By Brian McGinn
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.
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.
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.
B. Gould, Nueva Lista Documentada de los
Tripulantes de Colon en 1492 (Madrid, 1984).
B. Quinn, Ireland and America: Their
Early Associations, 1500-1640 (Liverpool, 1991).
to the bibliography