A TV4 film crew arrived Saturday, the day after Juno Cahill disappeared. The reporter was a windswept Nuala O’Byrne, who looked for all the world as though she would rather be anywhere else.
‘Thanks Miriam,’ said Nuala to the newsreader in the warm Dublin studio. A gust of wind swept through. Nuala grimaced and leaned into it. The lapels on a flimsy looking jacket flapped around her face. Invisible raindrops hit the microphone and sounded hard, like grains of rice. ‘Yes, I’m here at Ballybogue harbour,’ she shouted, ‘where, yesterday morning, local man Juno Cahill set out on one of his regular fishing trips. It was a pastime he enjoyed. Yesterday’s trip, however, did not go to plan.’
The camera panned away, and across the seafront. A tin can clattered across the empty car park. Leaves, rounded up by little localised whirlwinds, huddled in mounds at the base of the sea wall and gathered in the corners of a bus shelter.
‘Mr Cahill never returned,’ continued Nuala, off camera. ‘Local priest Father Patrick Mackin raised the alarm late yesterday afternoon but at that stage it was too late to mount a sea search. The wind had already started increasing in strength. Darkness was closing in.’
Nuala was back on screen now holding down the collar of her jacket with one hand, microphone grasped in the other. ‘This morning the search and rescue helicopter was deployed from Donegal airport,’ she continued, ‘and a small flotilla of local fishing boats have joined the search. As yet there is no sign of the missing man or his dinghy.’ Here she paused for effect. ‘This is Nuala O’Byrne reporting from Ballybogue in county Donegal for TV4’s Lunchtime News.’
At Sunday mass, the following day, the priest surveyed his congregation. He did that a lot. Seemed to relish prolonged periods of silence. There was some shuffling of feet and a few tentative coughs.
‘Let us pray for the safe return of Juno Cahill,’ Father Patrick Mackin intoned finally.
The church went quiet again except for a few sniffs—a result of seasonal colds rather than sadness—as the priest pondered his next words. Imelda Cahill, Juno’s wife, stood in the middle of the congregation. Late autumn sunshine lit up a stained-glass window in the wall opposite, directly behind her head. It was one of the Stations of the Cross, Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. A stylised modern image. It occurred to me that Imelda and this particular image of Veronica shared a certain angularity. Imelda was a tall thin woman. Calling her gaunt would have been harsh, but not far from the truth. She glanced to her right, held my gaze for a moment too long and then looked away. On either side of Imelda stood her two daughters and their husbands—a familial show of support. Touching.
Juno usually went fishing on a Friday morning, if the weather was good. Way out beyond the bay to where the land was hidden behind a gently curved sea. The fishing boats would see him as they passed. Drifting slowly with the prevailing wind, baited lines trailing behind the dinghy. He would be reading a book and drinking beer from the icebox. Late afternoon would see the little boat chug slowly back, sails tied tight to the mast for the last part of the journey home. On dry land again, Juno might have been a little unsteady on his feet. A day drifting on the ocean can do that. The icebox would always be empty. He never brought home a single fish. Couldn’t bring himself to kill them.
‘I’ve known Juno a long time,’ added Father Mackin. ‘Please remember him in your own prayers during the coming days.’ Then he led his parishioners in three Hail Marys and an Our Father. Felt like the penance given out when I was a young boy in confession. Say three Hail Marys and an Our Father and try to be a good child from now on.
When mass ended I looked across again at Imelda. She was dressed, head to foot, in grey. Building up to the black outfit, I think. Daughters, Grainne and Greta, were also in grey, but a lighter shade. Wouldn’t want to upstage the widow to be. Imelda started sobbing quietly then, just tiny gasps. Subtle like. The daughters were teary eyed, but silent. Same rule applied. Don’t outdo Imelda. It was then I noticed Father Paddy. He was standing in the open doorway of the sacristy staring directly at me, a quizzical look on his face. He nodded. I nodded back. Then he turned and walked into the little room and closed the door behind him. I wondered then if he knew.