Until there’s football in Ireland, I had a more important mission

Alice, my museum tour guide, cut me off.

“Have you ever been to the Anne Frank Museum?”

Oh, she’s good.

“You must believe. If you don’t believe, you’re just not trying hard enough.”

Is she from Athens?

Georgia Tech plays a football game here at the end of the week. Having arrived in town a day ahead of the team, I thought I would spend a little time exploring such an unusual part of the world to hold a college football game, where college football ranks somewhere behind hurling, Gaelic football, rugby, soccer, darts and drunk darts. It seemed so much more interesting than how Boston College would defend the option.

I read about a poll that indicated one-third of the people in Ireland believe leprechauns exist. This poll was conducted by a distillery that makes Irish whiskey, but I’m sure that’s a complete coincidence. It just as easily could’ve been General Mills, which makes Lucky Charms.

“They exist,” Alice assured me as she took my $14 Euros, which in English translates to “breakfast expense.”

Have you seen a leprechaun?

“No. But I live in the city,” she said. “They’re only out in the country. I’ve heard so many strange stories about fairies and leprechauns, so it makes you believe. And they’re very small so they’re hard to see. Yeats said they’re one-third the size of a normal person.”

Organizers are determined to turn Dublin into a college football hotbed. I believe their best chance for success is to spread rumors that a mischievous leprechaun has been known to visit the stadium, particularly for a conference game. I’d show up just to see if Paul Johnson punched him.

The Georgia Tech-Boston College game will be the ninth college game played here since 1988 and the seventh involving FBS schools. Promoters expect up to 20,000 fans to travel from the U.S. (slightly more from Atlanta than Boston), which is impressive considering this trip is far more expensive than an average weekend tailgate.

Several city streets are decorated with signage and balloons promoting the game and some stores and kiosks are selling shirts and scarves, although the colors are off a bit. There are red (not maroon) and black balloons for Boston College, which actually could serve as extra motivation for Tech, and some Jackets’ gear is stitched in gold-and-black (not blue).

The game is expected to draw about 40,000 fans in the 50,000-seat Aviva stadium. The larger stadium, Croke Park (82,00o), is reserved for bigger sports events: Hurling (which has its league title game the day after Tech-B.C.) and Gaelic football (the championship is in three weeks).

A soccer game was held in Aviva Stadium Wednesday night, precluding the Jackets from moving all of their equipment into the locker room.

“We didn’t realize there was an issue until last week,” said a stadium worker, Paddy Newman (yes, that’s his name).

How big is American college football?

“It’s getting better,” Newman said. “It’s never going to be hurling or Gaelic football. You can’t get a ticket for those games. But in Ireland, we’re happy to watch anything.”

Damon Halaburda, who works at the Old Storehouse pub, needed reminding which two teams were playing Saturday?

“Which one’s better?” he said.

I shrugged.

“I don’t know how much people here know about American football but they like the show,” he said. “When Central Florida played here a couple of years ago, those people took this place over. There must’ve been 900 or 1,000 people in here. The cheer girls were up on stage. People were standing up on tables.”

Do I want to know more?

“Probably not.”

Dublin may be more like a college football town than it realizes.

I was walking through the Temple Bar district, which not surprisingly has no temples but many bars. There, sitting outside a corner pub, was a full-size, not “wee” man, dressed in half of a leprechaun costume. He looked kind of grumpy while holding his fake oversized smiling leprechaun head.

My earlier training at the museum led me to believe he was a fake.

“I thought leprechauns were small,” I said to him.

(What was he going to do, throw his head at me?)

“Some of us are big,” he said.

“So you’re real?”

“Of course I’m real.”

“How can I be sure?”

“You can never be sure. Welcome to Ireland.”

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