(A eulogy to the writer who introduced me to Joyce)
I invited myself along on a Camino with a seasoned pilgrim of the Camino de Santiago when I heard my friend was planning on doing it and leaving from Madrid in August.
With no experience doing the famous pilgrimage in Spain, I would be relying on my friend to lead the way which is nothing new since I have been following his lead for quite a while now and The Groundhog Day Challenge wouldn't exist without Séamus MacAogáin introducing me to Joyce and Ulysses back on Bloomsday 2015, and I wouldn't be living in Spain for the last ten years if it wasn't for the advice he gave his son who later gave me the same advice.
His son Simon wanted to teach English overseas, his father suggested trying Madrid first and moving further afield afterwards if he liked it. Simon later gave me that exact same advice and I found myself moving to Madrid ten years ago.
I knew Séamus all my life and was raised in a cot with his daughter who was born a few weeks before I was. He was our neighbour but soon became a family friend and it is with a heavy heart that I write this eulogy. I learnt that he had passed away when his son Stephen contacted me, and was very grateful that the family reached out to me, and knowing that we were planning on a Camino, his daughter Sarah even invited me to join the family on a future memorial cycle.
They asked me to contact his good friend John Liddy who lives in Madrid. Séamus was trying to convince John to join us on the Camino, and I was very excited about the idea of learning so much from my mentor, and from John who acted as a mentor for Séamus and wrote the foreword for his books but now there is no going forward with the Camino cycle and no more forewords to be written for future books only a dedication to him for anyone he inspired to write along the way.
I’m sure he encouraged many friends and family over the years and I still remember the compact typewriter he bought his daughter Sarah one Christmas.
Séamus was my friend and my father's friend and I used to affectionately call him "tío" which is the Spanish for both buddy and uncle.
Séamus was more than a family friend, he was a mentor who always encouraged writing and poetry where others would only see fault. One of his mentors, also called Seamus, used to encourage him to continue to write in his natural Midland style and he always offered the same advice.
His friend and mentor was the Nobel Prize winning writer Seamus Heaney whose poetry won him the prestigious prize in 1995. Heaney was no stranger to Spain and wrote “Summer 1969” from Lavapiés in Madrid but it was in Clonmacnoise where Séamus met Seamus.
I think Séamus used to provide tour guides of Clonmacnoise and I was always impressed by his entrepreneurial mind. He had an eye for new businesses and products like nobody else that I remember at the time and he even designed his own chess board based on Irish mythology.
Maybe we could have played some games of chess on the Camino too but Séamus made many moves in his life and I will always associate him with the train station in Athlone where he ran the station shop for many years, started a tea service on the Galway to Dublin train selling newspapers, and he even started driving taxis for tourists from the train station and got others driving cabs too.
He saw the demand for a hostel in Athlone and started one by the train station that ultimately didn't succeed but I'll never forget how impressed I was to see the brand new bunk beds being brought into the building. They were new luminous green bunk beds and everything seemed so new, clean and spacious to me as a child. Today the building might be overshadowed by the nearby tower of the Sheraton hotel and the €400 million Athlone Town Centre development but I never knew anyone in my town to be so entrepreneurial when I was young.
As entrepreneurial as he was in Athlone, he was an ambassador of Irish culture in Spain and I really wanted to travel to the Canary Islands to see his play Queen of Hearts being performed in Águila on the island of La Gomera, and was disappointed that the pandemic denied him and many other writers the chance of a proper book launch for his last novel.
Séamus was a gaeilgeoir and not only spoke Irish but was passionate about the Irish language as well as Irish culture and literature. When I started working in Spain, Séamus introduced me to Ulysses and the works of James Joyce through Bloomsday readings he was organising in Madrid.
I believe he arrived in Spain on Saint Patrick's Day 2003 but he had fallen in love with the Peninsula decades earlier while doing the Camino de Santiago.
Séamus is the Irish for the name James and the Camino is known in English as Saint James' Way but instead of doing the Camino together, I will have to toast him instead with a pint from James' Gate in the James Joyce bar in Madrid where he got me reading from Joyce on Bloomsday.
It was in the same bar where he held cultural classes in English for many years, and also where he launched his second book, Tell Me Another which was part of his trilogy on his hometown of Abbeyshrule. He knew me all my life but I got a huge insight into his young life through this book, and I was really looking forward to reading his third book after Tell Me Another finished on an absolute cliff-hanger. Sadly I will never get a signed copy of Someone's Always Watching You which I believe deals with the spiritual connection of his first mentor and trusted advisor Tess who used to tell him about a magical place called Abbeytopia where people who love nature would go when they passed away but I suspect it is a special place where people from Abbeyshrule go.
From what I remember, he encouraged cycling, golfing, business and writing, he taught English in Spain and thought highly of the Irish Midlands and its many characters, and he loved languages.
From the cliffhanger of his last book and the games of chess we never got to play, I guess it is always good to leave people wanting more and I wish my friend Slán Abhaile as he heads on his final Camino to Abbeytopia.