When it comes to college football, few teams have a following as dedicated and passionate as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But what happens when the iconic football team and its spirited fans venture beyond the hallowed grounds of South Bend, Indiana, and cross the Atlantic to Dublin, Ireland? The answer: a heartwarming story of sportsmanship, community, and service. In 2023, Notre Dame football fans embarked on a journey to Dublin that went far beyond touchdowns and tackles, as they engaged in a remarkable community service project that left a lasting impact.

For Notre Dame fans, a trip to see the Fighting Irish play is akin to a pilgrimage. The Notre Dame football programme has a rich history and tradition that spans over a century. The fervent supporters of the team, affectionately known as the “Irish faithful,” are known for their unwavering dedication to the school and its values. 

Amid all the razzamatazz, the parades, giant billboards, the fly overs, marching bands and tailgate parties, more than a hundred of the Notre Dame alumni seized the opportunity to combine their love for their team with a desire to give back to the community hosting their beloved Irish.

Coordinated by Localise Team Cat Scanlon and Derek Cleary and the Notre Dame team headed up by Dolly Duffy, Dan Allen and Annie Envall-Latowski with the great support of Katie Keogh and MK Andersen from DCU, both alum of Notre Dame. Three service projects were undertaken aimed at making a real and lasting difference to some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in Dublin. The project, aptly named “Irish Fans in Action,” showcased the power of sports in uniting people across borders and cultures.

One of the community service projects was the renovation of the Oncological Psychological services operated by the Mater Hospital. This service is a place where people with a recent cancer diagnosis receive psychological support for the journey ahead. An importance service without doubt that helps patients come to terms with the illness and the various treatment regimes that lay ahead. This service is located in a Georgian building on Eccles Street – a building built sometime between the American War of Independence and the American Civil war – and in need of much need TLC. The before and after pictures speak for themselves. 

The next project transformation was with the Leo Street facility for the local elderly, this service, under the auspices of the Mater Hospital caters for local elderly people who live alone. The services is where those who live on their own can avail of a cooked meal, movie nights, quizzes, day trips and so much more. This service is a home from home for many service users, one gentleman told me recently that if it weren’t for Leo Street he wouldn’t speak with another human throughout the day. This service is also located in an aging building and was in need of much needed TLC. The old lino was replaced, the walls were scrubbed and painted, the sitting room got a complete makeover and new furniture and kitchen appliances were installed. 

Not far from Leo street is a service for young people that have come to seek refuge in Ireland unaccompanied by adults. Many of these unaccompanied minors have fled war, oppression and famine and have arrived in our country to seek refuge. As part of the service, they begin their journey in the Irish education system. The wrap around service also provides personal support such as trauma therapy. Their prayer, therapy and relaxation room was in dire need of some love and attention. With armchairs, artwork, storage, plants and lamps added, the room has become the epitome of the representation of the safety the service provides to this young people. 

Each of the 50 young people that avail of this service were given a backpack, pencil case, lunch box, waterbottle and other school essentials, they also revived a gift voucher so that they could purchase other items they might need for the transition back to school. 

600 Care packages consisting of water bottles, mindfulness colouring books , eye masks and earplugs with special hand written messages were also distributed to the patients and staff on wards and departments all around the Mater Hospital. Head of Mission at the Mater Hospital Dolores Heery and her team, who facilitated the project in the Mater, described the day of service as a heartwarming demonstration of going that extra yard, a touchdown for compassion and community.

The impact of the Notre Dame fans’ community service project in Dublin went far beyond the physical improvements they made. These projects served as a powerful reminder of the positive influence sports can have on society. It demonstrated that sports, in addition to providing entertainment and fostering team spirit, can be a catalyst for change and unity. Notre Dame fans, often celebrated for their passion on game day, were equally passionate about giving back to the community that welcomed them so graciously.

The Impact of these projects were immediate, moments after the transformation of the Oncological Psychological service, a cancer patient met with their psychologists in a refurbished room that now feels warm, welcoming and safe.

When the volunteers – “Irish Fans in Action” – gathered at the end of their service day, they linked arms to sing their college song. The elderly service users of Leo Street had the opportunity to thank them for their service in person, emphasising how this day of service will have long lasting positive effects. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen as the coordinator of the service was literally speechless with gratitude. 

Notre Dame football fans’ visit to Dublin in 2023 will be remembered not only for the pre and post game pageantry and the football game that took place on the field, but also for the remarkable community service project they undertook. Their dedication to making a positive impact in Dublin exemplifies the values of Notre Dame – faith, community, and service. The bonds forged and the goodwill generated during their time in Dublin will serve as a testament to the enduring power of sports to bring people together and inspire positive change. The Fighting Irish fans left Dublin not only with cherished memories of football but also brought a real and lasting change to some of the most vulnerable people that live in our magnificent city. 

Thank you.

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