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Dublin pep rally highlights Irish heritage

Sam Stryker | Monday, September 3, 2012

DUBLIN – Notre Dame’s Emerald Isle heritage was on full display this weekend, be it on the football team’s Irish flag cleats or a Mass of Celebration at Dublin Castle. Friday evening, that heritage was reaffirmed and deepened in a spectacle of music, dance and dialogue on the banks of the River Liffey.

Notre Dame introduced Ireland to the concept of a pep rally and the Emerald Isle greeted the University with open arms in Friday’s “Notre Dame: A Welcome Home,” held in The O2.

Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny kicked off the event with a welcome to Notre Dame and Navy fans alike, noting the long-standing rivalry between the two teams as “characterized by a deep respect and warmth” between the two teams.

Kenny urged visiting fans to experience their time on the Emerald Isle to the fullest.

“Enjoy, explore,” he said. “Make the best of the next few days with us in Ireland. Be sure to make and take home great memories. Be sure to make the most of your time in Ireland.”

Kenny promised an exciting weekend lineup for fans attending the big game.

“This is a wonderful event for Ireland to host,” he said. “It’s going to be a mighty few days showcasing what Ireland is and has to offer.”

The Taoiseach closed his welcome by focusing on the importance of sporting competition to the Irish nation in recovering from its recent economic downturn, comparing the spirit of the Irish people to the “soul” of Notre Dame.

“Ireland and its people, in true ‘Fighting Irish’ style, with gust and courage and discipline, are fighting back in the face of economic challenges we face as a country,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we? Sport is the soul of what we are. The ‘Fighting Irish,’ the soul of Notre Dame, is what we exemplify in how we approach our world.”

Filled with a lineup of top Irish musical artists and Notre Dame performing arts groups, the overseas pep rally captivated a live audience of more than 9,000. The Irish public broadcast network RTE televised the event nationally.

Ranging from the Notre Dame Folk Choir and the Band of the Fighting Irish to Irish artists Anthony Kearns and the High Kings, performances often featured collaborations from those hailing from the Emerald Isle and those from the University.

In addition to the slew of musical and performing arts guests, Irish talk show host Miriam O’Callaghan went through a series of interviews with Notre Dame figures. First up was Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

O’Callaghan noted Ireland does not possess the same passion for college athletics as the United States, and Swarbrick said this school pride is evident in many facets of the University.

“You see it in our marching band, you see it in our cheerleaders, you see it in our great alumni and fans,” he said.

When asked by O’Callaghan what was at the source of the “success” of the University, Swarbrick turned and acknowledged the audience.

“It’s out here,” he said. “The people make Notre Dame special. It’s the ones who went to school there or the ones who have just adopted it, the faculty, the administration, our remarkable leadership in Fr. Jenkins. I think all of that is what makes it a special institution.”

O’Callaghan also spoke to University President Fr. John Jenkins and asked what inspired Notre Dame to return to play a match in Ireland after 1996’s matchup against Navy.

“We wanted to come back here,” Jenkins said. “We feel a connection of ancestry, a connection of name but more importantly a connection of spirit.

“Fight against the odds. Overcome the obstacles. A commitment to life, that total commitment. That’s what Notre Dame is about, and that is what Ireland is about.”

When asked about the challenges and rewards of leading the University, Jenkins said his pride goes beyond Notre Dame’s academic prestige.

“[Notre Dame] stands for so much more, and that’s why I am proud,” he said. “As [earlier guest] Martin Short said, spiritual values, service, things that go [beyond] excellence, I’m tremendously proud to be a part of this institution.”