Notre Dame football's leprechaun, LepreConal, hails from the Emerald Isle
The path to the Golden Dome and the Notre Dame sidelines has been anything but a smooth one for Conal Fagan, the 2020 football leprechaun. Also known as LepreConal, this Emerald Isle native spoke about his journey to Notre Dame, the heartache he has endured and how he stays positive.
"Sometimes I reflect upon and think about all the people who have been on this campus and walked on the same ground that I walked on. Every morning I wake up and see the Golden Dome out my window. It strikes me at times knowing that I’m in America and not Ireland," Fagan said.
The dome is now home for Fagan. It's over 3,600 miles away from his home in Derry, Ireland.
"I come from a working-class family. Two brothers and a sister and they’re all back at home. Parents didn’t go to the university so I am first generation student so it’s pretty amazing being here and being surrounded by this incredible place," Fagan said.
Back in Ireland, Fagan had teachers that pushed him academically and it ultimately led to his acceptance at Notre Dame.
“I was part of an academic program back home to help kids apply to America. There's 150 people from across the UK that were applying so it’s pretty awesome to be part of that group and see kids all across the US. But I definitely picked the right college," Fagan said.
While he has enjoyed and cherished his time on campus, there have been tough times.
“It's been difficult at times as well. When my father passed away and stuff so having to deal with that, as well, was something extremely difficult," Fagan said.
Just 3 months after settling in South Bend, on November 18, 2017, Fagan's father passed away. He had been battling Alzheimer's disease for seven years.
“Coming to America I knew it was going to happen at some point. It was a prolonged illness so I had that in the back of my mind. But at the same time it was what would he want me to do. I sort of see this as my legacy. Living my life through him. He constantly in the back of my mind. I know he would be proud of me doing what I am today. Probably wouldn’t expect me to be in this position yeah but definitely would be proud of me," Fagan said.
Fagan is also a gifted athlete.
"I played soccer growing up. I played on the national team under 16 level. I made the practice varsity squad here but I decided to take a step back from it here and take on a new challenge. I was ready to come across the Atlantic Ocean and embrace something new," Fagan said.
In the spring of 2018 and in the spirit of his Irish heritage, Fagan decided to try out to be a Notre Dame Leprechaun.
He jogged to center court, did his best jig and started on a journey to leave his legacy on the university he loves.
“It was tough. In a sense I was going into the unknown, coming to a different culture. Although we speak the same language, eat the same food - it's still a different culture. That was difficult to adjust to at the start. But like anything else you become accustomed to it and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in life," Fagan said.
Part of the trinity of leprechauns for two straight seasons, there was just one more goal to complete: leading the Irish out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium on football Saturdays.
It's a goal he has accomplished.
This season hasn't been ideal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He would have been the leprechaun for the Notre Dame game against Navy in Ireland.
And there are just 15,000 fans in the stands instead of 65,000.
But Fagan knows that through heartbreak comes healing, through adversity comes action.
And dreams that started 3,600 miles away, can come true.
“The leprechaun is such a prestigious position, so having that culture and that heritage and knowing I’m part of that is something pretty special," Fagan said.
Not only is Fagan the leprechaun and a full time student in his senior year, he works with Catholic charity organizations in South Africa and Ireland.