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Navy should be celebrating Irish links ahead of Saturday's game in Dublin vs Notre Dame

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John King, who was from County Mayo,
 won 2 Medals of Honor.
{Photo thanks to 
HistoricalBallinrobe.com}
Navy plays Notre Dame this weekend in Dublin. Compared with the last time Dublin played host to a college football game - the same two teams - there is a lot more interest here in Ireland. The Irish media is paying a lot more attention and there is a lot more general awareness about the game.

There are many reasons for this, including the fact that the game is being tied to the government's plans for a big Irish family reunion in 2013, but also thanks to the interest in football generally thanks to the presence of the NFL (especially) and college football on cable television.

Of course Notre Dame is the key to much of the local interest. In fact, it's all about Notre Dame, which isn't all that surprising.

The Fighting Irish are bringing most of the visiting (and spending!) fans, but the college has done a lot to develop its Irish links over the past 20 years. Although you might not realize it, the name Notre Dame didn't mean all that much to most people here until recently. Now many - most? - Irish people know Notre Dame and know it's an important institution in Irish America.
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So Notre Dame is coming to Dublin and will overwhelmingly be the 'home team,' although it's officially a Navy home game. That was always going to be the case, but the Navy could have, should have, done more to promote its Irish links, which are a lot older than Notre Dame's.

They could have started with John Barry, "the father of the American Navy," who was from Wexford. Barry's story is too little known here and in America and the Navy missed an opportunity to give a boost to the man George Washington trusted to be the first to lead the United States Navy. {I've mentioned this before, but I had hoped that Saturday's game would be known as the John Barry Bowl, but such a name doesn't have the same marketing appeal as the Emerald Isle Classic. I guess.}

There is also the fact that it was just off the coast of Ireland, near Carrickfergus, that John Paul Jones captured HMS Drake, the first British ship captured by the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. Surely the Navy could have marked the occasion with a lot of fanfare and a little ceremony celebrating Jones up in County Antrim.

There are many other links, including Clare's John Holland, who invented the submarine. And what about Mayo's John King, who won two Medals of Honor during the early years of the 20th century. There is a statue of King in Ballinrobe. The Navy could have gone to Mayo to honor King. After all they named a ship after him in the 70s so sending a small party to his hometown would have been entirely appropriate.

But the strongest link of all is in County Cork, where the United States Navy had a base during WW1. For two years the United States Navy called Queenstown (now Cobh) home while it waged war on the Kaiser's reich. Although Cobh was the primary base for the Navy, American ships were also based at Berehaven. There were also Naval Air bases all along the south coast and an American Naval hospital at Cobh (Queenstown).

Saturday's game is in Dublin. Dublin is getting most of the attention from the arriving fans. Cork would have been thrilled to get a Navy delegation - or two! The people of Cork would have adopted the Navy for the game. It would have been a case of "Fighting Irish" be damned if only to be different than Dublin.

I know there are all sorts of political, geopolitical even, concerns when it comes to the Navy, but they're coming here to play a football game. It's a great opportunity to for some soft power, light diplomacy and a little bit of a history lesson, one that both Irish and American people could get something from. There should be more to the Navy's mission in Ireland than a "W" on Saturday.

{Let me add, if the Navy is doing any of these things they're doing it with almost no publicity.}

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