Pub on Dame St decked out for the big game
A number of writers, both on this website and in every major Irish newspaper, have filled column inches and/or computer screens with details of the incredible spectacle that was the Emerald Isle Classic 2012 between the University of Notre Dame and the United States Naval Academy.  I have enjoyed both the personal observations and writ large reflections – Kathy Sheridan’s piece in Monday’s Irish Times is my own favorite thus far – that they have shared.  Following is a recounting of my own experience in Dublin last Saturday, September 1st.

For me and my Irish in-laws, the game presented an opportunity to spend some time together and, more importantly, to engage in some banter.  I was only too happy to be the fly in the ointment among at least one die-hard Notre Dame fan and others who were easily lured by their father or brother to the side of the “Fightin’ Irish.”

I am a long-time Boston College fan who will forever cherish the moment in 1993 when BC kicker David Gordon booted a 50+ yard field goal to prevail against Notre Dame in the game’s closing seconds, thereby ushering in an era of BC dominance over their South Bend rivals.  Accordingly, I – not to mention my son, Seán, who wore his BC jacket especially for the occasion – was delighted to support the Navy Midshipmen in Dublin.  I even announced it on Irish national radio in an appearance the evening before the game, despite the entreaties of a very kind Notre Dame supporter who had been on air before me and was in Dublin to support her nephew, a Notre Dame linebacker.

The craic between me and the in-laws actually began a week or so earlier when my brother-in-law, the die-hard Notre Dame fan, arrived from Connecticut where he has lived for decades now.  Tony Whelan comes home to Wicklow to see his family every year, and it is always a fantastic occasion.

What at least Tony and I would say helps to make his homecomings so special is “The Shed Bar” he constructs in his father’s garden shed, complete with kegs of Guinness and Carlsberg, a wooden sign with the bar’s name carved in it, an incessant medley of Irish rebel music and a host of paraphernalia.  Unfortunately on this trip, most of the paraphernalia was of the Notre Dame variety.  At any rate, the party and the good-natured ribbing were going in The Shed Bar for several days and nights before we arose early on Saturday morning to catch the train to Dublin and the much anticipated pre-game tailgate in Temple Bar.

On reaching the train station in Wicklow Town, ordinarily all but deserted on a Saturday morning, our gang of five was greeted by a couple from California who traveled 6,000 miles to see the game and a host of Irish people who were lucky enough to have tickets for the game or who were just eager to see what all the fuss was about.  When we boarded the train, we were overwhelmed by how crowded it was and by the number of American football fans who were on it.  One group was comprised of Irish-Americans who had come over for the game and to see their cousins in Wexford who dutifully accompanied them.  Seated across from us were two men from the Irish-American stronghold of Scranton, PA, where supporting Notre Dame is, in my experience, mandatory.

The visitors were awed by the scenic train journey along the Irish Sea to Dublin on this beautiful Saturday morning.  Oohs and aahs were heard along the way, prompting the ticket checker to quip that he should charge extra.  The visitors were similarly impressed as the train approached and passed under the magnificent 50,000 seat Aviva Stadium, where the game was to be played.

We exited the train at Tara Street station and I ended up playing tour guide for a number of the visitors as we strolled down the quays to Temple Bar.  Its cobblestone streets were electric and its many bars were packed from early on Saturday morning with fans.  We enjoyed a quick meal and several pints before getting taxis to Aviva Stadium.

We made our way through the thousands of fans milling around the streets of Dublin 4 near the Aviva and climbed up several flights of stairs to our seats at the 10 yard line.  And a quick scan of the stadium revealed that there were no empty seats to be found.  My in-laws enjoyed the performances of the Notre Dame marching band, both before the game commenced and during the halftime break.  They enjoyed the cheerleaders even more!

The game itself, however, was dreadful.  Navy, at least on the basis of this outing, is going to have a difficult time beating anyone this season and the game was actually not even as close as the still-lopsided 50-10 final score would indicate.  Yet that didn’t stop my in-laws and putative Irish college football fans seated next to us from asking me and my brother-in-law to explain every play as it unfolded.  Accepting of some realities of American football, dismissive of others, they were genuinely interested and claimed that they would check in with the progress of the college football season from time to time over the next few months.

Leaving the Aviva, I was dumbstruck by what I had just been witness to on a gloriously sunny day.  Nearly 50,000 people – American, Irish-American and Irish – gathered to watch an American football game in Dublin.  By any measure, it was extraordinary.  And in the Ireland of 2012, where anti-Americanism has become alarmingly trendy and where Irish America is scorned and ridiculed by certain influential segments of Irish society, it was almost beyond belief.

On this Saturday, those broader issues melted away for this Irish-American who now calls Ireland home.  It was a great day to be American and to be Irish and a triumph for those who put their hearts and souls into making it happen.

After the game, my in-laws and I boarded the train home to Wicklow.  We regaled our wives and others with tales of this amazing day into the wee hours at The Shed Bar.  It was an occasion that I mightn’t fully remember, but just as certainly, will never forget.