Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)
By Brian McGinn  

  Navigator. Both oral and written traditions claim Irish connections for the Italian-born explorer in the service of Spain. A local belief in Galway, for example, holds that Columbus attended mass there in St. Nicholasí Church. According to historian David B. Quinn, Columbus certainly visited Galway prior to his first American voyage, most probably in 1477. On the Irish shore, the visitor viewed an exotic discovery: the drifting bodies of a man and woman of extraordinary appearance, who may have been Inuit (Eskimo) voyagers lost at sea.

     An Irish sailor, who appears in Spanish records as Guillermo Ires, natural de Galney, was thought to have accompanied Columbus to America in 1492, and to have perished at the settlement left behind on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. With his name variously translated as William Ayres, William Eris, William Harris, or simply William of Galway, the obscure seaman has appeared in many popular histories as the first documented Irishman in America.

     This appealing story has not withstood rigorous scrutiny. The American scholar Alice Bache Gould, who spent decades researching the life stories of Columbusí crewmen in the Spanish archives, concluded that Guillermo Ires never sailed with Columbus. Although the Irishmanís name did appear on an early--and unreliable--list of the men left on Hispaniola, Gould found that Guillermo Ires was still alive in Europe several years after his alleged death in America.

Alicia B. Gould, Nueva Lista Documentada de los Tripulantes de Colon en 1492 (Madrid, 1984). 

David B. Quinn, Ireland and America: Their Early Associations, 1500-1640 (Liverpool, 1991).           

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