It’s 85 miles by air from Farranfore to Galway. I assumed Galway, since we headed nearly due north. After a quarter of an hour I could see the few dim lights of Limerick 20 miles to the east. Of course, Sligo would have been exactly the same direction and 60 miles farther; Donegal would have been nearly north and about twice the distance of Galway. But I could feel from the angle of the plane we were already descending after Limerick; if it was the midpoint, we were almost certainly landing in Galway.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that was our destination. It was beginning to look like Galway was in the middle of all this, one way or the other.
Another gleaming black car was waiting at Galway Airport, and Feany whisked us along Monivea Road in a comfort I thought I could get used to. Physical comfort, that is; mentally, I was not achieving peak levels of relaxation despite my best techniques for not screaming hysterically.
I decided, while Dubin sat with eyes closed, apparently relaxed, to try and use this mental energy for good instead of evil.
Where could Dubin be taking me? It had to be somewhere that antiquities, probably written, could be hidden in plain sight. If he was trafficking in ogham stones or other written artifacts, they couldn’t very well be stored in a barn somewhere that would attract attention every time new items were brought, or the old were removed.
The middle of Galway was a trove of old buildings, but the one that was most likely to hold ancient artifacts, written, carved, or cast, was also one of the largest: St. Nicholas’ Church.
Founded nearly seven centuries ago and named for the patron saint of Myra, patron saint of mariners, forever immortalized in English-speaking countries as ‘Santa Claus’, it was a natural place for old stuff: the Crusader’s Tomb, the Victorian library, the Altar Tomb; if Dubin had any pull with the local representatives of the Church of Ireland he might have had access. Well; it might also involve the Catholic Church; the local congregations had been almost friendly since the huge church was used for Mass during the latter half of last year. Too bad their respective organizations couldn’t have played nicer for the past seven centuries.
Oh; they claim Columbus worshipped here during a sleepover in 1477. Not sure if that’s relevant, but it’s nice to remember things once in a while.
Monivea turned into Wellpark; Feany made the circle at Dublin Road where it turns into Sean Mulvoy Road, then the circle onto Bohermore, which turns almost immediately into Prospect Hill, then William’s Gate and Shop Street, and finally right on Church Lane to the corner of Market. I could have given you the directions from memory (which, ironically, I shouldn’t have had.) Feany parked outside the pylons, and we walked from Eglington, where William’s Gate turned into Shop Street.
It felt good to finally be one step ahead instead of two steps behind. The looming mass of St. Nicholas’ blocked a chunk of the night sky, its unique triple-nave making a barely-visible pattern against stars.
“Just through here, and we’ll start our work.” Dubin’s connections must have been even better than I thought: having come through a well-oiled gate, he unlocked an ancient door in a dark corner, and led the way inside. I’ve never known anyone with their own key to a church. I was impressed; I wondered how much it had cost him.
We walked up between the rows of pews in semi-darkness; I couldn’t tell where it came from, but there was a modicum of light.
At the last pew we turned right and went to a wooden door that looked like it might have been from the original 700-year-old construction. This, too, was locked, and once again Dubin had a key.
Before stepping inside, he reached around the sill and pressed a light switch; one of the old two-button things where you push the top one for ‘on’ and the bottom one for ‘off.’
When he gently slid the door open I could see why he hadn’t stepped into the room first: we were going to have to wend our way through stacks, piles, heaps, of whatever all was stored in there. It wasn’t untidy, just really, really packed.
He led the way (Feany ensured that I followed) through the room to an alcove behind the piles where there was a long, high table; it was wide enough for the three of us to stand in front of, but narrow enough that I could have easily touched the wall behind it.
I absorbed all that later; at first, my attention was entirely on what was on the table. it was a map; almost scroll-like, it was not as tall as the table was deep, but was rolled slightly at the ends, making it something like ten feet long.
The connections in my head were firing like they hadn’t since the morning in the basement. It was ancient; at least, the language was. It looked like the map of an imrama, an old Celtic fable type where the hero’s adventures all take place, literally or figuratively, in a boat.
Which, of course, put me in mind of the most famous imrama, that of Brendan the Navigator and his sixty, searching for Tír na nÓg, Land of the Ever-Young.
Which may have influenced me slightly, but the lands to the far right looked like the Irish coast, and those to the far left looked like Newfoundland.
Of course, the fact that he’d signed his name below the compass rose may have helped.
If it was genuine, it was Brendan’s own map, never mentioned in his journals, and it proved conclusively that he had, in fact, been the first European to set foot in the new world, four centuries before the Vikings and a millennium before his imrama allegedly sparked Columbus to follow suit.
And, if it was genuine, it was one of the most important pieces of written Celtic history in existence.
As a lover of a good story, as a lover of maps, as a guy who really does want to make the find of the century, it absolutely broke my heart that it was a forgery.