From “Seanchaí,” by Brian Doyle
Shout the thing that must be said.
What were you about? Why did people love
You? What can they keep of who you were?
Last evening, after returning from my uncle’s memorial, I curled myself into my corner of the couch to watch a movie with my housemates.
Happily, we landed on Song of the Sea, a beautifully hand-painted animated film adaptation of an old Irish legend. One of the legendary fairy folk encountered in the story is the Great Seanchaí, the old storykeeper, who holds the history of the world in the white hairs of the beard that flows endlessly from his face.
That, of course, reminded me of this proem about the job of a eulogist. Having just given a short impromptu one of my own the evening before, I was moved again to read Brian’s description of the seanchaí:
“You are not the show.
You are the one chosen to say what everyone
Is thinking. This is an ancient task and honor.
You are the tongue in every mouth. In Gaelic,
The seanchaí, the storyteller, the storycatcher.
The rememberer, the singer of what is crucial.”
In the film, the little boy Ben is led out of the dark cavern of the Great Seanchaí by a thread of his beard that contains his sister’s story. “Be careful,” he’s warned. “Don’t break it.”
That’s how we find and tell the thing that must be said. A single strand, glowing, fragile. If you pluck it, you can’t keep it. The only way out is to catch it up ever so gently and follow it where it leads.