Buried Treasure in an Irish Farm Field
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.
The little gold boat was among a group of exquisite gold artifacts dating from the early Iron Age (1st century B.C.E.) found in 1896
in a farm field near Limavady, Northern Ireland. Because the objects were buried about 14 inches deep and covered in mud, ploughmen Thomas Nicholl and James Morrow did not realize at first that they were gold. The hoard included the boat, two necklaces, a bowl and a hollow collar called a torc. The plough damaged the boat so badly that a goldsmith needed to restore it. It measures 7.25 inches (18.4 cm) by 3 inches (7.6 cm) and weighs 3 ounces (85 g), has benches, oarlocks, two rows of oars, a paddle for steering, grappling tools, three forks, a yardarm and a spear. The boat and other objects in the horde may have been offerings to the Celtic sea god Manannan Mac Lir.
From the minute I saw it in Dublin’s National Museum of Ireland
in the summer of 2011, the little boat captured my imagination. Finally visiting the country whose landscape, language, literature, history, myths and music had always moved me, I seized on the idea of the gold boat as a symbol of my journey: the impulse that led me to fly there alone, then face my fear of driving by myself (on the “wrong” side of the road) to attend a week-long poetry workshop at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry
I would have preferred the little gold boat to the pink rental car I drove for a week along less-traveled roads. During my comedy of errors I managed to get a laugh and a free pass from the toll taker who said he’d never seen a car that color; go the wrong way around numerous roundabouts; lose cell reception and arrive so late at my rented country cottage that the owner drove out to find me; get lost so often driving to my workshop that I had to memorize landmarks to find the way; ask directions from a gap-toothed farmer whose accent was too heavy for me to understand; avoid commuting at night from workshop to cottage for fear I’d get lost again; and kick the car’s road-battered hub caps before and after every drive to make sure they wouldn’t fall off. The whole humbling adventure taught me lessons I’m still drawing from today. Thanks to Irish silversmith Eileen Moylan
for permission to use her photograph of the little gold boat.
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