If you have been to an Irish pub you may have heard just such a storyteller in the corner mixing history with fiction and a little bit of legend to create a wonderful story.
If you lived or have been to Ireland at all you may have heard of the Irish storyteller. In the rural villages and towns the storyteller is a revered and respected person in the community.
In the book “Ireland” by Frank Delaney, he speaks about the traveling storyteller who would knock on a farmhouse door and ask to tell a story. This was an honor and many times the homeowners would keep him there for days, inviting all their neighbors over to listen to him tell the history of Ireland in a magical way.
These storytellers are what make Ireland the romantic place it has become, because they tell even the most troubling stories with flair. The storytellers were the historians of Ireland for hundreds of years.
We lost one of these story tellers this week in the death of Seamus McMahon. Seamus was a “Word Weaver” of the kind I have never heard anywhere else. He could take a bit of history or a joke and with a twinkle in his eye, retell it with such an amazing attention to detail and a magical sense of wit that you felt entangled in his words and time would stand still. If you watched his eyes you could tell when the punch line was coming or a particular point of importance was coming up, because his eyes got bright and seemed to twinkle like a lighthouse lamp swinging around to shine his point straight into your soul.
The last time I saw him he was pushing around one of those oxygen tanks and had those little clear plastic tubes draped around his nose so he could breath. Between gasps for breath, he began to tell me a story. Pausing only to pull in a sufficient amount of breath to continue the story. He told me about a raggedy old shirt he kept because his mother got it for him when he was 7. Finding a dead swan while swimming in the canal by his childhood house in Dublin. And how my father’s Irish wolfhound almost killed an Albino Dear in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. All this magic cast forth from his wonderful brain in the space of 20 minutes or so. Any one of which could become a novel or a movie.
Now Seamus was so much more than a storyteller. His life with Anne was filled with love and happiness. From my perspective Anne saved him after the death of “Nelly” Ellen his first wife who died way too young. Anne taught him to love again after such a tragic loss and in many ways brought him to a new level of life and fulfillment. He LOVED the ground she walked on.
I can tell he was an amazing parent too. Not because I watched him perform some astounding feat of parenting. No, I can tell by the wonderful people they became. Is daughter Adele and son David are spectacular human beings, almost intimidating in their artistic qualities, and love, and intelligence. If you get the chance have a conversation with either one of them. You’ll see (or should I say “feel”) what I mean. They are blessings on this earth.
And the grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Oh my did he love them. His world stopped when one of his great grand children came near him. His eyes focused and he began to record the moment as he played and made faces and got them to giggle. After seeing it on video the other day I realized I was watching a story being formed in his head. Because you know, that he could repeat that moment back to you like he was a video recorder on legs.
His grandchildren are the most loving people I have ever met. They worry about everyone else’s feelings more than they care for themselves. If you should have the pleasure of spending time with any one of them you will know you are in “The Love Zone”.
Seamus lived so many lives… his life in Ireland, so full in itself. Where he served in WWII with the Irish guard. His life in Australia, his life in Canada and his life in the USA.
If it wasn’t for Seamus, I would not be in this country, my brother Damien would not have gone to West Point, my brother Cosmas would not have become a doctor.
A few years back I started to put together the family history and called my mom and said “mom how the heck did we end up in Buffalo of all places, why not South Carolina or Texas. Did we have a bad travel agent?” She laughed and said “no, no… It was because of Seamus… We followed him”
You can just imagine the time. Seamus crossed the Peace Bridge from Canada, makes a left and finds sunny Buffalo. He calls and writes to the family back in Ireland and being a story teller he tells some facts and weaves in some fiction and convinces our entire family to come to Buffalo.
All joking aside, he could not have found a better place for us, we love it here and with very few exceptions all of us have stayed. Not too many other places on earth could have that retention rate. So fair play to Seamus on his foresight and ability to convince so many people that there could be a better life outside of Ireland.
I write this story because the best legacy a story teller can have is to be repeated. Repeated with children and grandchildren and have his stories repeated.
So if you are an artist, draw something that reminds you of Seamus. If you are a painter then paint, if you are a writer, write. If you can tell a story, tell his stories to your children or sing about him. This is the legacy of a story teller… to be repeated.
I’ll start, this is a joke that Peter and Adele sent me that he liked to tell.
Pat and Sean had been drinking buddies and friends for years.
After having a few drinks in a bar, Sean said to Pat
“We have been friends for years and if I die before you do would you do me a favor?
Get the best bottle of Irish whiskey you can find and pour it over my grave.”
Pat replied, “I would be glad to do that for you my old friend.
But would you mind if it went through me kidneys first?”