shiploads of dried fish being landed (in Liverpool, iirc), fish harvest in the "Western Hibernian Sea", which could well have been the waters around Newfoundland or near by. At the very least, somewhere west of the regular Hibernian Sea, on the west coast of Ireland.... In the first records from a generation later, Newfoundland was called something like (the) "Isle do Brasil" in Portuguese, 'the island of the red-dye trees". And the name "Labrador" can be derived from "La bras d'or", = 'The Golden Arm.' That would be a suitable name for a place where one could obtain wealth by harvesting a lot of fish (cod, mostly) and whales. There are also records of traders from the British Isles traveling to Greenland in the 1350s or so, and there they discovered that the Viking settlements there were abandoned. It isn't that much of a challenge for good sailors to keep traveling farther south, as the Vikings had done. When the first Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, they were met by a native person who spoke English fairly well. That fact is on record. It is highly probable he learned the language by meeting and trading with fishermen and whalers. In the early 16th C, it was normal for the Europeans to return home from their fishing/ whaling stations, but some individuals might have opted to overwinter with the coastal natives. Geneticists have proven in recent years that a few native women were present in Scandinavia during the Viking era, and that they had offspring. On the West Coast, there are documented arrivals of merchant mariners from Japan and possibly elsewhere arriving on our coast in the 19th C. All in all, those arrivals were rare and the people who came would have normally had little impact on the local cultures for a number of reasons, but it shows that people can arrive via sea. At least one dugout canoe with a few possibly Caribbean people drifted onto the shores of the Azores in the 14th C, and there are some records of this in the Portuguese archives, since the government sent someone to report on their arrival. Unfortunately, the people who drifted across the Atlantic didn't survive the trip. So it isn't totally implausible that some Irish, Scots, or other people, might have come to Turtle Island over the years.People everywhere have a sense of adventure and an innate curiosity about 'what lies over the hill?' If people arrived from time to time, they just didn't arrive in numbers that would have much of a lasting impact on the larger populations, especially if they couldn't overcome social limitations on their activities. ( In the Pacific Northwest, the few marooned Japanese who drifted onto our coasts were captured and enslaved, specifically by the Haida or the Macahs: slaves weren't allowed to marry, and had few other rights.)

Cweli Mayes's picture
Cweli Mayes
Submitted by Cweli Mayes on
Interesting. Along the Potomac River Tribes were light skinned and had light hair. Suggesting , perhaps, mixing with visitors long ago.It stands to reason that the Tribes along both Coasts would have encountered visitors long before the Interior Tribes. It could also be that the Tribes had a basic difference in skin pigmentation. As I understand Tribes in the East rubbed themselves with a red clay or mud to keep off insects in Summer and protect their skin. Thus one possible origin of Red Skins.

Amicalola's picture
Submitted by Amicalola on
Hey Christina! There were tribes in central, western and southwestern Ireland that were known as deer herders. The dairy deer were slaughtered by the Normans who took over much of Ireland because they were domestic animals that were not afraid of humans.

logosmundi's picture
Submitted by logosmundi on
It seems totally plausable to me. Of course people travelled and I also know that America was rediscovered, not discovered. Columbus had maritime charts. The Irish have alwas been travellers. It is in the Celtic blood. I am sure that if this is investigated further, more proof will be found. Modern man does not have the monopoly on travel, nor on knowledge.

logosmundi's picture
Submitted by logosmundi on
It seems totally plausable to me. Of course people travelled and I also know that America was rediscovered, not discovered. Columbus had maritime charts. The Irish have alwas been travellers. It is in the Celtic blood. I am sure that if this is investigated further, more proof will be found. Modern man does not have the monopoly on travel, nor on knowledge.

John Douglas
John Douglas
Submitted by John Douglas on
Having both Irish and Native roots, I find it encouraging to see any discussion of this on Indian Country to be encouraging. Is it possible they were here before the Spanish? It's completely possible. I have made the argument for decades that all of humanity is made up of tribes and civilizations that are the result of migrations and long term exposure to environmental adaptation, and that there is no group that has not been indigenous at one point of history. That is the reason that I have always argued that whites also have their indigenous roots. Can't say why they advanced as the Persians and oriental empires advanced, but it's true that within the color group, there are serious distinctions between the cultures and ethnic uniqueness that are unfortunately grouped together by color. Color branding to me is racism because it inherently ignores the unique characteristics, heritage and lineage. Thanks for posting this! All of our history is important.

Christian Donzel
Christian Donzel
Submitted by Christian Donzel on
This is probably part of a complex history. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza pointed years ago the genetic and linguistic commonalities between Basques people and some Athabaskan language people. But he was convinced that the common roots were very ancient and that the same people forked long ago before a Bering Strait possible migration. The number of people, everywhere on earth was so low in ancient times that even an accident of navigation may had a great impact on a local population. Reindeer were domesticated long ago by Sami people which are somewhat European "Native" people. Their way of life was not very different from those of Native American Nations. May be some of them settled in Norwegian colonies in Scotland, Ireland and Isle of Man, and may be some of them went elsewhere. Irish and Norvegian descendants from the Dublin area conquered first Normandy and then Sicily. Traveling very far away was not a concern for them. Nevertheless, because they are no evidences of that, we just can dream. A few European probably reached America before Colombus, but their travels never had the bad impacts that Colobus' travel had on North-American and European population.

Juliet's picture
Submitted by Juliet on
I accept the possibility of people from Europe, Asia, and Africa landing in the Americas. However, it's obvious that they didn't take over or have a massive presence here. Columbus and the people who followed him did not encounter horse-riding, iron-using, cattle-herding, people who grew wheat, barley, rye, and other crops that Celts, Greeks, Chinese, or Japanese would have brought with them, nor any crops that African peoples would have had. Either such settlements failed (as the Scandinavian efforts did), or the people were stranded after a shipwreck. Since non-Christian peoples in Europe tended towards worshiping the local gods rather than insisting on worshiping their own, these castaways would have either participated in the indigenous rituals or at least not made a fuss. So, no teaching about their gods and religions. They'd learn the language and customs. Whether they were able to marry local women would depend on their hosts' cultures. Anything they contributed would soon be assimilated and modified so that nobody now can say for certain that there was a Celtic, Greek, Chinese, Polynesian, or Phoenician influence. They certainly weren't teaching people who had already survived for 30K or more years how to build houses, raise children, or make tools.