The Emerald Isle Classic: An Irish and Irish-American Dream

Pre-game festivities at the Emerald Isle Classic, with the Notre Dame leprechaun. Photo: Robert Schroeder.

By Niall O'Dowd, Publisher
October / November 2012

Irish America’s publisher, Niall O’Dowd, wrote from the Notre Dame vs. Navy football game in Dublin.

In years to come, hardcore Notre Dame fans will ask “Were you there?” when this Dublin game against Navy is discussed.

I predict it will be right up there with many of the great moments of this storied college. What a day to be both Irish and American.

If you were not proud of your heritage in Dublin on September 1, then you lack an emotional bone in your body.

I’m a sucker for two national anthems: the Irish and U.S. ones. Hearing them both played at the commencement of the Notre Dame/Navy football game at the astonishing Aviva Stadium in Dublin was a deeply emotional moment.

The Aviva is built acoustically to keep the sound waves in, to magnify the impact of the home crowd, and as the thunderous anthems rolled across the stadium I saw many in tears.

This was the homecoming to beat the band, the day that Ireland saw what the legend of Notre Dame meant to so many millions of Irish Americans as 35,000 fans made the pilgrimage across the Atlantic.

The Fighting Irish scored 50 points to Navy’s 10, giving a high-octane performance no doubt fueled by the emotion of the homecoming and the historic nature of the clash.

Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame team overwhelmed Navy in the first half, with a 27-3 lead. The Irish defense continued  strong, allowing only one Navy touchdown.

Trey Miller, Navy’s quarterback, did hit 14 of 19 pass attempts in the air, with a new tactic from coach Ken Niumatalolo, but the team averaged less than three yards per carry.

Theo Riddick and George Atkinson of the Fighting Irish ran for first-quarter touchdowns, and tight end Tyler Eifert caught a five-yard touchdown pass.

Stephon Tuitt scooped up Navy quarterback Trey Miller’s fumble and rumbled to the end zone to put the Irish up 27-0 in the second quarter.

Navy kicked a 26-yard field goal before halftime and opened the second half with a three-pass drive capped by Shawn Lynch’s 25-yard grab to make it 27-10. Atkinson and Riddick replied with two of Notre Dame’s three second-half touchdowns.

Somewhere, Coach Kelly’s Irish antecedents were waking up the echoes, pointing to the great-grandson of Irish emigrants doing them so proud back in the old sod.

For the best part of the week every location on this island has felt the power and emotional strength of that diaspora to which many pay lip service but never fully acknowledge.

The spangled banner stretched from Kerry in the south to Belfast in the north, and points east and west. For a country so troubled economically it was manna from heaven. But there was emotional sustenance too; the sense of a tribe reuniting, if only for a brief time.

The Irish National Anthem contains the words “Buion Dar Slua, Thar Toinn De Ranaig Chughainn.” Roughly translated it is an explicit recognition of “Those who have come, of our ancestral race, from a land beyond the wave.”

It was a recognition of the Irish who left and the generations they bred who still cared deeply about the land.

It was a clear reference to the Irish in America, and at the Aviva stadium on Saturday they did indeed come in their tens of thousands from the land beyond the waves.

You could not imagine a more picture perfect scenario. The leaden Irish skies of summer gave way to a brisk autumnal day, reminiscent of South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame’s home turf, in the fall.

The CBS network carried the images back across the broad Atlantic, and one can only speculate how many who watched will be stirred to make that homecoming journey too.

The game was the vision of Irish businessman Martin Naughton and his American counterpart Don Keough, former President of the Coca-Cola Company. The two should be renamed the “Sunshine Boys” for the ray of light they shone on Ireland yesterday at a time of tough economic times.

Sunshine it was, and a weekend to remember – one of the best ever, in fact.

More photos from the Emerald Isle Classic:

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