My friend Gary and I exchanged a quick few words while cycling one Sunday morning in Cork. When I told him I was thinking of going to the Brothers` school in Buenos Aires, he replied that his cousin, Thady O’Brien, had been a Christian Brother in Argentina but that he knew nothing about him. He sped off and we spoke no more about it but I decided to keep an eye out.
It slipped my mind completely especially with the Rugby World Cup and the hype in the school about the Argentinian Top 14 semi-final; Club Newman play CUBA on Saturday. Newman has never won the Argentine Championship so the students are delirious at the prospect of a first national title. They bubble with enthusiasm and pride about `La Barra del Timbal` Newman`s noisy die-hard supporters.
Many mentioned Manolo, a deceased Christian Brother who was the driving force of rugby in Newman and the club’s No 1 fan for many years. He’s pictured on the club’s advertisements for the semi-final. Newman fans told me that the club’s grounds are named after him and display a plaque, written in Irish, in his honour. Br Timothy O Brien, they called him. Timothy? Thady? Manolo? The Brothers confirmed that Gary`s cousin, Thady from Cappamore, was the famous Hermano Manolo, beloved by all in Newman.
Thady came to Argentina in 1962, reluctantly. Steeped in Irish culture, sport and music, he had a great love of the Irish language and was a member of Ógra Éireann. Leaving Ireland was a huge sacrifice for him but he did so, obeying religious superiors. Argentina fitted him like a glove and the Argentines appreciated his quick wit, easy manner and sense of fun. Everybody knew Thady and enjoyed him, soon calling him Manolo, a playful moniker for his Latino ways. His beloved hurling wasn’t to be found locally so he transferred his passion to rugby, becoming a hero for La Barra del Timbal.
Manolo had a great sense of humour, great faith and a natural way with people. The teachers here still get emotional when you mention him. One teacher showed me his picture that hangs in her home. Another took off her wedding ring and showed me the inscription that Manolo had helped her with, `Mo ghrá thú`. Manolo had prayed with them, laughed with them and taught them Irish; they loved him.
Manolo’s name lives on. My school Blarney Street CBS raised money, with Midleton CBS, for the Centro Hermano Manolo, which provides education for street children in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We`ll visit there in February.
Gary, be very proud of Thady, he’s a legend! Vamos Newman!