Shergar ch 6


RULES for using a metal detector on the beach:

  1. Don’t run around like a headless chicken.
  2. Find the places where people spend time on the beach, like in the dunes or what Jonathan called it “towel line”, the stretch of higher sand that stops waves coming in any further.
  3. Stay away from wide open spaces. There might be treasure there but it will take too long to find it.
  4. Look for shells. If the waves have pushed a lot of shells into one spot then they have probably pushed some good stuff there too.
  5. Check the exits. People always dropping stuff on the way home.

WE STAYED on the beach until my mum remembered she had to be home in time to cook dinner. Ninety minutes in all.

This is what we found. A ladies watch, five beer bottle tops, a screwdriver, assorted coins worth a total of one euros and fifty cents and a copper-coloured 20p coin with a harp on one side and the figure of a horse on the other, dated 1985. No gold, no jewellery. No treasure.

Jonathan turned the discrimination mode off to start with.. The detector would go off at absolutely every piece of metal it found, which would make the search more exciting. The only problem was we would find a lot of trash. I didn’t mind that and neither did my mum, not straight away.

My mum was first to take a turn. She found the watch in the wet sand where the tide had gone out. The face was broken and the gold-coloured bracelet had turned a watery shade of green. You could tell it was worthless. I found most of the coins and the beer bottle tops and then it got kind of boring, if I’m honest. Jonathan told us to be patient but that was okay for him to say. At least he had once found an ancient Roman belt buckle.

When he took over he turned the discrimination mode back on and moved more slowly than either me or my mum. He was right. Prospecting was just like fishing — boring.

He found the screwdriver. It had a red plastic handle.

“As used by cavemen back in the good old days,’’ my mum said.

We all laughed at that and then my mum said it was time to head back to Ballymarin.

I took charge of the metal detector as we walked across the beach and back towards to the car. I walked slowly and scoped the sand carefully, just like you are supposed to. My mum and Jonathan walked ahead. When I eventually looked up they were a hundred yards ahead of me. My mum shouted at me to get a move on. I pretended not to hear her. This was my last chance of the day to find some treasure and I wanted to make the most of it.

THOSE rules for prospecting on the beach are followed by all serious prospectors but it turns out they are not the Gospel of St Matthew or any of the other saints. And here is the evidence to prove it.

I found the coin in a random place. There were no sand mounds and no shells. It wasn’t in the dunes, or near the towel line or any of the places where people leave the beach. Jonathan said afterwards I had written my own rule number six: Be Lucky.

It was buried deeper than the other things we found, three or four inches beneath the wet sand. My mum had left a footprint right on top of the exact spot. At first I thought it was just another coin like the ones we had already found. When I wiped the wet sand off with my finger I didn’t recognise the the markings on either side. It was only after a clean it thoroughly on the front of my hoodie that I saw the date. 1985. Before I was born. That explained why I had never seen one like it before. I was disappointed. Old coins might be treasure but 1985 wasn’t old enough.

My brother Brendan says my mum is Mrs Zen. She doesn’t lose her temper when she is angry, she gets calmer and talks more softly.

I was too busy examining my find to notice her walking back across the beach in my direction. “Did you not hear with shouting on you get a move on?’’ she said.

“Sorry.” I held up the coin for her approval. “Look. An old coin. Old money.”

She took it and held it in her palm, examining one side and then the other. “Nineteen eighty-five,’’ she said. “Twenty pence. That’s worth about twenty cents in today’s money.”

I think she had done enough prospecting for one day, maybe even for a lifetime. “Come on, we have to go. Your dad will be wondering if we’ve run away to America to see Brendan.”

Jonathan was waiting for us at the top of the stairs. “What did you find?” he said.

I showed him the coin. He was more impressed than my mum even though he had never seen an old 20p Irish coin before, what with him being English and all. He held it in his palm and then in between his fingers, trying to get more light on it. “Nice condition. Unblemished,’’ he said.

“Does mean it’s worth something?” I said. “It’s not as old as a Roman coin but it’s older than me.”

He smiled. “I dunno. I doubt it but we can check when we get home.”

Before we got in the car, I emptied the contents of the collection pouch into the rubbish bin outside the Malahide Cafe and slipped the coin into my pocket.

I WAS sent to the Spar for a carton of milk as soon as we got back. Jonathan didn’t come because he wanted to search the internet for information about the coin. I noticed he said “we” and not “you” but didn’t say anything because it was his metal detector after all and without it I wouldn’t have found anything.

I was gone for ten minutes. When I got back he was still sitting in front of the computer.

The coin was on the desk, next to the keyboard.

“Come and look at this,’’ he said.

The light from the computer screen made his eyes look brighter than they really were. He nodded towards the screen. “Read that.”

It was a page from an entertainment news website. The headline read, “Your Old Irish Coins Could be Worth a Serious Amount of Money”. The photograph underneath showed two sides of a coin. On one side, the figure of a horse with “20P” floating above its back, on the other, a harp and the date, 1986.

“And now look at this.”

He picked up the coin from the desk. It looked exactly the same, except for the date.

My heart thumped harder and harder as I read down the story. It felt like it was going to burst through my skin when I got this paragraph: For example, the 1985 copper-colored 20p piece that depicts a horse could be worth at least €10,000 in auction. Similarly, the 1992 10p coin could bring in between €5,000 and €10,000. Both of these coins were only produced in very small quantities, making them rare today.

“Does that mean…”

“I don’t know,’’ Jonathan said. “I’m not sure”

Ten thousand euros. I had twenty-seven euros in my building society account. I knew that for a fact because I had recently spent the rest of my money — my life savings, you could say — on a Barcelona soccer strip.

