You Can’t Be Serious – Lament for a La Zenia Legend
Christy Moore sings that “life is an ocean and love is a boat.” If this be so, don’t we all encounter many boats on the ocean of our lives? Another metaphor is the saying, ‘ships that pass in the night’. Numerous ships pass us in the night, most of which we barely give a second glance, but every so often we encounter a bright, exciting and exceptional liner which crosses our swell and accompanies us on part of our ocean of life. We never forget such a beautiful ship.
Tomas O’Brien had that special quality which separated him from the rest of the fleet. He dazzled us with the brightness of his presence: He entertained us with stories, jokes, singing and banter; but most importantly, behind the fun there beat a big heart, caring and always willing to do a good turn for a friend.
Tomas died last week.
I first met the man when he came to Spain around twenty years ago. We hit it off from the very start – despite the difference of Tomas ‘taking a drink’ (!) whereas I had drank up my quota many years previously.
When God was dishing out talent, he seemed to have been a bit overly generous with Tomas. I told him one time that he reminded me of ‘the Gorgeous Gael’, Jack Doyle; because he could sing like a lark, was a sportsman of note, a handsome man and just oozed enough confidence to be anything he wanted to be. Like the other ‘Gorgeous Gael’, if Tomas had a fault, it was that he was too good at everything to concentrate on just one role in life.
‘Paddy’s Point’ had been opened for a year when Tomas said to me; ‘La Zenia has everything now except Irish newspapers.’ He told me to ‘see about it’ and I replied that I would delegate that project to him. I never thought it would happen, but my friend set about having the Sunday papers flown to Alicante, where he collected the bundles and brought them to sell in the bar. In a short time, there would be a queue waiting for the ‘paper man’ every Sunday morning. Like every good magician, Tomas had a lovely assistant. We remember Ann with great fondness as well.
Tomas spent all of Sunday in the bar peddling his papers. We had live entertainment every night – but there was no entertainment to equal Tomas in full flight. The banter with his new buddies was priceless, and I often had a pain in my face from laughing. Once when a ‘tight’ lady complained about the price of the paper in comparison to home. The ‘paper man’ asked; ‘do you think they bleedin’ fly over here on their own?!’
A ‘Dub’ by birth, but of Tipperary stock, Tomas had two strong GAA counties to support – and did we ever hear about it! My greatest moment in that regard was when Westmeath beat Dublin in the 2004 Leinster Senior Football Championship.
In 2000, I brought Live GAA coverage to ‘Paddy’s Point’ – another first on the Costa. Sundays were brilliant. Tomas started taking [small] bets on the matches … just to stir things up! It was his show – and he played ‘the lead’ to perfection. In his youth, ‘T’ had played senior hurling for Dublin and soccer for Homefarm F.C. Talk about versatility …!
With such a magnetic personality, Tomas could have been the number one salesman on the Costa Blanca – or anywhere else for that matter. He did it for a while, but it bothered him that people were coming out from Ireland and Britain and spending more than they could afford on Spanish properties. That tells us much about the man.
Tomas O’Brien was a very proud Irishman and a fluent Irish speaker. (He also acquired a working proficiency in Spanish) No surprise though that he made as many English, Scottish and Welsh friends as he did of his compatriots. Many of these ex-pats remained close friends up until the end.
In recent years I would sometimes meet my good friend in Dublin and we would head for Croke Park together. As soon as we got to our seats, he would look around to see which supporters were near us, then the familiar twinkle came back to his eye as he set about ‘raising hell’ one more time. The other side of Tomas was that he phoned me a few times to ask me to join him in visiting a mutual friend in hospital or to attend a funeral.
During all of his life, Tomas O’Brien slipped in and out of his many roles without fuss or fanfare – but always with class and dignity. He did the same one final time last week, when he took his leave of us whilst sleeping in his own bed.
It is a sign of how much a person meant to us when we have regrets for not seeing more of that person in recent years. This is how I feel now …
The greatest loss is for Ciara, Roisin and Damien, to whom we extend our deepest sympathy.
Rath Dḕ ar a Anam
Death is not a period, but a comma in the story of life