Faces of Ireland featuring Conal Fagan (peace studies class of 2021)

Author: Allie Griffith

Conal Fagan ’21, the first Irish native to serve as the official Notre Dame leprechaun, returned home to Ireland to continue his mission of using sports as a means for social change. Fagan was a political science and peace studies major at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies during his time at Notre Dame.

ABC57, a South Bend-based news outlet, traveled to Dublin in advance of the Notre Dame-Navy football game in Ireland. While there, Fagan guided the news crew around the city for a taped segment, trying out new foods and showing them the sights. Watch here.

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Fagan and fianceé Maggie Arriola '17 with the Oxford Bulls, a Special Olympics team in Northern Ireland.
How would you describe the connection between Notre Dame and Ireland? How are the two places of the same spirit and values?

Community. It is the very essence of everything that we do, both in Ireland and at the University. Whether that is through a collective desire to be a ‘Force for Good’ in the world, or through a deep calling to preserve and pass on the culture and values which have been bestowed upon us, there will always be an innate yearning to see our fellow Irish succeeding. What lies at the heart of both Ireland and Notre Dame is its people; a people who are rooted in something greater than themselves. Wherever one travels, there is a willingness of the Irish to seek one another out, to reflect on the memories which they share, to share life lessons. In this way, ‘community’ to the Irish extends beyond geographical boundaries. Rather, it is the soul which unites the Irish wherever they roam.

In your current role, how do you see aspects of both your identities as an Irish native and Notre Dame alum coming together in your work and path after graduation?

Since Fall 2022, I have been working with Special Olympics International which is no stranger to either Notre Dame or Ireland. The University hosted the Summer World Games in 1987; Ireland became the first country outside of the U.S. to host the World Summer Games in 2003. While I fell in love with coaching the Oxford Bulls—a soccer team composed of individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities—in Derry, it was my time as a Hesburgh-Yusko Scholar at the University which afforded me the opportunities to understand that this was more than a love. I discovered my purpose: to use sport as a means of creating social change.

After completing my masters in disability studies at University College Dublin, I find myself constantly striving to learn more, do more, be more. What remains at the core of my work is a desire to connect with people, to be a servant-leader, and to always share Christ’s light with the world. The education that I received at Notre Dame has always reminded me the pathway is not linear. Rather, it is a journey that will stretch and challenge us to leave this world a better place than we entered, and this can only be achieved when we center Christ in every decision that we make.

What drew you to come back home to Ireland, instead of staying in the States after graduation?

After a transformational year of service with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest at St. Labre Indian School (Ashland, Mont.), I felt the need to return home. I needed time to rest and reflect upon the journey which I experienced in the United States. While I knew that I would likely return for football games and to visit friends, I recognized that I had a deep calling to return home, to serve, and to use the skills which I developed over the course of my five years in the United States. I found myself yearning to be more still in daily life, something which I could achieve by being closer to family and being in my home culture. And when I happened to meet my fiancée, a fellow Notre Dame graduate, in Dublin, I realized that Ireland is the place where I hope to raise my own family. I think I have struck the perfect balance here: friends from Notre Dame get to visit us in the most beautiful country in the world, and we get to visit them to celebrate more victories in Notre Dame Stadium. It really is the best of both worlds!

Originally published by Allie Griffith at weare.nd.edu on August 21, 2023.