Beneath unusually beautiful blue skies and the lush backdrop of the green Irish countryside, earlier this week members of the Steelers organization completed a multiple day trip to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This visit followed an NFL announcement on Tuesday that the Steelers had been awarded rights to expand their brand and activities for the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland, as part of the league's 'Global Markets Program.'
On Thursday, Dan Rooney, the Steelers Director of Business Development & Strategy and the son of Steelers President Art Rooney II and grandson of late Steelers Chairman and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, and former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, were part of a media announcement in Dublin. The event was held at Croke Park, the site of the Steelers preseason game against the Chicago Bears in 1997, the only NFL game ever to be played on the island of Ireland. You can read more about that event here: The Steelers continue their bond with Ireland
Then on Friday, Rooney and Stewart made a trip to Northern Ireland, first visiting Newry, the Rooney family's ancestral home. The Steelers then traveled to Belfast for a special luncheon that included sports, business and political leaders.
"Our visit to the island of Ireland this week was an important one," said Rooney. "We were able to spend time with old friends and make many new ones across the island. Through the NFL's Global Markets Program, we look forward to being able to better serve our current fans throughout the island, as well as to welcome new ones into Steelers Nation."
For Stewart, making the trip was two-fold for him. It gave him the opportunity to recount the 1997 game, which was his first season as the Steelers starting quarterback. But more importantly, it gave him the opportunity to learn even more about Ambassador Rooney, a man he had a close relationship with during his playing days.
"It was an honor to get the call to represent for the team on this trip," said Stewart. "It was a great place to come and visit. There is so much history here with the Rooney family that I was aware of, but not to this extent. Coming here, it let me know how extraordinary of a man Mr. Rooney was. He took me under his wing when I was playing with the Steelers. He was the small guy who was the biggest man in the room. You always felt his energy. It was always positive, uplifting, quiet and reserved. But if you needed to speak to him, you could."
One thing that was evident in every corner of the island the group visited, was that appreciation for the Rooney family and the Steelers is vast.
"The warm headlines and heartfelt conversations we had, it was touching to see," said Rooney. "It goes back to what The Ireland Funds stands for, how my grandfather served his post as Ambassador, it's about unification, it's about the 32 counties, it's about spreading good will.
"What we have is a big opportunity to touch each county individually with Steelers football and spread the game we love. There is a community of football fans here that are thirsty for more."