- Image 1 of 3
- Image 2 of 3
- Image 3 of 3
Published June 21, 2016
While fans from other countries have damaged their reputations amid ugly scenes at the European Championship, Irish supporters have been winning friends across France with their antics and goodwill.
Both Northern Ireland and Ireland face tough final group games as they bid to remain in the tournament, against Germany in Paris on Tuesday and against Italy in Lille the following day, respectively.
However, their fans have been thriving.
Social media is full of examples of Irish kindness, from Northern Ireland fans comforting a Poland supporter on a stretcher after he was attacked by unknown assailants in Nice, or Ireland supporters picking up their leftover glass bottles after partying in Paris while singing "Clean up for the boys in green."
Ireland supporters were in full voice in Bordeaux too, serenading a pretty woman with "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," while others sang lullabies for a baby on a local train, shushing and jokingly warning fellow supporters to be quiet so the baby wasn't disturbed: "Shut up or we'll box the head off the two of ye."
That Irish wit has been a fixture at the tournament.
Ireland fans berated Swedish supporters before their game in Paris with a rendition of "Go home to your sexy wives" to the tune of Village PeoplFoe's classic "Go West." Earlier they had been singing Abba songs together.
A nun who found herself on a train with Ireland fans was also serenaded, with a jovial rendition of "Our Father."
One Paris resident was bemused to find a green army of supporters on the street outside his apartment cheering him every time he appeared on the balcony. In Clichy, Paris, an Ireland fan climbed on the roof of a van and performed a full strip tease in front of hundreds of his amused compatriots.
"We're here for the football. We like the football first, but after the football we like the craic, we like to have the fun," said Liam Brazil, who traveled from Dublin with his son Keith to cheer Ireland on against Italy. "We're only there for the sport of it. It doesn't matter what sport it is."
Before making their way to Lille, the Brazils found themselves among a throng of Northern Ireland fans partying in O'Sullivan's pub on Rue Montmartre in Paris on Monday night.
"There's no hassle, no nothin'. They wish us the best of luck and we wish them the best of luck. It's all great banter," Keith Brazil told The Associated Press.
Northern Ireland fans were singing "Will Grigg's on fire, your defense is terrified" to the tune of Gala's 1996 dance hit "Freed from Desire" - a reworking that has proved immensely popular wherever the team plays. It didn't matter that Grigg, a forward, had yet to play at the tournament.
"They're all crazy, absolutely," said Austria fan Lucas Kirchbaumer, watching from a safe distance.
"It's a football festival, everyone's getting on so well," Northern Ireland fan Matthew Gray said. "We have no expectations. England expects to get to the quarterfinals. Northern Ireland didn't expect to qualify from the group. So if we qualify, it's a bigger party."
It hasn't been all singing and drinking. Ireland fans helped an elderly couple to change a wheel after their car got a flat tire at Montmartre, Paris.
"Vive L'Irlande" (Long Live Ireland), the grateful man said.
A cyclist who found himself stuck among Irish fans congregated outside another pub was lifted up - with his bicycle - and helped onward by willing hands.
"It's our background and culture and where we come from. We're all respectful to everyone and it seems to work out well," said Tom Marshall, a Northern Ireland fan wearing a George Best jersey.
Marshall suggested having both sets of fans in a tournament for the first time had brought the sides closer together. "It's been extremely friendly, no problems at all, it's a nice thing," he said.
And it's not just the good times that have united the fans at a tournament where two Northern Ireland supporters have lost their lives. Darren Rodgers, 24, died from a fall after the team's opening loss to Poland, and Robert Rainey, 62, suffered a fatal heart attack during the win over Ukraine.
Ireland fans joined Northern Irish tributes to Rodgers by singing "Stand up for the Ulstermen" during the draw with Sweden.
The gesture reflected a growing spirit of reconciliation in both parts of Ireland, which was partitioned in 1921 into an independent south and British north. Relations have steadily improved since the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998 formally ended a three-decade conflict over Northern Ireland that had left nearly 3,700 dead.
Michael O'Neill, the Northern Ireland coach, praised both sets of supporters.
"We've seen some great scenes between the Republic of Ireland fans and our own," O'Neill told The Associated Press. "It's nice to see that football brings everyone together, particularly from both sides of the border."
Irish fans have found praise from media outlets in France and further afield. French football website So Foot asked if Irish fans were the best in the world, Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung gathered footage of their exploits on its website, and the Le Monde newspaper proclaimed, "The Irish, model supporters at Euro 2016."
As French broadcaster Mathilde Terrier told the Canal+ network, "They won't win the European Championship, but they could win the award for the best fans."