Kenavo Lionel, hiraezh am eus dit…

My good good friend, true Breton and one of the best and certainly most human of guides I have ever met, Lionel died last week.

I will miss him terribly.

Many of you who kindly subscribe to this site will have met Lionel and probably owe your understanding of the word ‘kenavo‘ (goodbye) and so much more of all things Breton, to him.


I met Lionel four years ago in his native Quimper in Brittany where he lived and worked. As usual I was clueless, a first time visitor to this, now my favourite, corner of France. I clearly needed help.

When you met Lionel, you might not be instantly convinced. Dressed in an old Breton sailing Amor Lux sweater and jeans that look like they had earned their keep in his garden (usually where he had just come from). I often wondered what groups first made of Lionel when he turned up and especially when he took over the microphone, although only in his sixth decade it sounded increasingly like each one was rubbing against his vocal chords. But by the time we got to the Steir, the river 100 yards from out hotel, he, as he did with me, had us adoring him.

I have worked with good, great even, guides before. Two things made Lionel stand out.

Firstly, he never tired of his subject. I generally don’t ask guides questions myself as they must be sick of it. With Lionel, I could ask away, all day long. I learned so much about Brittany outside of what he shared with the group. And even when on the microphone to our groups, on every single occasion, he found new stories, new information to share.


But, more importantly what made Lionel unique, to me was what groups never saw or heard. The times we would steal away from work; a quick coffee in Locronan, a small beer in Pont Aven with ten minutes before we met the group again, a cigarette (him not me) by the side of a menhir by the side of a road somewhere. During these times we became friends. It’s not entirely unfair to say that often when guides talk, the subject doesn’t stray far from work; agencies, tourists (good and bad), money and bus drivers. I am not sure I ever had one such conversation with Lionel.

Last November when I toured with him and had just lost someone very close to me, he understood and helped me get through it, when I just wanted to be far away in Spain. This spring, when again someone had left my life, he was there again. My last news from him was a series of joke texts we exchanged – pondering the virtues of monastic life – I wish I could post them here (a little too ‘spicy’ perhaps). We understood each other.

Brittany is a wonderful place, and the tour I led there with Lionel had become year on year a re-union. The same hotels, restaurants, guides and driver. Bretons are special. Colleagues perhaps mostly, can appreciate the uniqueness in the fact I received this sad news from a hotel manager in Quimper, someone who has also become a friend of both of us. That just doesn’t happen.

And as such, as these Bretons are always different, lo and behold they have their own death. They say that when you hear screeching outside your house, it is the wheels on the karrigell an Ankou – the ‘wheelbarrow’ of the Ankou, as they call him here, coming to collect our souls.

A local paper, reporting on Lionel this week, ran the beautifully succinct headline, ‘Lionel Jacq – He told us so much, then he left us’. As the paper said, you told us so so much, and then your Breton Ankou came and took you away. I believe wherever he goes to during the day, he must have been getting bored and needed someone to tell him stories in his lonely carriage. I can think of no better story teller than you my friend…


Next year work will probably take me back to Brittany and Quimper. The first three days of that tour were the days we spent in the company of Lionel. To me, Brittany will never be the same.

I found the anthem of your beautiful country online today (you can hear it at the end of this piece), the last verse of which goes:

If in the past Brittany may have been defeated in battle,
Her language will always remain well alive,
Her flaming heart is still beating in her chest :
You are now awakened, my dear Brittany!

Thanks to everything you taught me, Lionel, a little piece of her heart now also beats in my chest and always will.

So, for the last time, and far too soon, dear, dear Lionel, kenavo my friend…

And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
 – William Shakespeare.







~ by Support on August 17, 2017.

19 Responses to “Kenavo Lionel, hiraezh am eus dit…”

  1. Have you finished your walk?

  2. Sorry for your loss.

  3. Thomas, this is a beautiful tribute. Sending you sympathy and warm thoughts. Most sincerely. Renae Rebechini

  4. Part of Lionel’s legacy is the love and understanding of his local “patch” he planted in those of us lucky enough to tour with him.

    RIP, Lionel.

  5. Thomas. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. It seems that the fabric of our lives is fragile
    How is your walk going? Hope you have had some good days. Thinking of you
    Susan Fuller

  6. Think I would have loved Lionel.Don’t love many people these days! Interesting blog.x

    • After “interesting’ and “blog ” the words “deeply sad” were intended to be .

  7. So sorry for your loss of such a special friend. You have a written a touching tribute which, I’m sure, would please him mightily.

  8. Thomas, so sorry for the loss of your dear friend, Lionel. Thinking of you at this difficult time.

  9. Thomas, what a shock and what a loss. Lionel was by far the best local guide of our magical trip through Brittany last year and I’d always thought how I would look him up the “next time” in Quimper. Your description of him was of course spot on, and I’m so glad you prepared this wonderful tribute to him. Wishing you well, Laverne

  10. Thomas, I am so sorry to hear of the passing of Lionel. My heart hurts for you and for his children whom he obviously loved so much. Lionel gave me the great gift of memories and knowledge of beautiful Brittany and the wonderful people there. I always enjoy your writing, but your tribute to your dear friend was truly beautiful. Go with God and all the people you have touched. Peggy Grayson (Road Scholar Program, May 27-June 11, 2016)

  11. Thomas, I am so sorry to hear this news. He was very special. And I remember you saying how much you always looked forward to leading this trip because you would get to spend time with Lionel. I consider myself fortunate to have been on the trip with you both this past May. May he Rest In Peace. ❤️

  12. Feeling so sad at your losing another special person in your life, Thomas. Please accept my deepest condolences. Stay strong!

  13. Dear Thomas, I’m so sorry to hear this. Lionel struck me as a gentle man of kindness and vast knowledge of this beautiful region of the earth. I feel fortunate to have met him and learned from him. Thank you for this beautiful tribute. Blessings and healing to you on your pilgrimage. Karleen Erhardt

  14. Dear Thomas, so sorry to hear your sad news, we have also lost a dear friend and colleague recently so I can sympathise strongly with what you are feeling at the moment. You have written a wonderful tribute to your friend and I hope it is comforting to know that he will now live on in our memories as well as yours. Take care, Janet T.

  15. Lionel was a gentleman and knowledgeable guide who involved me in the excitement and beauty of Brittany culture. Sorry for your loss, Thomas. He was one of the good ones. Pamela Barry

  16. Thomas: Carol and I were saddened by this news of the loss of your friend. We so enjoyed his insight for our visit to Brittany last June. We hope you are safe on your pilgrimage and we look forward to hearing from you when you are able.

  17. I’m so sorry to hear this news, Thomas. Lionel’s time with us was very special. Your RS tours weren’t the only ones to recognize that–I recently came across a reference to him in a magazine about France that had an issue about Brittany. I’m also sorry this has added yet another sadness to your heart this year. I hope your pilgrimage has provided some healing. Nancy

  18. Although I never met Lionel, your tribute showed me what a fine person he was. I know you miss him.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: