Sports Archives – Irish America Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 Fenway’s Hurling Classic Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:37:58 +0000 Read more..]]> Fenway Park, the hallowed ground of the Boston Red Sox, was taken over by Irish players wielding sticks in what has been described as the world’s fastest game played on grass, on November 18. It was the third time in four years that the Park played host to the Fenway Hurling Classic. Fans of Ireland’s national game came from across the states to watch the action as four teams competed for the Players Champions Cup, in three 40-minute matches.

The reigning Players Cup champions, Clare, lost by a goal to Cork when a late penalty was converted in the first game of the tournament. The second match-up, between Wexford and Limerick, saw Limerick come out ahead, which was hardly surprising given that Limerick are the reigning All-Ireland Champions, having beaten Galway in Croke Park last August. Limerick went on to claim the Players Cup, beating Cork in the final.

The tournament, a joint initiative between the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and the Gaelic Players Association (GPA), in conjunction with Aer Lingus and Fenway Sports Management, featured a modified version of hurling developed for American audiences and U.S. pitches. Known as the Super11s, the games are modified for a short field, and unlike the traditional 15-aside format, they feature 11-aside, and there is no scoring points over the bar. Goals can range from 2 to 5 points depending on where the player is on the field and how the ball is struck. ♦


For more on Super11s listen to Irish America’The Story podcast by Dave Lewis on Anchor. Dave Lewis

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GAA in the USA Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:51:52 +0000 Read more..]]> The passion, competition, and camaraderie of supporters and players of Gaelic games were on display at the USGAA Finals in Philadelphia over Labor Day Weekend.


September is traditionally the last month of the GAA season as the best of the best in Ireland play each other in the All-Ireland Finals. September is also the time of USGAA Finals, a competition that pits the best Hurling, Camogie, and Gaelic Football teams in North America against each other. It’s a gathering that’s been growing since the championship began 22 years ago, in 1996. Today, an estimated total of 2,000 people gather annually to participate in the three-day weekend of games, no matter how far they have to travel.

This year the games were just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the early hours of a wet and rainy Friday morning in Malvern, P.A., “an Irish day,” there was already a massive buzz surrounding the grounds despite the weather, as teams from all over, the U.S. and Canada, coaches, organizers, heads of the some 200 GAA clubs and their supporters and families started to arrive. There were lots of greetings; handshakes and catch-up talk of years gone by. Stories circulated amongst the GAA faithful, of rising stars and veteran players, of hard-to-beat teams, and players who showed great promise.

Over the next three days, 100 teams – hurling, camogie (the female version of hurling), and Gaelic football – would be split into different skill levels – from Senior to Junior B; then divided into four divisions; to play in 19 different competitions.

As I walked around the manicured pitches and tents full of equipment, food, and drink, the majority of the voices were distinctly American, cheery, and enthusiastically looking forward to the days ahead. For many of those gathered it had become a yearly tradition, a chance to connect with others who shared their love of Gaelic games. There were large contingents from Milwaukee, Charlotte, Chicago, and several teams from San Francisco.

<em>Captain Heather Warren of Coastal Virginia Camogie focuses on winning the ball before a Seattle Gaels camog does.</em>

Captain Heather Warren of Coastal Virginia Camogie focuses on winning the ball before a Seattle Gaels camog does.


I followed the camogie action on the first day of the tournament. Like hurling, camogie demands a tremendous level of skill, fitness, ball control, and heart, and this soon became evident as the Seattle Gaels and the New York Annie Moores took the field. The difference between the two teams was supposed to be a major factor, given that the Gaels club was established in the 1970s and had won a USGAA title in 2016, and the Annie Moores were a relatively new team, but the level of play was superb on both sides.

While the Gaels did take the lead at half time, the Annie Moores showed the old New York grit and determination to come back and made it a competitive game by scoring two great team play goals. However, the Seattle Gaels went out on top despite the New York determination.

Camogie doesn’t always get the recognition and respect that it deserves, and many of the women I talked to over the weekend were adamant about wanting to see the community and their sport expand. “We’re pro-camogie, we’re all about our sport and we want our sport to grow,” Heather Morris of Seattle Gaels emphasized.

Another terrific camogie match-up that caused much excitement was a junior game between the Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe, and the Milwaukee Hurling Club, one of the largest GAA clubs in the United States. Founded in 1996 with just 34 players the club now boasts over 300. Unlike most other clubs, the MHC fields co-ed teams, and is primarily made up of players who are American, and have never seen or played the game before.

The Philadelphia side, led by Katrina Terry performed well for their first USGAA National Championship and went on to win their first game. Despite the loss the MHC team manager Cory Johnson explained that, “In the Milwaukee Hurling Club we’re all about family first, game second, so I think what happens when we come to the Nationals and they [new players] see the veterans who are shaking hands and hanging out with St. Louis, or there’s hugs with Minnesota, or seeing all the babies, I think they get that pretty quickly, and then they go home and become addicted.”

This feeling of acceptance, growth, and focus on family was a spontaneous theme that weekend. After a long day of games and torrential downpour, all the clubs went out to dinner or to bars to relax and enjoy each other’s company before they became rivals the next day.

<em>A Chicago St. Brigid's player flying by her Charlotte James Connolly's opponent.</em>

A Chicago St. Brigid’s player flying by her Charlotte James Connolly’s opponent.


I watched more Gaelic football and hurling and this time I spoke with Irish-born players who had a lot to say about their American or Canadian teammates. The first game on the day was not the greatest as the J.P. Ryans handily beat the Washington D.C. Gaels but the manager for the victorious the Ryans of Vancouver saluted his American opponents. “I’d have to say, they were very, very committed, and it’s the same thing you get when you come to North American Championships, the commitment is unbelievable. I have to say the American born-players, the effort they put in, their fitness, and physicality always seems to be better than ours [Irish players in Canada].”

For the second game, I stuck with the D.C. Gaels as they were playing against a Philadelphia side, the Notre Dames, a squad of all Americans who won out in the end. Despite going 0-2 on the day in hurling and football, there was a unique perspective from Sophie Friedl, a dual player (one who plays Gaelic football and hurling camogie), as she started playing Gaelic Games in college, a major entry point for Americans into Gaelic Games. “I have been playing co-ed hurling and camogie since I was in college with the Montana Grizzlies, we started a team out there and we were pretty successful, I went to play in Ireland for a year, and moved to D.C. and knew there had to be a team and I’ve been playing football with them for the first time and we’re growing with both codes.” Throughout the weekend, Sophie and I saw so many friends we played against in the NCGAA tournaments with, and we reminisced about old times, and we all agreed wherever we play there is always someone you know.

There was an exciting local hurling semi-final between Allentown Hibernians and Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe right after the D.C. Gaels doubleheader where tempers flared and hurls flew. Both teams are known for their fiery passion and find pride in their traditions of American recruitment. The Pennsylvanians fought hard against each other but Allentown beat the hosts in the end to claim bragging rights until the season starts up again despite the close loss, one of the main men from Na Tóraidhe, Anthony Picozzi recognized their determination by making a congratulatory speech to the opposition, another proud tradition of the GAA. The sun finally started to come out and it was soon time to check out two of the last games of the day, a senior semi-final between the J.P. Ryans and the Austin Celtic Cowboys, and the other, senior semi-final between Tipperary Boston and San Francisco Na Fianna, and they were two of the best matches of the weekend. The GAA and clubs throughout the United States and Canada is home away from home for a lot of Irish immigrants, whether they’re looking for a change from living in Ireland or need to find work the GAA is always an opportunity to make business connections, make new friends or reunite with old ones, just like Paul Nolan of the Vancouver J.P. Ryans who came to Canada looking for a new change in work: “I just took a couple years out to work somewhere different so I’m here now and seen the club before I came over and became involved with them.” Paul, actually reunited with a old college roommate at the Finals he went to school with, a Liberty Gaels coach. Talk about a home away from home.

Two great hurling matches later, the games were over for another day, but everyone was bursting to watch the championships the next day.

<em>Dan Flanagan of Allentown Hibernians takes his point against rivals Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe.</em>

Dan Flanagan of Allentown Hibernians takes his point against rivals Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe.


The final day of the USGAA Finals was a great one full of drama, heartbreak, joy, and an emphasis on homegrown players. The first game I watched was the Junior Camogie final between Coastal Virginia GAA and Seattle Gaels. The Virginians won out on the day, making the first of two championships that the club as a whole went on to win. If you listen to our podcast, The Story, you’ll know all about the emphasis on family Coastal Virginia has, as they are currently in a process of adding more and more children to their ranks to eventually grow the game. Captain Heather Warren said it this way: “We’re all friends, we all hang out together, you know. I mean we are a family, we support our guys, they support us, we have a lot of couples. We’re just going to make our own youth team, we’re all American and we’re here to have fun.”

Another All-American side, the Patriots from Chicago, were facing up against tough competition: the Austin Celtic Cowboys, a side that had a strong Irish contingent in the Intermediate Football final. The Patriots took it to the Cowboys as they fought hard to tie the game before the half time whistle. Their extra efforts almost saw them win the cup as they only lost by two points to the more experienced Celtic Cowboys. The representative from the USGAA presenting the trophy gave words of encouragement to the Patriots: “ I’ve been watching ye for the last ten years and you’re a great credit. You’ve started off at Junior, you’re doing the right thing coming up the ranks, and you’re not too far from Senior.”

One of the best matches at the weekend was the Senior Ladies Gaelic football Final between the Charlotte James Connolly’s and the Chicago Saint Brigids. The two sides had great support from both of their clubs, but the effort put in by the travelling support of the Charlotte James Connolly’s was impressive: they not only had 50 or 60 supporters show up, they also had a full live stream with live commentary and a whole tent just to house the equipment meant to broadcast between a drone and the regular camera. However, the support didn’t help the Charlotte side over the line and, despite their valiant efforts the Saint Brigids of Chicago went on to win by a point in a very close and exciting game that ended up with 11 goals total in the match.

One of the best ways to describe the range of emotions the supporters like Charlotte James Connolly’s felt that weekend was in the words of David Wogan of Play Hurling, who promotes Gaelic Games through social media. He described the USGAA Finals by saying “We all share a passion for hurling, camogie, and Gaelic football, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

<em>Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe and Milwaukee Hurling Club camogs scrap for the ball.</em>

Philadelphia Na Tóraidhe and Milwaukee Hurling Club camogs scrap for the ball.

While there is always some beauty, there is also some pain as not every team could win a championship. One of the harder stories, for some anyway, (joyful for others) was the Senior Camogie final, the very last game of the weekend, between the Liberty Gaels who wanted to return home with the trophy for, the fourth year in a row, and the San Francisco Cú Chulainns, who weren’t afraid to foil the Gaels’ plan. While the Liberty Gaels were the favorites, and it looked like they were about to bring home the trophy with the amount of goals they scored in the first half, it didn’t shake the Cú Chulainns at all. In the second half they came out roaring and brought the game closer and closer until the very last puck when the Liberty Gaels gave away a free while the game was tied up. Into the limelight stepped goalkeeper Rita Burke, who took her free, and slayed her Cú – just as Setanta did when he became Cú Chulainn­ – winning the championship.

The weekend of competition and the year of hard Finals were over, but that didn’t bring down the place at all. The buzz continued in the beer tent, where people were dancing, throwing hay bales around for the fun of it, and having friendly drinks between those who were sworn enemies merely hours ago. On the outside looking in, people might think that the games and the community are niche or the sport looks too rough and intimidating to get involved with, but the GAA in the USA is one of, if not the most, friendly and welcoming sports organizations around today. Naturally sports and tournaments like these are often about winning, and yet I saw these people celebrating together the spirit and focus of the GAA which are community, friendship, and passion for heritage. These people won off the pitch, no matter if their team won or lost while on it. ♦  Dave Lewis

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The Hoboken Guards Take Senior Hurling Trophy Sat, 01 Sep 2018 06:33:55 +0000 Read more..]]> The Hoboken Guards of Hoboken, New Jersey won their first New York Senior Hurling Championship in August in New York’s Gaelic Park. They beat Tipperary New York by two goals and 29 points (2-29) to Tipperary’s two goals and 24 points (2-24.) (Each goal counts for three points. A point is scored over the bar.)

The match, which was part of the New York Senior Hurling Club championship, was fast-paced, and competition was fierce as points were scored from all over the pitch, one after the other, tit for tat throughout the whole game. The first half ended with just a point between the teams, with Hoboken at 1-08, and Tipperary at 1-09. During the second half, Tipperary took the lead and scored a goal, but Paul Loughnane came back on the pitch for Hoboken after a short rest and started scoring impressive points from a distance. Tipperary continued to score tying the game in the last seconds. Cathal Barrett, who, ironically, is from Tipperary, scored Hoboken’s second goal just after Tipperary had taken the lead in overtime.

Two more points were scored by Hoboken, and then the famous hooter at Gaelic Park blew, and the Hoboken Guards, formed in 2010, were New York’s Senior Hurling champions! ♦  Dave Lewis

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Podcast: The Story with Dave Lewis Tue, 15 May 2018 19:51:26 +0000 We are proud to present our new podcast series “The Story.” The first episode is hosted by Dave Lewis and details the annual big day for the New York GAA, its participation in the Connacht Senior Football Championship. Enjoy the podcast and subscribe to us for more podcasts.

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When Things Get Tough, the Tough Get Rowing Wed, 09 May 2018 05:38:54 +0000 Read more..]]> Four young doctors team up for a transatlantic row for a good cause.

What takes 32 days, 22 hours and 5,500 kilometers to complete? If you’re the four young men who set a new record when they arrived in Antigua on January 16, the answer is rowing across the Atlantic.

“We had calluses on our hands and our calf muscles had wasted away so much that it took a couple of days before we could put one foot in front of the other without looking as though we had drunk six pints,” says Eoin O’Farrell, one of the four. “But we had done it, we had come sixth in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge and we had set a new record for a transatlantic row by a Republic of Ireland crew.”

The foursome consisted of junior doctors Seán Underwood (25) and Patrick O’Connor (28), podiatrist Eoin O’Farrell (26), and entrepreneur Thomas Browne (27). They left the Canary Island of La Gomera on December 14 along with 26 other teams competing in what is known as the world’s toughest rowing race.

What inspired them to do such a thing? “Seán and I used to row when we were teenagers at school,” says Eoin. “Because he was such a keen rower, Seán’s uncle gave him a book about someone rowing across the Atlantic. He was 13 then but it planted the seed of an idea in his mind.”

On New Year’s Eve three years ago, Seán asked Eoin if he would take part in the race with him. When Eoin agreed, Seán approached Patrick who also said yes.

“That made three of us but then Seán met Tommy six months prior to the race and he wanted to join us,” says Eoin. “It was lucky he did as I don’t think we’d have made it with just three rowers.”

There was an incredible amount for them to do in the months coming up to the race. Tommy and Patrick had to learn how to row and all four had to spend time training. They also had to find a suitable boat for their ocean crossing.

They found a 28-foot ocean rowing boat that was being sold by a team of women in the U.K. “They had called her Liberty and used her to cross the Atlantic so we knew she was up to the job,” says Eoin. “We decided to change her name to Saoirse, which is the Irish translation.”

The rowing team presents their fundraising check to the Cork University Hospital Children’s Unit staff (Photo: Courtesy CUH).

They also had to complete the courses that were required to participate in the race. These included courses in sea survival, ocean navigation, and first aid at sea.

Lastly, they had to figure out how to finance their endeavor. “The boat cost €60,000 which we paid for out of our own savings,” says Eoin. “But we needed another €60,000 to cover everything from the race entry fee and safety equipment to shipping the boat back home. We’re very grateful to all the local sponsors who came on board to help with this.”

To make the challenge even more worthwhile, they decided to use it to raise funds for Cork University Hospital. “They say charity begins at home, and Seán, Patrick, and I are from Cork,” says Eoin. “We’ve also worked in the hospital. They are building a new children’s unit and we decided to try to raise €20,000 for the dedicated cystic fibrosis ward.”

While the four were busy preparing for the race, their families were in a state of denial. “I think our parents thought it would never happen,” laughs Eoin. “Then when it looked like it would, they became incredibly worried – supportive but worried.”

When the start day finally arrived, conditions were quite stormy at sea. Eoin remembers it all vividly.

“The boats set off at five minute intervals, so we could see the others for the first six or seven hours,” he says. “The water was choppy but we were in second place at one point.”

That wasn’t to last long. “Our auto helm was wrongly calibrated and it directed us back towards La Gomera so that lost us a few places,” says Eoin, ruefully.

That auto helm caused trouble for weeks. “We couldn’t recalibrate it for two weeks as you need calm, flat water to do so,” says Eoin. “Luckily we had calibrated the other one in Cork before we left. But these machines are meant to be changed over every two hours, so the one we had kept overheating.”

Something else went wrong on that first day. The emergency beacon was set off by accident and when the coast guard tried to reach them, it couldn’t make contact.

“This meant my dad got a call saying that we had indicated there was a problem,” says Eoin. “If he was worried already, this made it much worse.”

Seasickness was another big issue. “We were very naïve,” says Eoin. “We thought we would suffer through and get over it but we should have started taking medicine before we left. Instead it took us five or six days of being really sick before we got our sea legs.”

Once those initial problems were dealt with, the four settled into a routine. They worked in pairs, taking two hours on and two hours off.

“We would prepare all of our meals – which consisted of freeze-dried food such as porridge and blueberries or macaroni and cheese – in the morning and do any chores that needed doing. Then you would do your two hours of rowing and during your two hours off, you would eat and spend the rest of the time sleeping, or trying to sleep, in one of the two cabins we had on board. It was important to sleep when you could as you didn’t know when you would get a chance again.”

There are certain moments that stand out in Eoin’s memory from the trip. “We saw dolphins and whales, fabulous sunsets and incredible stars,” says Eoin. “I rang my grandad from the satellite phone at one stage and hearing the joy in his voice was something special.”

Then of course came the moment they arrived in Antigua. “Seeing the glow in the distance having not seen land for 32 days was amazing,” says Eoin. “I didn’t know my parents would be there but they were waiting on the dock with the others. That was something I’ll never forget.”

The trip meant something different to each of the four, but Seán perhaps put it best when he said, “We believe you only get one chance at life. Everybody dies but not everybody lives. There is not and never will be a good time to row an ocean so we acted on our dreams in the here and now. If we can make a difference to just one child in Cork University Hospital Children’s Unit by competing in this race, then it will all have been worth it.”

They have currently raised more than €29,000. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so by visiting♦


Sharon Ní Chonchúir lives and works in west County Kerry, and much of her writing is concerned with the changing face of modern Irish culture. She is a fluent Irish speaker.

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American Winners at the World Irish Dance Championships Wed, 09 May 2018 05:36:56 +0000 Read more..]]> The World Irish Dancing Championships were held in April in Glasgow, Scotland, and several Americans came away with medals in competition among the best youth dancers in the world.

Peyton Clemons (U13) World Medalist. (Photo: Courtesy Clark Academy of Irish Dance)

The Academy of Irish Dance, based in Ohio, won several team world championships, including U16 mixed céili and senior ladies, while the school’s Loghlan Howard won boys U14. The Lavin Cassidy School, from Illinois, also came away with the top team prizes for U16 junior girls and U19 senior girls, with Ashton Bauman winning the U12 category for the school. The Clark Academy of Irish Dance, based in St. Louis, also saw Peyton Clemons win a world medal and Katherine Selness come away with a recall medal. ♦


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USA Women’s Hockey Team Wins Gold with a Rooney at the Goal Wed, 28 Feb 2018 06:54:09 +0000 Read more..]]> The USA Women’s National Hockey Team came away with their first gold medal since the sport was introduced to the games in 1998, beating Canada in the final round on February 22 in a 3-2 nail-biting shootout. Chief among those responsible for the team’s historic win is none other than Irish American Maddie Rooney (right), Team USA’s 20-year-old goalie. She made 29 saves through overtime in the game, so many, in fact, that her position on Wikipedia was briefly updated to “United States Secretary of Defense.”

Born and raised in Andover, Minnesota, Rooney began playing at age 9. By the time she was a senior in high school, she was playing for the boys’ team and had racked up a .910 save percentage. She was added to the national team roster last March and currently plays for the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

“I just took each player one at a time,” Rooney told ESPN. “When it came down to one shooter to win it, I just said, ‘It’s one more save, and then it’s a gold medal.’” ♦

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Irish Fighting Irish Wed, 28 Feb 2018 06:16:27 +0000 Read more..]]> Fifty years ago as of April 2018, the University of Notre Dame rugby club became the first team to represent the university in competition in Ireland. Tom Condon, then a senior on the squad, recalls the momentous five-game tour.

Late in the morning of April 14, 1968, 15 young men representing the University of Notre Dame jogged onto the rugby pitch in Limerick City.

The whistle, the kickoff, and it finally happened: the Fighting Irish had come to Ireland.

That morning 50 years ago – Easter Sunday, appropriately enough – marked the first time the American university most associated with Ireland sent an athletic team to play there.

As the match against the Limerick Rovers got going, we the visitors urged ourselves on, yelling, “Let’s go Irish,” “C’mon Irish.” This caused the Limerick lads to laugh their heads off. “It sounds like you’re bloody rootin’ for us,” one said.

In a way, we were. Most of us were Irish-American – Collins, Kenealy, Carrigan, Murphy, Gibbs, O’Malley, Keenan, Brennan, Joyce, Hennessy, etc. – separated from the Limerick boys by accident of family history.

