When the incoming tide threatened to reach the car, we decided it was high time to end our pleasant afternoon on the beach.
We packed up our belongings, piled in, closed the doors and I reached for my keys. Pockets empty, keys were nowhere to be found.
After ransacking the car we climbed out and began a frantic search of the surrounding area, scrabbling through the sand. Nothing. We alerted the several families sitting nearby, all of whom graciously joined in the search, to no avail.
It was early August, our three eldest were at the Gaeltacht or visiting cousins, we couldn’t bear to part with all of them, so we had kept twelve year old daughter No 4 at home in Malahide. After a couple of days dearly beloved found she could not cope with the near-empty house any longer so, on a whim, we took off for a few days impromptu touring holiday. After hurriedly throwing a few clothes into a bag we tossed a coin and headed north on the Belfast Road with no plans. Our Northern Ireland odyssey began with swift passage through Balbriggan, Drogheda and Dundalk.
Before crossing the border at Newry we took a right and moseyed along the coast looking for somewhere to soak up the sunshine and found a perfect drive-on beach on which to enjoy the balmy August afternoon.
“Can you remember where you left them?” asked dearly beloved.
“If I knew that they wouldn’t be lost”, I explained through gritted teeth.
Like a terrier with a bone the question was pursued, “when did you last have them?”
Pretending not to hear, I turned to gauge the threat of the approaching tide.
No 4 and I set off down the beach where we had rambled earlier, working to a grid pattern like the search for the Titanic. Several passes up and down the strand revealed nothing. Over an hour went by fruitlessly when we slouched back to the car.
The tide lapped against the front wheels.
The other families had moved their cars to higher ground, or gone home.
Dearly beloved had an epiphany.
“I know, let’s pray to St Anthony, he finds things for people.”
“ Yeah, right,” under my breath.
“What did you say?”
“I said, that’s a great idea, why don’t you do that?”
“I mean all of us.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
What option do I have? At this point I would have put my faith in the local witch-doctor.
We moved to higher ground and sat crosslegged in a little circle, three of us, holding hands. We watched as the water started to lap higher against the wheels.
Dearly beloved looked at me, “Well?”
“Well, say it, close your eyes and say, please St Anthony…”
I shut my eyes. “Please St Anthony…”
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what have I been reduced to?
“Would you mind telling me, how this works? How does he tell you where they are? I mean, does he come striding out from the sand dunes in his robe and sandals, shaking the keys in the air?”
“Don’t be silly— oh ye of little faith… now, say please St Anthony, if you find my keys…”
“Please St Anthony, if you find my keys…”
“Go on, promise him money.”
“Please St Anthony, if you find my keys I promise to give you five pounds.”
“Ah for God’s sake, where are you going with your five pounds? He couldn’t be bothered finding your keys for a fiver”.
“Ok, ok…, please St Anthony, if you find my keys I’ll give you ten pounds.”
“Well, that’s better, still a bit on the stingy side, but it might do.”
I prepared myself for the bolt of lightning. Nothing happened.
We sat in silence, maybe he doesn’t think it’s enough, I thought, or worse, maybe he noticed my scepticism and doesn’t trust me to cough up.
With a deep sigh I relaxed and racked my brain to remember every step I had taken since we arrived on the beach.
A fleeting memory popped into my head. I jumped up, grabbed No 4 and hurried off down the beach, again. On our first stroll we had come across a steep grassy slope and decided to explore further. An open gate at the top led to a large meadow of tall grass about to be turned into hay. We retraced our steps and walked a few yards into the field, just as we had done earlier and there were my keys, glistening in the sunlight, half hidden in the long grass.
“What did I tell you?” exclaimed dearly beloved when we returned in triumph.
We promptly left the beach without getting our feet wet and pulled into the carpark of the Ballymascanlon Hotel for a cup of tea and a scone to settle our nerves.
Reception was a large hatch in the foyer wall, it was momentarily vacant. I leaned over the counter to look for someone and there it was, I couldn’t believe it, a St Anthony collection box.
No 4 followed my gaze, her eyes popped, she looked up and recognised my hesitation.
”Ah c’mon Dad, you promised.”
I pulled out my wallet, the smallest was a twenty. I folded it carefully and pushed it through the slot. A bargain at that price.
(c) HP Moore