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God bless American razzmatazz as Fighting Irish come home to party


YANKEE DOODLE DANDY: Notre Dame cheerleader Olivia Lee with Garda Tom McEvoy

YANKEE DOODLE DANDY: Notre Dame cheerleader Olivia Lee with Garda Tom McEvoy

YANKEE DOODLE DANDY: Notre Dame cheerleader Olivia Lee with Garda Tom McEvoy

THE Fighting Irish their slogan may be -- but the 35,000-strong crowd of American football fans brought nothing but good vibes to the streets, bars and indeed cash registers around Dublin city this weekend.

"Look around, sure where would you get it? It's the boom time all over again," laughed one enthusiastic bar tender in Dublin's Temple bar.

Yesterday morning a marching brass band thundered up the party district's cobbled streets, to cheers from diners, who rushed out from restaurants to catch a glimpse of the colourful brigade.

In the square, giddy fans sat on the back of a big, red tractor, while a traditional Irish folk band sat on haystacks playing the tin whistle, violin and bodhran.

They were loving every minute of it.

You could see it in their faces, their cheery chat to strangers -- and of course their free-flowing wallets.

At the Morgan Hotel, which was booked out by 'high-end' Americans, staff spoke of their success over the weekend.

Edward Sweeney, hotel manager, said: "Every room has been booked out, the last few filled up very quickly last night. They're throwing parties in the Penthouse and at the bar last night we sold three bottles of 12-year-old whiskey. To put it into perspective, we'd usually sell half a bottle a year at €24 a shot. It's incredible," he added.

Meanwhile, Morgan owner Paul Fitzpatrick described the feedback from the customers:

"They are talking about a 'New Ireland'. They can't get over the changes since they've been here 10-odd years ago. They're really impressed with the infrastructure, transport, services. We're going to get a lot of return business on the back of this over the next few years. It's been superb for the economy."

Most hotels were at full capacity -- a welcome after a difficult summer.

A spokesman for the Irish Hotel Federation said: "This weekend's activities have been a tremendous boost to tourism and the city. Based on the previous occasion when an event like this was held, we have seen a 30 per cent increase.

"Return US visitors are definitely one of our key markets."

On Friday night, in Dandelion nightclub, a group of uber-wealthy American businessmen took over the VIP section where they popped open bottle after bottle of Dom Perignon at €250 each time.

Expensive drinks flowed in the chic reserved area as the pretty hostess explained how several of the clientele had flown in on private jets to "party like the Irish" before jetting out again straight after the game.

Many Americans, when asked about the highlight of their trip, said it was the Gathering concert in the 02 -- which reduced some of them to tears.

The party -- attended by several high-profile developers -- combined a traditional Notre Dame pep rally with performances from some of Ireland's top musical talent, including Brian Kennedy, Damien Dempsey, Eimear Quinn and The High Kings.

The Notre Dame Band and Folk Choir also performed on the night to celebrate the football played by the Fighting Irish.

"They did it better than we even do back home. It was incredible, emotional, a breathtaking experience. We can't say enough about it," said the Regan family back at the Herbert Park Hotel -- as they drank whiskey at an impressive €15.50 a glass.

One chauffeur told the Sunday Independent that "there wasn't a car to be had this weekend" as wealthy Americans booked up fleets to take them around the city in the coming days, while others wanted to be chauffeur-driven to the West.

Notre Dame T-shirts, caps, badges and flags covered Dublin -- with some wearing the official green jewelled rings from the university.

Sitting in the city centre's Bad Ass Cafe, Richard and Tim Aherne -- who spent €2,500 each on the five-day trip -- described how the passion for their team was in their blood, as Tim lifted his trousers to proudly show off a Notre Dame tattoo.

"The green rings that you see in the crowds -- there's a couple of thousand of those," explained Richard, "but the real special ones -- they're the real diamond rings bearing the letter ND, which the championship players wear.

"They're only for the champs," he nodded with a kind of reverence for the star players who have brought them all together.

The money spent over the weekend was well worth it, according to Annie, a Notre Dame supporter who was visiting with her family.

"This only happens once in a blue moon, so why not?"

And sure enough, the rare celestial occurrence appeared over the Irish skies last night -- as Ireland Inc rang in figures not seen since the heady days of the boom and breathed a collective sigh of 'God Bless America' in thanks.

Sunday Independent