Irish Blessing

Traveling fans of the Fighting Irish and Midshipmen received a season-opening treat on the Emerald Isle.

DUBLIN -- Fyodor Dostoevsky once noted, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

I didn't spend anytime in an Irish lock-up on my 64-hour trip to the Emerald Isle, so I can't speak for the entire nation's civility, but I did encounter a sub-sect of Dublin notably disparate from their counterparts in America: its taxi drivers.

Three different cab rides and subsequent conversations offered a microcosm of my stay, and I assume that of most of the 35,000-plus visitors that flooded Dublin over the last few days.

The first driver, a gregarious fellow that transported me from Dublin's airport to the Adelphi Guesthouse on Lower Gardiner, wondered why so many of his car's inhabitants asked if he, a native of Cork, was offended by the Fighting Irish mascot, a fist-threatening Leprechaun:

"I think you're offended by such things if you're looking to be offended," he mused. Not exactly a card-carrying member of the over-litigious western world, it appears.

Taxi Driver No. 2, a chap I encountered, shall we say, a few hours later than closing time, offered the following gem: "Have a few pints of the black stuff, eh? Myself, I knock it back like I'm waitin' for my final days." (I assume that meant death row, but I'm at least certain "black stuff" referred to Guiness. He was quite observant, regardless.)

Finally, a quick trip from Aviva Stadium following Notre Dame's 50-10 beating of the Naval Academy presented this American with his first: "I'm a Jets fans. Who won?"

And he somehow never mentioned Tim Tebow.

Yes from the welcoming locals to the preponderance of American revelers, right down to the hosts and hostesses of the outstanding Le Bon Crubeen restaurant, who allowed a weary traveler a break when he forgot his wallet, and trusted him with a short trip to gather it sans collateral, the entire Emerald Isle experience was unforgettable for American football fans that witnessed an easily forgettable contest.

"It galvanizes your fans, your alumni, everybody that is a Notre Dame supporter, you get that opportunity to bring everyone together in a great atmosphere," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly when asked of the benefits of the trip. "When your University can come out and bring everyone together, it's a great feeling that you get that kind of University bond."

Beginning with the setting, a modern stadium nestled in the affluent Balls Bridge neighborhood (Wrigleyville without the modern irony and self-aggrandizing behavior would be a fitting comparison) to an outdoor press box blessed with 65-degree weather and splashed with sunshine, travel-weary media had little to complain about during their Aviva venture.

In fact, game day's only inconvenience, a media room and thus a food supply a full five levels below the seating area, unintentionally provided an ancillary community service and rarity: no unnecessary weight was gained by the throng usually at the ready for seconds and third when games turn one-sided.

That's all that was missing from the week's docket, well, along with a competitive contest. And maybe the absence of malice between two programs that respect one another more than any other continuous rivalry the college game has to offer.

No, the annual matchup provided little doubt regarding who was the heavy and the underdog, with Notre Dame bludgeoning Navy on both sides of scrimmage en route to a 40-point final margin.

In fact, the only point of contention was provided by one of Dublin's not-so-finest: a drunken reveler who managed his way on the field, between both squads set for a snap, and with a football he brought to the goal line, to boot.

Staying true to his opening game form from 2011, Kelly took umbrage with the fool's presence, taking out his frustrations with a verbal tongue-lashing on a group of hired hands that did nothing to deter the reveler from taking over the proceedings for a full minute.

"You know, we carried our Notre Dame police as well as the Indiana State Police," joked Kelly of the incident. "We brought four of them; I know we spent a lot of money to bring them, but they kept backing up when that guy got closer. It was kind of strange, I thought I was going to have to (go get him) myself."

He didn't, of course. Fans laughed, the game went on, and moments ticked down when the Notre Dame daily media clan, a full 10-strong (six of which made it out to the wee hours Friday morning) knew reality was about to set in: early flights home, press conferences that don't talk of flight plans and time zones, and a banal matchup with another continuous Irish rival, Purdue.

Back to reality. But perhaps, for Notre Dame, back to Ireland as well?

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