Saturday, August 23, 2008

Treasure

The other day the daughter of dear friends and her husband contrived for others of her family, and for us, a "treasure hunt" that took us careening -- three teams in three cars, each starting with a different sequence of the clues -- around the end of the Dingle Peninsula. Solving the clues took a considerable knowledge of local geography, history and culture.

One clue, for example, referred to St. Brendan's "glassy gaze" looking at a "place of knowledge where children once learned." The glassy gaze suggested stained glass, and therefore one of the several churches of the area, leading us eventually to the church in the village of Ballyferriter where, from inside, a window image of Brendan on the opposite wall looks out the door to a tiny museum of local history across the road that, we affirmed, was once a school. We paid our entrance fees. Prominent in the collection is a group of ogham stones, inscribed with an ancient runelike script, an alphabetic key of which was displayed on the wall. Among the stuff we had been given at the start was an ogham inscription (we now recalled), but with no indication of which way to read it -- right-to-left or left-to-right, right-side up or upside-down, all of which gave different translations. The only one that made sense was " beltbucle," and sure enough in one of the museum cases was an iron belt buckle "lost and found" (a phase from the clue) at Dun an Oir (the Fort of Gold), a site several miles away down country lanes where in 1580 an invading force of Spanish and Italian Catholics, with their Irish allies, were massacred and decapitated by the English. A monument there has carved heads which the clue suggested we should count. This number, together with numbers ascertained upon solving each of the other clues, would help lead us to "the treasure."

And so it went, through language, literature and archeology, a grand way to spend a drizzly August afternoon, and a jolly confirmation that not all of the younger generation have yet surrendered their minds and wits to Web 2.0.