On March 17, we honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and celebrate all that is good and wonderful about the Irish.
It is a particularly festive day for Irish-Americans everywhere, who demonstrate their pride in their Irish heritage with parades and songs and celebrations from Boston to Chicago to New York to Savannah.
At Notre Dame, we proudly call ourselves the Fighting Irish. Let’s take a moment on this Saint Patrick’s Day to remember why.
Even though Notre Dame was founded by a priest from France, the history of Notre Dame and Irish-American Catholics have long been intertwined.
Countless Irish-Americans have attended Notre Dame, and several of Notre Dame’s presidents were of Irish descent. Father Patrick Dillon, who served as the second president of Notre Dame, later served as pastor of Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Chicago’s oldest surviving public building. Built by Irish immigrants, it was one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire. Father William Corby served as chaplain of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade during the Civil War, and became Notre Dame’s third president. Another president of the University, John Cardinal O’Hara, became the eighth Bishop of Buffalo and fifth Archbishop of Philadelphia.
The precise origin of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish nickname may never be known. It was popularized in the 1920s by sportswriters, including Notre Dame alumnus Francis Wallace of the New York Daily News, to characterize the fighting spirit of Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame football teams. It is believed that in the process, a phrase originally intended as a belittling stereotype became an immeasurable source of pride for Notre Dame and its legions of Irish-American admirers. The Fighting Irish nickname was made official in 1927 by Notre Dame president Father Matthew Walsh.
Ever since, associations of Notre Dame and the Irish have become inseparable. Notre Dame has worn nearly as many shades of green on its uniforms as appear in the landscape of Ireland. Beginning in 1930, generations of Irish terriers served as mascots for Notre Dame, until they retired to greener pastures, and the Leprechaun became an iconic logo and an official mascot in 1965.
The meaning of the words, the Fighting Irish, continues to evolve at Notre Dame. Yes, we are -- and always will be -- the Fighting Irish. But today, we are fighting not just to win athletic contests. We are fighting to change the world.
We might note, however, we still intend to win, just like the legendary Fighting Irish teams of days gone by. This Saint Patrick’s Day, we even have a head football coach named Kelly!
Yes, indeed, we ARE the Fighting Irish.
According to beloved lyrics written by the famed Irish tenor Chauncey Olcott in 1912, “In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.”
Surprisingly, in lyrics written four years earlier by another Irishman, an early “Double Domer” named John F. Shea, the word “Irish” doesn’t appear anywhere. Not one single mention.
But you can clearly hear the indomitable spirit of the Fighting Irish there, in every single note!
That song is called the Notre Dame Victory March. You will undoubtedly hear it more than once or twice today, perhaps even played on bagpipes, wherever the Irish gather and wherever Irish eyes are smiling.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!