The American football fans flocking to Ireland for Saturday’s big game between Notre Dame and Navy are already having a ball.

Up to 35,000 visitors are in town for the sell-out game at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium in a $130 million boost to the economy.

Notre Dame fans are swelling tourist coffers all across the country with the Irish Times reporting an upturn for everything from tourism sites to golf clubs.

The paper reports that CIÉ Tours International have brought 1,500 visitors with their itinerary including visits to the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara and Killarney.

Group leader John Madden is hosting a group of 227 football fans from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The paper reports that they arrived in Dublin on Monday and stopped at the Guinness Storehouse in the city and Kilbeggan Distillery, near Mullingar, Co Westmeath, before heading west.

Madden told the Irish Times: “Nothing like a Guinness and a whiskey early in the day. Everyone is having a ball. They love the pubs at night and today we are enjoying a visit to Connemara Marble.”

CIÉ tour guide Brendan Heneghan, escorting a group of 84 fans who arrived on Saturday, added: “They are very excited about the game on Saturday.”

With Dublin hotels sold-out months ago, Heneghan’s group will stay as far afield as Cavan on the night of the match before returning to Dublin to fly home on Sunday.

Group leader Inge Gladieux revealed she was in Dublin when the sides last played each other in Ireland in 1996.

She said: “Sixteen years ago we did exactly the same itinerary, and about 30 per cent of our group are from that trip. They enjoyed it so much they wanted to do exactly the same thing.

“Our trip includes visits to the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, Dingle and the Ring of Kerry.”

Joining Gladieux’s group are retired football players including Bob Gladieux and Coley O’Brien, who were both on the Notre Dame team in 1966 when they controversially drew with Michigan State and both colleges were awarded national championships.

O’Brien told the Irish Times: “I wanted to come here when Notre Dame played Navy in 1996 but I left it too late to book.

“When I heard they were coming back I said I would definitely be there. We are enjoying it so far. I will have seen a lot of country before the game.”

Ireland’s Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar has described the arrival of 35,000 Americans as ‘a massive tourism boost’ and predicted it will be worth about $130 million to the economy.
The Irish Times also lists the following events around the big game:

* The 02 will host Notre Dame’s pep-rally on Friday evening. The pre-game celebration, hosted by Miriam O’Callaghan, has been sold out but will be broadcast on RTÉ One television, RTÉ Radio 1 Extra and on RTÉ’s YouTube channel. The concert will include performances by Brian Kennedy, Damien Dempsey, Eimear Quinn and the High Kings as well as the Notre Dame folk choir and cheerleaders.
* The Navy pep-rally will be held in St Stephen’s Green at 5.30pm on Friday and will include traditional band and cheerleader performances.
* On Saturday morning, up to 5,000 Notre Dame supporters will attend an open-air Mass in the upper courtyard of Dublin Castle, which will be broadcast on RTÉ television and radio on Sunday morning.
* On Monday, a Notre Dame family pilgrimage will include Croagh Patrick and Attymass, the birthplace of Fr Patrick Peyton. An alternate route will include Knock shrine.
* The Global Ireland Football Tournament, involving 12 American and Canadian high school teams will be held in Parnell Park, Donnybrook Stadium, and Páirc Tailteann in Navan on Friday.
* The Navy and Notre Dame teams are also bringing other sports teams with them. Rugby, boxing, tennis and squash matches have been arranged against local opposition.
* The US Navy dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry will be docked at Dublin Port and will be offering public tours on Saturday and Sunday through a lottery run by the US embassy in Dublin.
* The University of Notre Dame is also involved in a series of academic events in Dublin, including lectures in Trinity College, the Royal Irish Academy and the Science Gallery.