DUBLIN, IRELAND | When they say Notre Dame football fans will follow the team anywhere, that means anywhere.
Munster’s Shawn Haugh and a group 16 Fighting Irish fans from Northwest Indiana and the South Suburbs are among those exploring the Emerald Isle leading up to Saturday’s game against the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen.
“This country is absolutely beautiful,” Haugh said from a ferry boat taking about a dozen carloads of Notre Dame fans to the seaside city of Doolin on Wednesday afternoon.
There are fans from both teams everywhere in Dublin, and both sides are getting along just fine, according to Haugh. Better still, the people of Ireland have welcomed the onslaught of college football fans with trademark Irish hospitality.
“The citizens of Dublin are glad we’re here. We’re pumping a lot of money into the local Irish economy,” Haugh said.
“I was walking in the rain and an old Irish gentleman came up and put his umbrella over my head and walked with me for a couple of blocks," Tom Anngan, a member of the region contingent, said.
It's not just a guy's week. Families are there as well, including Haugh’s 14-year-old son Shawn Jr., a freshman at Bishop Noll Institute.
“When my dad asked me if I wanted to miss a week of school and go to Ireland to watch Notre Dame play, it was an easy answer,” he said. “I know I’m going to have a stack of books waiting for me when I get back.”
The group arrived in Ireland on Saturday and will stay through Sunday. Planning for the trip began about two years ago soon after the game at Dublin’s Aviva stadium was announced.
Munster’s Brian Scott started calling fellow Notre Dame fans like Haugh, whose family has been season ticket holders since 1946. Several people in their group have been friends since their days growing up in East Chicago.
“I was surprised to get such a big group together,” Scott said. “But on Dec. 30, 2010 I booked a block of 12 rooms (at the Ballsbridge Hotel). I was here for the Notre Dame game in 1996 with my wife for our 10th wedding anniversary. It’s great to be back.”
The plane ride over appeared to be mostly Notre Dame fans, he said, as they continued to run into fans from all over the United States.
Their tour of the country included stops in Kilkenny, Adair, Kilarney, Galway and golfing at Castlegregory. They also visited County Tepperary in the province of Munster.
The football teams arrived Thursday.
Haugh expects the 60,000-seat stadium to be 90 percent filled with Americans and mostly Fighting Irish fans.
And by traveling to Ireland for the game, just how big a fan does that make someone?
“Once this game was on the schedule, it became my schedule,” Highland resident Kevin Knight said. “I believe N.D. can win, but I wouldn’t sell the Naval Academy short ever.”