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The Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria – and the Irishman

Ian Harvey

Travel back to Galway in Ireland in 1477 and against the backdrop of St. Nicholas’s Church, and fueled by the legend of St. Brendan’s voyage, Christopher Columbus exchanges exhilarating accounts of western explorations with an Irishman – a mysterious character who, in fact, may have discovered the New World before Columbus did.

The Irishman – William Harris, or Guillermo Herries as he appears in Spanish Navy records – accompanied Columbus on his epic voyage to the New World in 1492.

Saint Brendan of Clonfert

Saint Brendan of Clonfert

 Speculation abounded that Herries had previously discovered the New World, and Columbus was simply following his lead. In 1935, the Guillermo Herries League of Chicago rallied to have historians, librarians, and scholars turn this speculation into accepted truth. Their efforts failed, and Herries’s actual role in the discovery of America remains unknown. A bundle of the League’s letters and findings sits in the archives of the National University of Ireland, Galway.

The intriguing idea that Herries reached the New World before Columbus is not an impossible one. Norseman Leif Erikson discovered America 500 years earlier, and St. Brendan may have reached it long before that. All that can be proven is that Herries’s name appears on the list of 38 people who remained in Haiti as the first European settlement of Columbus’s New World.

The landing of Vikings on America.

The landing of Vikings on America.

Herries’s 1492 voyage to Haiti would be his last. Months after arriving, Herries and other European settlers were killed in a native rebellion. Or was he killed?

Perhaps, as letters from the Guillermo Herries League suggest, he and other voyagers escaped to Mexico in the Santa Maria before it was shipwrecked, and never landed in Haiti at all, Irish Central reported.

Christopher Columbus on Santa Maria in 1492.

Christopher Columbus on Santa Maria in 1492.

The Guillermo Herries League tried unsuccessfully to have his legacy commemorated in the name of a Chicago bridge – an honor that went to Leif Erikson instead.

Read another story from us: The Book of Kells is the finest masterpiece in Ireland

All that can really be known about William Harris, the voyaging Irishman and potential discoverer of the New World, lies in the archives, a mystery for the ages.