“GOOOOO IRISH! Go Irish! BEEEAAATTTT NAVY! Beat Navy!”
The crowds, predominantly fans of the Fighting Irish, cheered those familiar chants on Notre Dame Street in Dublin, Ireland. Fans of the Fighting Irish and the people of Dublin had flocked to the street to catch a glimpse of the action.
I had set up an interview with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Daithí de Róiste. His office gave me his Whatsapp number, with instructions to just text him and meet up on Notre Dame Street before the game.
We agreed on where to meet, and I went to “look for the guy in the gold chain.” In a mess of Irish Catholics, I didn’t understand how that was supposed to help until I saw him. In an Aer Lingus polo and the Lord Mayor’s Great Chain of Office around his neck, we caught up after the concert by the university’s band.
Bystanders looked over my shoulder throughout our conversation, phone-in-hand, waiting to take a photo with the local celebrity. I stepped aside a few times before we resumed talking.
We talked about the relationship between the city and the university, one he saw as a two-way street. Notre Dame is coming here to play, but the families are coming here to view their ancestry, pop into one of the lineage shops and buy their crest. With deep-rooted connections, the city and Notre Dame will continue to have a relationship because their heritage is connected.
But let’s talk about the real reason everyone’s here. “So what do you think of American football?”
“I enjoy it. I’ve gotten into it a lot more in the last five to six years, mainly college football is coming to town,” he told me.
Dublin has an agreement with the Aer Lingus Classic to have a college football game in Week 0 every year up until 2027, although the Lord Mayor expects the contract to be renewed for later years.
“We’ve also seen in recent weeks that the Pittsburgh Steelers have made Ireland a home. The Steelers are probably looking to have a game in Ireland in the next 3 to 5 years, which, that’d be really, really good. If Ireland could be a European capital for college football, I think that’s great.”
With the NFL’s trips to London in recent years, American football has begun to spread to Europe. Especially considering the Steelers’ announcement of looking at possibilities of games, there’s an opportunity for Dublin, but the Lord Mayor believes college football can be a true opportunity for the city.
“Well that’s it: to bring people together in the city with these events. Because it’s not just a game, it’s much more than a game. That’s the slogan that’s been given to the Aer Lingus Classic … We’ve seen all your various pep rallies. You’ve seen shutting down one of our main streets in our capital city, renaming it Notre Dame Street. There were thousands of people in Dublin Castle this morning at Mass. There’s going to be tailgates all over the city today. It’s not just the game of football, there’s so much more going on for the weekend.”
According to the Lord Mayor, the 2023 Aer Lingus Classic with Notre Dame and Navy was worth €168 million ($178 million) to his city: businesses, tourism, and restaurants could all benefit. He doesn’t expect quite the fanfare every year that Notre Dame brings to Ireland, but if it continues to grow? There’s real money in the local economy available.
But of course, I had to ask before we closed.
“What do you think of calling ourselves the Fighting Irish, joining in with the actual Irish?”
He laughed before telling me a story. “I had the privilege to present — and you’ll see this coming out on the field today — I presented the four captains of the team with the shillelagh the other day. The shillelagh’s an old fighting stick, it was used in Ireland probably in place of pistols and swords and things like that. And there’s a process in where it’s made, so we found a shillelagh maker, third-generation shillelagh maker … I presented that to the captains as just an affinity to the Fighting Irish going out onto that pitch and to bring that spirit into each and every game. So hopefully they’ll be able to do that later.”
The Lord Mayor’s score prediction was a Notre Dame win by 5 points. Later that evening, the Fighting Irish walked off the field, shillelagh in hand, having scored 42 points against the Midshipmen’s 3 points.