The 1968 University of Notre Dame rugby club pose ahead of their game in Thurles, County Tipperary. (Photo: Courtesy Mike Joyce)



A college sports team going to Europe today would barely raise an eyebrow; it happens all the time.

Not so in 1968. It was still a big deal to go to Europe. Notre Dame then had, I believe, two study abroad programs, in Innsbruck, Austria, and Angers, France. Now it has them in dozens of places, including three in Ireland, and more than half the student body studies overseas.

But back then our trip garnered coverage in many Midwest newspapers, including all of Chicago’s.

To send a team to Ireland in the 1960s meant finding a sport played in both countries (this being years before it occurred to anyone to fly the Notre Dame and Navy football teams to Ireland). Baseball and hurling were out; rugby would work.

A student named Bob Mier started rugby at Notre Dame in 1961, and it became an official club sport two years later. The team quickly became a power in the Midwest, compiling a 109-16-3 record over the next five years.

In club sports then, the players had to do all the work – the scheduling, travel, fundraising; it wasn’t handled by someone from the athletic department. This was good preparation for life.

And so we put the arm on Notre Dame alumni clubs in Indianapolis and Chicago – as well as parents and friends – and held fundraising parties. In April we set off for Shannon.

We managed an 8-0 win in the Limerick match. Afterward, one of the local players asked, “Why do they call you the Fighting Irish? Aren’t the Irish well thought of in America?” I’ll get to that.

Down time in County Cork. (Photo: Mike Brennan)



We then headed south to play University College Cork, one of the best teams in the country.

The good news was that our great winger, Bill Kenealy, broke off a 60-yard run to the try line, what one fan called “the best bloody try I’ve ever seen.”

The bad news is that we were losing 14-0 when he scored.

A drawback of club sports, at least ours, was that we didn’t have a coach. We had a faculty advisor, a British-born architecture professor named Ken Featherstone, but not a day-to-day coach. We taught the game to ourselves and played a punishing but rudimentary version of it.

The UCC side played a hard but sophisticated game, with tactical kicking and running plays we had never seen. If that weren’t enough, their fly half, one F. O’Driscoll, according to the Cork Examiner, could dropkick from seemingly anywhere on the field.

The Cork Examiner covered Notre Dame’s loss to University College Cork. Pictured, UCC captain Eddie Kiely (right) gives Notre Dame captain Tom Gibbs (left) the Cork pennant prior to the game. April 16, 1968. (Image Courtesy Mike Brennan)

A dropkick is worth three points in rugby, as it is in American football. It’s almost never done in U.S. football, though, because the pointed ball rarely produces a true bounce. The rounder rugby ball does, in the hands of a skilled practitioner.

In my four years on the team we’d made exactly two drop goals. O’Driscoll banged three through the uprights in the first half.

Decades later, my son spent his junior year of college at UCC and my wife and I visited, as parents of kids studying in Ireland are wont to do. I walked down to the field and quietly paid homage to Mr. O’Driscoll.

Ireland was just opening up to tourism in the 1960s, and there was a sense of excitement in Cork. The craic in the pub that night was more than delightful.

A fellow asked me if I read any contemporary Irish writers or poets. As it happened, I had just been introduced to the poetry of Thomas Kinsella and dropped the name. Well, lord, everyone in the pub knew Kinsella’s work, and two people knew him personally.

This was 1968, the year of riots, anti-war protests, and assassinations (Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy), and the Corkonians were deeply curious about what was going on in the States. We talked about the military draft, causing a girl of 11 or 12 to ask, “Do you mean they can make you go into the Army even if you don’t want to?”

They could then, kiddo.

Members of the Notre Dame rugby club pose with horse and cart in County Cork. (Photo: Mike Brennan)



After Cork, our next stop was against the Thurles rugby team, in County Tipperary, but I hopped off the bus for a brief detour in Mitchelstown, County Cork, ancestral home of the Condons.

My great-grandfather had came over and fought for the Union in the Civil War. We still had a relative who sent us Irish Sweeps tickets every year into my childhood in the 1950s.

I went into one of the stores with the Condon name, the pharmacy as I remember, and introduced myself. Well, they closed the store, invited the neighbors, brought out the Guinness, and we had a lovely visit. A pretty, dark-haired young lady who was a dead ringer for my sister Pat walked in. The resemblance was so close I almost asked when she got in.

The New York sports columnist Jimmy Cannon once said he didn’t like Boston because everyone looked like him. I liked Mitchelstown for that reason.