“Why are you not sure?”

With ten thousand euros I could fly to Spain and watch Messi play in flesh and still have enough to buy a flat-screen television for my bedroom and a pair of Beats 2 headphones. Who was I kidding? My dad would never let me do any of that. But I could dream, couldn’t I, which made it kind of annoying that Jonathan couldn’t tell me there and then whether or not I was rich.

“The picture shows a 1986 coin but the story says the 1985 coin is the valuable one. It’s confusing,’’ he said.

“But I thought you knew about this kind of stuff.”

Now it was his turn to be annoyed. “Rare Irish coinage of the late 20th century isn’t exactly my specialist subject,’’ he said. “Maybe your mum and dad will know something about this.”

Let me be honest here. The thought did cross my mind that we should keep my parents out of this . That way I could sell the coin and spend the money any way I liked and they didn’t have to know. Then again, they would notice the headphones on my ears and the ginormous TV screen on my bedroom wall. And how would I explain a trip to Spain? My dad gets lost in his own world sometimes but I’m sure he’d get suspicious if I disappeared off to see Lionel Messi for a couple of days.

My mum was in the kitchen. She had already forgotten about the coin.

“Mum can you come and have a look at this,’’ I said.

“Have you washed your hands? Dinner’s ready,’’ she replied.

“It’s important.”

She was putting food on plates. “Can you ask Jonathan to wash his hands, please.”

Washing your hands. Now that’s important in our house.

The back door opened. In stepped my dad, red-faced and breathing heavily. His running top was stained with sweat. Did I mention in his spare time he is a marathon runner, a disease he passed on to Brendan but fortunately not me. I can’t stand running.

“There you are,’’ my mum. “I was wondering where you were. Can you please not walk through the house with those running shoes. I spent all morning Hoovering.”

My dad stepped back outside and took off his shoes. “Actually, I was wondering where you lot where? The house was deserted when I came home.”

“We went to Malahide.”


“Yes,’’ she said, smiling. “We went treasure hunting, don’t you know.”

My dad looked confused. Malahide isn’t widely known around this planet earth as a destination for treasure hunters.

I saw my chance. “Mum…”

She’d forgotten I was there. “Have you washed your hands yet?”

“It’s ….”

“Can you please do what your mother tells you,’’ my dad said.

Fed up at being interrupted, I did the only thing I could do. I blurted it out.

“It’s about the coin we found at the beach — the coin I found, I mean. It’s worth a fortune.”

THE food was cold when we finally got to the dinner table but no-one cared. We were too excited to eat, even my dad. He asked at least five hundred times to tell him where and how I found the coin. The one problem was no matter how many times I told the story I couldn’t really make it that exciting and that’s the truth. All I did was wave the metal detector wand over the sand in front of me and there it was. 
Jonathan had an explanation. “Beginner’s luck,’’ he said. “Pure and simple. Some people spent a lifetime prospecting and never find very much worthwhile. And then there’s people like you.”

He was happy to let me have the glory and I was happy to take it.

The only problem was we weren’t one hundred percent sure the coin was genuine. We found other stories about the 1985 20p. One of them said it was the rarest coin in Ireland. Another described it as legendary. But was it the real thing? For one thing, the colour didn’t match the colour of the coin in any of the photographs we found on the internet. Jonathan said we shouldn’t worry about that because the coin was a different colour in all the photos. “If they are all the different colours then how do we know which is the right colour?”

Not even my mum had thought of that and she’s pretty smart.

My dad had a friend in Dundalk who collected old stamps. He phoned to ask him if he knew anything about old coins. He said he didn’t but he knew a man in Belfast who did and so my dad called this other man but he wasn’t home because he had gone to a coin auction in Vienna, Austria. So we were left looking at the coin on the desk, the four us staring at this mystical object, waiting for it speak up and solve the mystery.

“Do you think we should polish it? It’s quite dirty.”

My mum was always polishing things in our house, even when they didn’t need polished. It was like an addiction.

Jonathan shook his head. “Probably not. Probably best to leave it as it was found until an expert takes a look. Condition is very important with artefacts like this.”

This sounded very wise and so the coin remained unpolished for the time being. My mum went upstairs and came down a minute later with a jewellery box. It was blue velvet and lined with silver silk on the inside.

“Let’s put it in here for safe keeping,’’ she said. She picked up the coin like it might fall apart and put it in the box. Then she put the box in the drawer of my dad’s desk.

“Will it be okay in there?” I asked.

This didn’t sound like a daft question when it came out of my mouth but on second thoughts maybe it was. After all, if someone out there was hoping to get their grubby hands on a rare 1985 20p coin I expect the last place they would look was the drawer of my dad’s desk.

I COULDN’T sleep. It was like Christmas Eve times a thousand. My head was like the inside of a wasps’ nest. Possibilities buzzed back and forth along honeycomb passages of my brain.

We watched a film on television after dinner, a science fiction mystery starring a bald woman who could see into the future and stop murders before they happened. Now that’s a talent I could have done with. I would have known how it all was going to turn out. If the coin was the real thing or if the internet had made a terrible mistake. If I was ten thousand Euros richer or if I was just as broke as I was before we went to the beach. That was another thing. No-one talked about the money. Who owned the coin? I found it so you could say it was mine, and if It was mine then surely I should get all the money? But I found it using Jonathan’s metal detector, which could mean he should get a cut? And if he got a cut, how much should he get? Half? Maybe the real owner was out there waiting for someone to return the coin to them. There were hundreds of questions and I nursed them until the sun rose the next morning.