Another Fighting Irish tale from THE CLARKIVES
By: Len Clark, PhD
It started with a text from Irish Illustrated Recruiting Analyst Kevin Sinclair a few years ago – “Len, did you know Notre Dame recruit JD Bertrand has a Dublin connection?”
In addition to my role with Irish Illustrated, I provide a weekly Notre Dame Report during the football season in Ireland on Dublin City FM’s “On the Ball” program. The report helps keep the growing Notre Dame fanbase there up to date on happenings with the team.
I immediately reached out to introduce myself and to learn more about the connection to Ireland.
This season with JD starting and playing nearly every snap at Will Linebacker, the fair city of Dublin is excited to be following the exploits of the Alpharetta, Georgia native and the radio station has adopted him as their player to follow.
So how does Notre Dame’s leading tackler have ties to the Emerald Isle?
It comes through JD’s father – Jim Bertrand.
Jim, an American, spent his high school years living in Greystones, a coastal town in County Wicklow located just south of Dublin. His father (JD’s grandfather) chose Ireland as the European base of operation for the company he represented.
While looking for places to locate in Ireland in the late 1970s, the elder Bertrand picked up two hitchhikers. Hugo MacNeill, who would go on to be an international rugby union player, and Terry McManus.
The two not only suggested a suitable location for the company, but also insisted the boys attend Blackrock College.
Blackrock College is a Catholic secondary school known for its rigorous academics and prowess on the rugby pitch. But getting into the school proved to be tougher than a Notre Dame goal line stand against USC.
“My Dad was told there was no room at Blackrock for my brother, Chris, and I due to a waitlist,” said Jim Bertrand. “He even offered to buy our desks. And, as a last resort, he suggested to the head priest to at least meet us,” added Jim.
Once they saw how big and athletic the American kids were, things worked out.
With no American football to play, Jim joined the rugby team and learned many life lessons on the pitch, in addition to developing life-long relationships with teammates Neil Francis and Eoin MacNeill, and his former rugby coach, teacher, and current Blackrock Principal Alan MacGinty.
Jim captained the Blackrock team his final year and led them to the Leinster Cup Championship, after finishing as runner-up the three previous seasons. Jim Bertrand is one of a very few rugby players in Ireland to have medaled four straight years.
After receiving his “leaving cert” (high school diploma) Jim came back to the USA to attend college at the University of San Diego where he joined the crew team. Upon graduation he stayed in southern California to work in medical sales. There he met his wife, Christine, a USC graduate.
They married and eventually settled in Alpharetta, Georgia to raise their 3 boys who attended Blessed Trinity in Roswell, Georgia.
- Chris, is a graduate of Elon University and the University of Georgia Law School.
- John Michael, is a graduate of Furman University, currently a graduate transfer playing baseball for the Fighting Irish and working on his second Notre Dame degree.
- And, of course, JD who led his high school to back-to-back Georgia 4A High School football championships.
Athleticism is in the DNA of the Bertrand boys.
It was natural for the boys to compete in athletics, considering Jim’s rugby background, mother Christine playing tennis in high school and her father, Jack Muellerleile, who played center at Missouri in the early 1960s. His head coach at Mizzou? Future Notre Dame head coach, Dan Devine. Not only that, but their great-grandfather, Cecil Muellerleile, played and coached football at St. Louis University where he also served as the athletic director in the 1930s.
In addition to their lineage, the Bertrand boys also challenged each other. Each of them has attained the rank of Eagle Scout, but they also learned the importance of family and loyalty from their mother Christine, who describes her role as “family manager.”
Recently Christine went to play tennis with her eldest son, Chris, and wore her USC hat. Putting her loyalty to the test.
“I grew up listening to “Fight On”, but I also watched Notre Dame growing up,” said Christine. “So, I was thrilled when JD and John Michael had the opportunity to attend Notre Dame and at the end of the day, I’m an Irish fan.”
After the Spring game, Brian Kelly was asked about JD’s progress and replied, “he’ll get his chance to play due to his talent and outstanding work ethic.”
Fast forward to Fall camp and Linebacker Marist Liafau goes down with a broken leg – enter JD Bertrand.
You couldn’t ask for a better storyline for the Notre Dame Report on Dublin City FM.
You can also credit the Bertrands for helping to globalize Notre Dame football. Unfortunately due to travel restrictions imposed by COVID, friends from Ireland will have to wait until next season to see JD and a Fighting Irish football game. But they will continue to follow his progress on television and Dublin City FM.
Being the parents of two Notre Dame student-athletes, Jim and Christine are enjoying the experience and sharing it with friends.
“We travel the 12 hours to Notre Dame and to away games because we know there are only so many Saturdays to watch JD. We’ll also do the same thing in the spring for John Michael,” said Jim.
With JD redshirting one year and gaining another year of eligibility due to COVID, there is a chance for him to play another 3 years for the Irish and to play in Dublin against Navy at Aviva Stadium to open the 2023 football season. That would bring the Bertrand family Ireland connection full circle because one thing is for certain, the tough sport of Irish rugby, played a role in the development of Notre Dame’s leading tackler, JD Bertrand.
The Notre Dame Report on Dublin City FM will continue to follow the exploits on the gridiron of JD Bertrand and his teammates, but the report will even get more exposure next season in Ireland when 2022 recruit Darren Agu, born in Ireland, joins the Fighting Irish.