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Medieval Irish Colonists on the South Atlantic Coast

Since 1530, “De Orbe Novo” (About the New World) by Peter Martyr, has been in publication and generally available in libraries. It contains a chapter, which describe Duhare, a European province on the South Atlantic Coast of North America. The passages do not provide a specific nationality for these Europeans, but do contain details that someone could have researched to determine their ethnicity. From 1530 onward, however, these passages were ignored by scholars because they described a people, who milked deer to make cheese.

The description of Duhare was resurrected by John Swanton in his famous book, “Early History of the Creek Indians,” but Swanton dismissed the descriptions as ludicrous. From then onward, Southeastern academicians did not dare discuss Duhare and it was largely forgotten.

Documents from the 12th, 13th, 17th and 18th centuries either describe voyages of persecuted Irish Christian sailing across the Atlantic to Witmannsland (White Mans Land in Norse) or light skinned Indians, speaking Gaelic to the early settlers of South Carolina and Georgia. These stories have also been long been ignored by more contemporary scholars. However, nobody ever linked these stories to description of Duhare in Peter Martyr’s book.

Part Four of “Origins of the South Atlantic Coastal Peoples”

In May of 2011, I was doing research in anticipation of co-writing a book on the 16th century attempts to colonize North America with Roger Kennedy. Kennedy was former director of the National Museum of American History and the National Park Service. He had recommended that I read Swanton’s book as a kick-off for my research. I eventually came to those passages about Duhare.

In 1521, slave traders Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo made several friendly contacts with Native peoples on the South Atlantic Coast, but ended up abducting two ship loads of people from “Chicora” to sell as slaves in Santo Domingo. The Spaniards described a province or village named Duhare that was inhabited by  people of large stature with skin tones lighter than that of the Spanish.  They had red or brown hair, while the men wore heavy beards.

The leader of the province was named Datha and was described as being painted or tattooed all over. Their houses and pottery were similar to that of their American Indian neighbors. However, unlike their neighbors, the people of Duhare raised several domesticated animals, the most important being dairy deer. They made cheese from the deer milk and ate the meat from surplus males. The deer browsed through the woods in the day time, but returned to a corral inside the village at night.

A village, excavated on the campus of Warren Wilson College near Asheville, NC seems to have the exact characteristics of Duhare villages on the coast. Archaeologists were puzzled because they unearthed a palisaded corral INSIDE the village. This would have been where dairy deer were kept at night. This village was abandoned in the early 1500s.

A village, excavated on the campus of Warren Wilson College near Asheville, NC seems to have the exact characteristics of Duhare villages on the coast. Archaeologists were puzzled because they unearthed a palisaded corral INSIDE the village. This would have been where dairy deer were kept at night. This village was abandoned in the early 1500s.

Despite the story being dissed by all scholars during the past five centuries, there was something about it that seemed to have the ring of truth in it. In my earlier life I had started the first licensed goat cheese creamery outside of California and been quite successful at it. I asked myself, “How would these crude Spanish slave raiders have any knowledge of cheese making and dairy animal husbandry unless they actually saw the process?”

I assumed that what the Spaniards called deer were actually chamoisee dairy goats like the ones at my former farm. These French Alpine goats were the same color and size as large deer. They have the same hoof prints and droppings as deer. Like deer, they were called bucks and does. In fact, it was fairly common for deer bucks to come near the barn when our goat does were in heat . . . until chased off by our 300+ pound goat bucks.

The Duhare words, quoted by the two slave traders, were definitely not from Scandinavia or France.   One of them appeared to be Gaelic, but was a little different than modern Gaelic.  Nevertheless, Gaelic was not my forte’.

The Deer People of Ireland

I called up the newly opened Consul General of the Republic of Ireland in Atlanta, to see if the staff knew of someone knowledgeable in Early Irish History and Language.   The story of Duhare just might be a description of Irish colonists in North America, long before Columbus.

The Consul, Paul Gleason,  contacted the Cultural Attache’ in the Washington Embassy.   He contacted some professors that he knew at the University of Dublin,  Ireland’s oldest and most prestigious institute of learning.

