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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

ND Dublin program remembers Keough

DUBLIN — The home of the Notre Dame Dublin program sits in the heart of the Irish capital in a classic Georgian house that, from 1809 until 1847, was home to Daniel O’Connell, who is remembered as a giant in Irish history and dubbed ‘The Liberator’ for his work in attaining civil rights for Catholics in Ireland under British rule.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Whalen
Donald R. Keough, center, stands on the steps of the Keough Naughton Notre Dame Centre in Dublin. Keough, who died Tuesday, was the visionary behind the relationship between the University and Ireland.

Since 2004, though, the building bears the name of another man already remembered as a giant in American business and at Notre Dame, and who left a mark in Ireland as well. Donald R. Keough, who died Tuesday, was the former chair of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees and president and chief operating officer of the Coca-Cola Company. Along with his friend, Irish businessman Martin Naughton, he was also the benefactor of the Notre Dame Dublin program, housed at the Keough-Naughton Notre Dame Centre in Dublin.

Kevin Whelan, the director of the Dublin program and a friend of Keough, said Keough’s vision and leadership were essential to building a strong link between Notre Dame and Ireland.

“Don, when he was chair of the Board of Trustees, said that it was ridiculous for Notre Dame to be claiming to be Irish but to have actually no connection with the country,” Whelan said. “So Don insisted, really, that Notre Dame reconnect with Ireland in the 1990s. And being Don, he didn’t just talk about it. He made it happen through generously supporting the establishment of an Irish Studies program in 1993.”

After helping launch what is now the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies in 1993, Keough worked to develop the Notre Dame study abroad program in Dublin, which opened in 1998, Whelan said.

Since then, Keough was instrumental in the purchase and restoration of O’Connell House, establishing numerous internship programs for Notre Dame students in Ireland and “constantly creating opportunities” for students, Whelan said.

“All the programs that we run — the undergraduate program, the Dublin summer program, the inside track immersion program, the internship program, many of the post-graduate endeavors that we now do — all of these bear the stamp of Don, and he was always willing to champion Irish Studies within the Notre Dame family,” he said.

“All of those things are the legacy of Don’s vision. We’ve only been on the go since 1998, but there have been well over 2,000 Notre Dame students in various Dublin programs,” Whelan said. “Now, the Notre Dame relationship with Ireland is very, very strong, and it’s multifaceted now. … There can be no question but that Don Keough was the main driver of the reconnection between Notre Dame — the Fighting Irish — and Ireland.”

Beyond monetary donations, though, Whelan said Keough took the most joy in giving Notre Dame students the opportunity to experience Ireland and flourish at a crucial time in their lives.

“He met presidents and prime ministers and business leaders and people gave him all kinds of awards — all of that,” Whelan said. “But the thing that gave him the most pride — the thing that he was really proud of — was that he was able to create opportunities for young people.

“We always encouraged our students to write to him, and he loved getting letters from students. And he’d reply to them all individually. He loved being able to create transformative possibilities for young people in their lives, and I think that’s what he saw as his legacy.”

One student who has benefitted from such opportunities, senior Katie Brennan, said the Irish Studies program has been essential to her Notre Dame experience. Brennan is an Irish studies major and Irish languages and literature minor and serves as president of the Notre Dame Irish Club.

“Notre Dame's Irish Studies Department was one of the reasons I chose to attend Notre Dame, and through the program, I have been able to travel to Ireland multiple times throughout my years here,” Brennan said. “Through these programs, I have been able to learn a great deal about Ireland and Northern Ireland, which helped me discover and develop my interests in those places.

“Through my studies and research in Northern Ireland, partially funded through the Keough-Naughton Institute in the summer of 2013, I have discovered my next step in life following graduation — attending Queen's University Belfast for an M.A. in conflict transformation and social justice. Not only have my experiences with Irish studies and study abroad taught me so much and given me incredible memories, but they also have helped to shape me into the person I am today.”

Brennan, who also studied abroad in Dublin in fall 2013 and interned there in summer 2014, said Keough’s kindness and passion permeated her experience with the Irish studies program.

“Mr. Keough's generosity has been so evident in all of my experiences with Irish studies. Not only did he help provide a strong financial base for the program, but he also supported it strongly, and that enthusiasm has spread into all aspects of the program,” she said.

“I wish I could have personally thanked him for all of the fantastic experiences he helped to provide me,” Brennan said.

Keough also played a key role in bringing Notre Dame football to Dublin for a game against Navy in 2012, which Whelan said “was the single biggest mass movement of Americans into Europe outside of wartime, and which was a huge boost to the Irish economy and just an enormously successful occasion.”

Whelan said Keough’s warm personality and deep care for Notre Dame and Ireland made the Notre Dame Dublin program possible.

“He was somebody who was in our lives in a very warm, positive, generous, supportive, encouraging way always,” Whelan said. “It’s been a wonderful journey, but I think Don deserves the credit for being the pilot and the navigator and the guy who made it all happen.”