While these are obviously the greatest cleats ever worn, this piece is not about the cleats qua cleats. It is about what the cleats, and more properly, the colors, mean. For, when the Fighting Irish walk out onto the pitch at Aviva Stadium, they will write another chapter in the history of the F/fighting Irish in Dublin.
The last time Notre Dame and Navy squared off in Dublin, they played at Croke Park, home of the Gaelic Games and scene of 1920′s Bloody Sunday. Hours before that day’s rugby match was to start, Michael Collins‘ Twelve Apostles fanned out across Dublin and executed British Intelligence’s famed Cairo Gang in a series of murders that make Michael Corleone’s efforts at the end of The Godfather look unambitious. By kickoff, the British were out for revenge, and they took it on the crowd. It was not until the Queen’s visit to Croke Park and her laying a wreath there in honor of Ireland’s war dead that one old wound could begin to heal.
This year’s game will be played at the new stadium at Landsdowne Road, less than three miles from Croke Park and itself the scene of an ugly display of violence and sectarianism in 1995, when Irleand hosted England in an international football match. Played months after the IRA laid down its arms, the match showed that The Troubles were not yet over. Some Irish booed “God Save the Queen,” while many English chanted “Ulster is British” during “A Soldier’s Song.” When Ireland went up 1-0 in the 27th minute, the English hooligans had enough, and rained missiles down onto the crowds below. In the ensuing pandemonium, one person died and many were injured as the terrified spectators sought refuge on the field, forcing the officials to cancel the match.
The match, though, had been conceived in a decidedly optimistic spirit, for peace was easing over Ireland. In August of 1994, the IRA gave up their Armalites and in May, the Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. In that address, through which your author tried to nap and otherwise combat the worst hangover in human history, the Prime Minister challenged Republicans and Loyalists to come together and eliminate the physical and ideological space between them.
That space has been represented on the Irish flag as the white piece between the
Republican green and the Unionist orange. When the tri-color was hoisted over the GPO in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916, it was an act of rebellion, independence and hope for a united Ireland. The Irish flag, then, is like the Irish cleats: meant to be on display for a short time. The flag symbolizes the hope that the ideological space between Catholic and Protestant will one day disappear, a hope that is now enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, signed at Belfast on 10 April 1998. So it was that exhortations made by an Irish Prime Minister at an Irish commencement bore real fruit.
We will all claim to be Fighting Irish on 1 September 2012, as we do every day. But the Irish, the real Irish, have seen real fighting and real dying and some of them want it to continue. The peace between them is fragile, at best. But in the simple act of lacing up a shoe, Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish will advance the ball toward a hopeful goal of peace, fulfilling the wish of an Irish Prime Minister made at their school, before most of them were even born.