Sea Life

The year must have been about 1954 or 55. We had spent the day at the seaside – Summercove, outside Kinsale. It was a fairly typical family outing: mother, father, grandmother and two small boys, the younger a baby. I was the elder, about four years old.
The day had passed in the usual way – playing on the strand, building sand castles, paddling, maybe even learning to swim at the edge of the water. These memories have all sunk to the unreachable, deepest recesses of my mind. The closing scene of the day I do, however, vividly recall.
As we were about to return to the car, I heard my mother call, “Look, Look at the seal! He’s watching us. He seems so lonely – maybe he wants us to stay.”
I looked out at the still water. There, about twenty yards from shore, I saw what looked like the head of a lugubrious old man, sad eyes gazing towards us.
“I must sing to him,” said my mother. “Seals love music and singing.”
And so she sang.
“Bridget Donoghue, I’ve got one or two
Things to say to you…”
Slowly, as if mesmerised, the seal began to move closer to us.
About ten or twelve yards from shore the seal paused. My mother finished her song:
“And it’s all for you Bridget Donoghue,
If you’ll marry me.”
And then it was time to go home for tea and that was when I made my decision.
“I’m not going home,” I said. “I want to stay here with the seal.”
The first reaction was amusement:
“Sure you can’t live in the water. You’d be far too cold in winter.”
Amusement turned to negotiation:
“We have lovely treats for tea. We might get an ice-cream on the way home. Anyway, you’d be lonely for all of us.”
Negotiation became logical argument:
“For heaven’s sake! Seals live on raw fish. You don’t even eat cooked fish. You can’t live on raw fish!”
Logical argument became determination:
“Get into the car now! Do what you are told!”
Determination rapidly turned to threat:
“Get into the car or we’ll go home without you!”
Threat, at last, turned to force and the stronger power won.
“Right! That’s it! I’m putting you in the car!”
Let it be said, I, very effectively, countered every argument.
“I don’t care about being cold. I like being cold!”
“I don’t want treats. I don’t like my tea. I hate ice-cream.”
“I love raw fish.”
“I don’t want any of ye. I just want to live with seals and spend my life in the water.”
I fought as hard as I could. I kicked and screamed. Even my beloved grandmother nursed bruised shins on the way home.
And I still vividly remember the depth of my feelings on that day.
Even as I write this I raise my head from time to time and look through the front window at the stretch of water between the mainland and Bere Island, where the tide is gradually rising over rocks and seaweed hangs loose and limp like discarded mermaids’ hair, until it is lifted again by the rising tide. Then it seems to have life breathed back into it as it sparkles like silver stars in its natural element and rises and falls with the silent swell.
I look out again at the rich blue water. Today is the 29th of May. It is nearly full tide: time I went for a swim.