About a  week later, a big surprise came back in an email from Ireland.  Duhare appeared to be Du’H’aire . . . which is the Early Medieval Gaelic word for Irish . . . literally “from Aire (Ireland.)  All the other words recorded by Peter Martyr were also Early Medieval Gaelic.  However, the most convincing proof of the story’s veracity was the king’s name, Datha.   It means “painted” and the Spaniards said that the king’s body was painted all over.  There is NO WAY that the two Spaniards could have known Early Medieval Gaelic.

There was an even bigger surprise.  During the Neolithic Period and Bronze Age, the aboriginal Irish had domesticated and developed a dairy deer!  The Gaelic Irish had continued to drink deer milk and make deer cheese until Norman monks introduced dairy cows in the 1200s AD.   One ethnic group in southeastern Ireland was particularly noted for raising dairy deer.   They were the Osraighe or “Deer People.  Their dairy deer differed little in appearance from the Chamoisee goats of the Alps that were developed in to dairy livestock.

All those scholars through the centuries had dissed the description of deer milk and deer cheese without ever asking anyone in the Celtic countries about it.   There were at one time dairy deer in Scotland and Wales, too.

Forgotten eyewitness accounts

Three weeks after I published the Duhare article in the Examiner, I stumbled upon the Track Rock Terrace Complex.  About that time Roger Kennedy’s cancer relapsed with a vengeance.  He raced to finish his book on Greek Revival Architecture then died on September 30, 2011.   After realizing in July that the Track Rock ruins were not from the 16th century, I dropped everything else and concentrated on the “Maya thing.”

When it appeared that nothing else could be discerned from the Track Rock ruins, my research went back to the 16th century.   Roger was dead, so the book became an architectural history named Earthfast.  The research for Earthfast included reading the earliest historical account from South Carolina and Georgia.  Several nonchalantly referred to early colonists encountering light skinned, Gaelic speaking Indians on the coast!

The second paragraph of the first history book on Georgia by William Bacon Stephens described the presence of Irishmen on the South Atlantic Coast and then referred to a contemporary historian in Denmark, Karl Kristian Rafn, who had researched the matter further.  On the next page,  Stephens replicated the story of Duhare, placing the province somewhere near Savannah.  However, Stephens did not discern the connection between the Irish colonists and Duhare.

I next went to the Rafn’s 1837 book on the exploration of North America several centuries before Columbus by Scandinavians and Irishmen, Antiquitates Americanæ.   He was the scholar, who introduced the Icelandic sagas about Leif Erikson and the discovery of Greenland and Vinland.    Most European academicians thought him to be a “quack” at the time, but the discovery of Viking settlements in Greenland and Canada has proved him right.

However, there was much more to the book. Rafn presented sagas that described further Scandinavian exploration of the Atlantic Coast of North America, at least as far south as Florida.  By this time the Scandinavians were at least nominally Christian, but were not particularly fond of the ritualism and central controls being promoted by a series of popes.   Simultaneously,   Irish Christians were being severely persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church because they followed the practices of early Christianity, such as married priests and holding services in Gaelic.

According to Rafn, around 1172 to 1180 AD  Norse mariners began conveying Irish refugees to Witmannsland (White Man’s Land) across the Atlantic.  Norse settlements were typically in the vicinity of New England and the Maritime Provinces, whereas the Irish preferred to establish colonies to the south where it was much warmer in the winter and their livestock could graze year round.  The Irishmen were farmers and herdsmen, while the Scandinavians were fishermen and loggers.

The proof of Rafn’s radically different version of Early Medieval History came from several sources, namely  Icelandic sagas,  chronicles in Norway and Denmark, plus monastic journals in France and Ireland.  Rafn seemed completely unaware of the story of Duhare or else did not realize that Duhare meant “Irish.”

A collaboration with mainstream history

Despite the discovery of a Viking settlement in Canada,  most of Rahn’s book is still held in disdain by historians.  However, mainstream history, accepted by almost all academicians, seems to collaborate his text, if one interpolates the story of Duhare.