The hospitality everywhere was exquisite. Each team had us over for socials, dinner, singing, and even, in Thurles, golf, courtesy of international Irish rugby star Noel Murphy.

We won the match in Thurles, and then lost two close and well-played games to provincial champion Navan and Delvin (of Drogheda), putting us at 2-3 for the trip. Thousands of people came to our matches. It was the last time anyone besides a waiter asked me for my autograph.

The University of Notre Dame and Fordham University rugby teams play a snow-covered game on St. Patrick’s Day 1967 in Central Park. The Notre Dame team, which won 16-0, marched as a unit in the parade to get to the park. Tom Condon is No. 73, far right. New York Times. March 18, 1967. (Photo: Times Machine Screenshot)



Capping our tour was a luncheon at the Irish White House – Áras an Uachtaráin – with President Éamon de Valera. Dev was 85 and losing his sight and hearing, but stood ramrod straight and could not have been more gracious. He showed us the Phoenix Park gardens after lunch (and asked our Mike Brennan to walk next to him, lest poor vision caused him to trip).

“It was like meeting George Washington,” said my teammate Tom Weyer, now a retired insurance executive in Chicago.

It wasn’t the first time Dev mingled with Notre Dame students. In 1919, after his escape from a British jail, he came to America to build support for an Irish republic. He stopped in South Bend, where he was carried to his hotel on the shoulders of students and other supporters.

His visit may have played a role in the university adopting the nickname “Fighting Irish.” The most likely explanation of the nickname’s origin is that it came from a taunt against the immigrant Irish and other Catholic minorities who manned the Notre Dame football teams in the early 20th century.

But students began to embrace the name as a symbol of the scrappy underdog, the striving immigrant. De Valera’s arrival – a real fighting Irishman – may have put it over the top.

Since the statute of limitations has tolled, I sheepishly admit to one bit of mischief. Looking for a souvenir on our last day abroad, we borrowed the flag from atop the General Post Office, the shrine to the 1916 Easter Rising. A few weeks later, it appeared behind the bar at the old faculty club on Notre Dame Avenue.

Tom Condon (third from right, striped shirt) and Tom Weyer (second from right), who were on Notre Dame’s 1968 rugby tour of Ireland, play an alumni pickup game, c. 1975. (Photo: Courtesy of the author).

I later felt bad about this, because if we’d been caught we would have besmirched the university’s reputation and cashed in the good will we’d created on the trip. Plus, the people were so nice that if we’d asked the postmaster, he probably would have given it to us.

That aside, the trip was, as Weyer said, “Incredible – a life-changer. You could never replicate it.”

Writing about the trip for the South Bend Tribune, sports columnist Joe Doyle suspected we were having a good time, ending his piece with a gentle wink: “Classes resume on April 22, lads, so please make it home!”

We did, and we seniors soon graduated and scattered. For a few of us, our next trip out of the country was to the former Republic of South Vietnam, from which our stellar forward Bruce Heskett did not return.

On a happier note, Tom Gibbs’s son Bill was a member of the Notre Dame football team that defeated Navy in Croke Park in Dublin in 1996, the first time the fabled Fighting Irish football squad played in Ireland. Father and son are lawyers in Chicago.

Many of us played club rugby after college; Weyer took it to an extreme, playing regularly into his 50s and his last match at 67, making him, he modestly observes, the Minnie Minoso of rugby.



Notre Dame always had ties to Ireland. About two-thirds of the university’s 17 presidents were of Irish birth or ancestry, including Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., who was the chaplain of the Irish Brigade in the Civil War.

The connections to Ireland have multiplied since the 1968 adventure, especially with the creation 25 years ago of the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. It is a major center for the study of Irish culture and includes the only Irish language program at an American university.

The rugby club now has a coach and a beautiful new field, and in 2016 formed a partnership with the Irish Rugby Football Union, to “promote and develop rugby at Notre Dame and consequently across the United States.”

And – this would have been hard to imagine in 1968, when the school was all male – Notre Dame has an excellent women’s rugby team. ♦


Tom Condon, a longtime Connecticut journalist, is a retired columnist and chief editorial writer for the Hartford Courant. He now writes for the Connecticut Mirror at

This article was originally published in the April / May 2018 issue of Irish America.

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Weekly Comment: Meet Ireland’s Olympians Thu, 22 Feb 2018 23:33:43 +0000 Read more..]]> With the Olympics closing ceremony this weekend, get to know the Irish competitors. Though none came away with medals, there was plenty of spirit to go around.

