Seanchaí is an old Irish word for storycatcher — a person (legendary or living) who held the memory of a community by gathering and telling its stories.
Today, I want to sing and celebrate the greatest seanchaí I ever met.
I first encountered Brian Doyle’s work when I was a volunteer in Washington State. From the Northwestern authors section of the bookstore in the next valley over, the glittering eye of a crow on the cover of Brian’s first novel, Mink River, captured me and would not let go until I bought the book.
The wild wise worldview I found between the covers has not let go since — certainly not since I had the coincidental joy of meeting Brian when he headlined the North Words writers’ symposium in Skagway, Alaska.
A seanchaí’s role, Brian wrote, is to shout the thing that must be said. And the thing I must say about Brian is that he taught me to see. What he showed me, at exactly the time I needed to see it, is “the miracle and muddle of the everyday,” the way small things aren’t small at all, and that the wildest most precious un-small things in this life are children — and so how we treat children is an important measure of society.
Brian died two years ago today, at the too-young age of 60. It’s possible the brain tumor that would kill him had already begun its dark work when we shared an evening of stories at the Skagway Brewing Company.
But his stories live on — in his books, in memories, and especially in the way he taught us to see.