THE GREEN AND RED OF MAYO The late Tommie O Brien from Islandeady (right), a former President of the Mayo GAA Board, is pictured being presented with a Mayo GAA tie by JP Lambe (former Treasurer, Mayo GAA Board) at a function a number of years ago. Pic: John Moylette
TOMMIE O’Brien was the soul of Islandeady GAA. The club’s modern facilities stand as a monument to his dream.
Through thick and thin Tommie was ever present, planning, working, counselling, envisaging, the man who held things together in leaner times, to whom members turned in moments of crisis for advice.
When he died at his home on Tuesday last, club members – otherwise focused on a busy championship schedule – paused to salute the memory of their president who was in many ways their inspiration.
For Tommie O’Brien never lost sight of the club’s values. In his work behind the scenes he epitomised the mettle that drove it.
He was the guy who tilled the soil, who rolled up his sleeves when physical work needed to be done, who collected money when money needed to be collected, who marked the pitch, hung the nets, tended to the scoreboard. All done willingly and with an irresistible sense of duty to the community.
He was never under the glare of the torch . . . but he was the one who carried it, unwaveringly. He set the example, fostered the pride that sustained the club, sandwiched as it is, between two football strongholds in Castlebar and Westport.
He was all of those things and much more. He embodied the whole ethos of the GAA, helping to build a confident parish entity from humble beginnings when he, Henry Needham and Dicky Conaboy became trustees of the newly purchased ground. Henry and Dicky have passed on and Tommie watched that piece of ground grow and flower into a modern Gaelic football club, and a centre for recreational facilities for the whole community.
Nor were his activities confined to Islandeady. Farther afield his organisational talents were also recognised – as chairman of West Mayo GAA Board which he served for five years; as a selector of the Mayo team that won the All-Ireland minor championship in 1971; in the honours accorded him by the Green & Red for service to club and county, and by the Mayo GAA Board of which he was president for two years.
Michael J. Connor, himself treasurer and PRO of the West Board for 12 years, said Tommie O’Brien was a great ambassador for Islandeady. As chairman, he was quiet-spoken, honest, impartial and held in high regard by all with whom he came in touch.
Like so many aficionados he was too young to appreciate Mayo’s last All-Ireland senior success. But he took great pride in the club’s county title wins in the junior and intermediate championships in 1974 and ’75 and in contesting the county senior championship the following year.
Tommie was himself a tidy footballer and was a member of the side that won the West Mayo championship in 1959, playing alongside the likes of the great Peter Solan.
He was 80. Ten years earlier he fell ill to Parkinsons which he bore with courage and dignity, a condition that failed to diminish his deep-rooted interest in club and parish.
Less than a week before he passed away his wife Nora, who lovingly tended him throughout his long illness, asked why he was searching her purse. “I want to see the list of fixtures,” he replied, his mind characteristically immersed in the doings of his beloved Islandeady.
On Thursday after Mass in St Patrick’s Church, Tommie was buried in the little hillside graveyard in Islandeady a short distance across the lake from the ground to which he so lovingly gave so much of his life.
He is survived by his wife Nora, sons John, Alan, Barry, and daughters Sinead, Niamh and Siobhan, his brother Frank and extended families.
Peace to his gentle soul.