The 2018 Winter Olympics, held this year in Pyeongchang, South Korea, saw Ireland represented by five singular athletes who competed in a host of skiing and snowboarding events. Though not all of them were born and raised in Ireland, they’re all Irish citizens and embody the spirit of the diaspora, competing for the country of their ancestors on sporting’s largest stage.


Seamus O’Connor

Seamus O’Connor (Photo:

Seamus O’Connor, who was born in California with a first-generation Irish American father, acted as the Irish flag bearer during the Olympics opening ceremony and ultimately finished 18th of 29 in the men’s halfpipe snowboarding qualification. O’Connor grew up in San Diego, but began snowboarding in Colorado at the age of four. Of Russian and Irish descent, O’Connor competed in the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 for Ireland, becoming the country’s first Olympic snowboarder in history. “My dad got this idea that I was to ride for Ireland in my mom’s homeland as an American-born athlete, and it came together perfectly,” he told Reuters at the time.


Patrick McMillan

Pat McMillan competes in the mens downhill. (Photo: Team Ireland / Twitter)

The first Irish skier in action at the 2018 Olympics was Patrick McMillan, in his Olympic debut. A County Clare native, he began skiing at age seven in Austria, (where he is currently based) while on family vacations. The second Irishman (and first in 20 years) to compete in alpine skiing, McMillan came 52nd of 85 in the men’s downhill, and hopes to continue to develop his competitive skiing skills, despite a late start at age 21.


Bubba Newby

Bubba Newby during a training run in Pyeongchang. (Photo: Ramsey Cardy for Team Ireland / Twitter)

Also skiing for Ireland was Utahn Brendan “Bubba” Newby, who before his event excitedly yelled, “It’s dinna time!” Dubbed by Irish viewers as “The Corker from Cork” (he was born there while his father was a guest professor at UCC), Newby was the first Irish half-piper in Winter Olympic history. He finished 22nd of 27 in his competition.


Tess Arbez

Tess Arbez with Chef de Mission Stephen Martin. (Photo: Team Ireland / Twitter)

As Ireland’s only female competitor in Pyeongchang, Tess Arbez participated in the ladies’ slalom (ranking 46th of 78) and the ladies’ giant slalom (where she came in 50th of 78). With a mother from Dublin, Tess grew up in Vetraz Monthoux, France, where she began skiing on cross-country slopes before she was yet two years old. Her older brother, Maxime, has also skied for Team Ireland at the 2015 FIS Ski World Championships. Tess proudly attributes her personal philosophy to the Samuel Beckett quote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”


Thomas Maloney Westgård

Thomas Maloney Westgård in the men’s 15km free. (Photo: Team Ireland / Twitter)

Finally, representing Ireland in cross-country skiing this year was Norwegian Thomas Maloney Westgård, whose mother hails from County Galway. He competed in in the men’s 15km free (ranking 63rd of 119), the men’s 15km skiathlon (placing 60th of 68), and the men’s spring classic (where he came in 62nd of 80).

“I have always had the dream of representing Ireland, ever since I was a child,” he told Reuters. “I have always had this dream of putting a small winter sports nation like Ireland on the map.” ♦


Mary Gallagher contributed to this report.

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Running from Boston to New York for Charity Mon, 29 Jan 2018 06:40:25 +0000 Read more..]]> Tom McGrath, an ultra-distance runner, can often be seen running all over Manhattan, whether he’s running in Central Park or busy running his bar and restaurant. McGrath, 68, has stamina for it all. He has so much stamina that he decided to run a marathon a day from Boston to New York in order to raise money for the American Wheelchair Mission. This run isn’t his first time running across the United States – he broke the Trans-Am record almost 41 years ago, running from New York to San Francisco in 53 days during 1977. His most recent endeavor was sponsored by many Irish American organizations like the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Knights of Columbus.

McGrath’s run, called “Miles 4 Miracles,” set out to change lives through mobility by helping the American Wheelchair Mission distribute wheelchairs to veterans’ hospitals, fire houses, ambulances, churches, and to the poor throughout the world. McGrath began his journey on December 1 in Boston, taking six days to complete the distance, where he finished at Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan.

“We made it. I came in a little worse for wear with the right leg flaring up,” McGrath wrote on Facebook following the run. “Not sure I could have gone another day, but thank God I was able to make it.” ♦  Dave Lewis 


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