In 1169, Norman England furnished mercenaries to support the deposed king of Leinster in southeastern Ireland, Diarmait Mac Murchada.   In the summer of 1170, there were two further Anglo-Norman landings, led by Richard ‘Strongbow’ de Clare. By May 1171, Strongbow had conquered Leinster and had seized the Norse-Irish city kingdoms of Dublin, Waterford and Wexford.  Most of the Norse ship owners and fishermen fled the region.  Where they fled has always been the subject of speculation.

In 1172,  the Vatican gave its full support to the King of England in a plan to conquer all of Ireland.   This was viewed by the Pope as the ideal opportunity to crush the rebellious Irish Gaelic Christian Church.   Just west of Leinster was the lands of the Ossreigh . . . the Deer People.

Richard de Clare’s subjugation of the Ossreigh between 1172 and 1180 was particularly brutal because they followed the practices of the original Christian church before it absorbed pagan traditions.   A considerable number of “Deer People” were burned at the stake.  Many more had their lands seized by the Norman conquerors.

Thus, at the exact time that Karl Rafn says that persecuted Norse and Irish Christians were fleeing in Norse ships to Witmannsland,  it is an established fact that Norman invaders were driving Norse-Irishmen and the Deer People out of their lands.   There seems to be a profound connection.



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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Richard, Keep up the Good work…. The “Pi-tani” (Picts of Scotland) were noted to have painted themselves” blue” before Battle and they had Red to Auburn hair. It was noticed by Caesar that the ships of the ancient Brittani, in the land once called “Ar-mor-ica”, were much larger than the Roman war ships and could have clearly made it across the Atlantic.
    Seafaring people don’t forget how to make ships as NOAH’s family clearly did. Perhaps some of them harpooners just stopped for awhile and left some clues on their journey?
    Can’t settle the “whole world” without some fisherman? With the right kind of wood and some Tar from North Carolina, someone could have built a “ship of Tarshish” and made it across that Atlantic Ocean and gone back again.
    By the way…a serpent earth work almost exactly like the one found near the Ohio river, can also be located in Scotland.
    Do you see those STONES?………those Stonehenge stones? That “Aberlemno 1” stone in Scotland (ALba) iS an interesting stone….Richard.

    • The interesting thing is that there were Stonehenges in Canada 500 years before they appeared in the British Isles. So the First Canadians discovered Europe! LOL Have a Merry Christmas!


    MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Richard


    I’d like to share that the Irish were in America before the dates that Rafn gives, Landnámabók, an Icelandic saga, mentions “White Men’s Land, which some people call Greater Ireland” being reached in a voyage thought to take place in 983. It is also mentioned in the Eyrbyggja saga, and the interesting thing about that is that if you look here: ,
    you will see that it is calculated to be “somewhere about Carolina or Georgia” the exact area that the Duhare were found, and the authors didn’t even know it!
    I wonder what people on this website think of the possibility of it being discover by st. Brendan of Clonfert, who lived between 488 and 577. many people think he sailed to north America. His voyage was even duplicated by Tim Severin in the 70’s. What Is extremely interesting about this is that st. Brendan is traditionally said to have sailed from dingle, where the Reinhardt Boulder’s twin was found.

    • I think that it is very possible. The early settlers in Georgia encountered mixed European-Native American people, who spoke an old form of Gaelic. This is mentioned in the first paragraph of the first history book written about Georgia.


    That’s interesting… could you provide me with a link to it?


    When my mom worked in New York in the late 1950s, road building crews working in the Hudson River Valley told stories about Norse ruins that they were ordered to pave over with a new highway. Not sure what to make of that one.

    • It could be. The late 12th century monastic journals said that the Irish refugees settled in the south and the Norse refugees settled to the north of them. Verazzano’s famous map, however, lists two towns on the South Atlantic coast with Nordic names, Norman villa and Long villa. A Long Stad was a special type of Viking base on a river near its mouth on the ocean.


      I’m not too surprised. I live in the Hudson River Valley and its communities have been much more interested in the all mighty dollar than preserving our unique history.



  1. Was St. Brendan the first to celebrate a thanksgiving Mass in America? -Aleteia - Mama Mary - Our Loving Mother - […] Some historians even claim, “Documents from the 12th, 13th, 17th and 18th centuries [might] describe voyages of persecuted Irish…

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