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Jul 2, 2012

Reviving the Fighting Irish: Vol. II: Part III

Reviving the Fighting Irish:
The real significance of the words "Fighting Irish" at Notre Dame

Vol. II: Part III Fighting Irish-Americans (4th of July Edition)

The Civil War had a profound influence on the way American society went on to perceive Irish-Americans.  In some ways, the war reinforced negative stereotypes that had already begun to solidify in association with the Irish due to reactions against post-famine immigration.  In others, it presented Irish-Americans with great opportunities to prove themselves as full-blooded American Yankee-Doodle Dandies. 

As the Civil War escalated, the Notre Dame community became deeply involved in the war effort.  Students and faculty joined the fight almost exclusively on the Union side, with 7 Holy Cross priests serving as chaplains and over 80 sisters from St. Mary’s College serving as nurses in Union army hospitals.  As the United States was torn apart by violence, those Irish-Americans and members of the Notre Dame community who were drawn into the war became all the more closely associated with the image that would eventually give rise to the “Fighting Irish” nickname.

By adopting American patriotism as a major element in their self-identity, Irish-Americans could finally prove themselves worthy of being accepted as part of American society.  There was no better symbol of this process than the Irish Brigade, whose members used their Catholic faith, pride in their Irish heritage, strong sense of American patriotism, and unmatched bravery to come together and become an iconic symbol of fighting pride. 

The Irish Brigade first came about when prominent nationalist-rebels in Ireland began to associate their cause with that of the Union.  They believed that the creation of an Irish republic depended on the survival of the American republic, which led them to adopt the ideal of American patriotism as their own.  Irish history directly influenced the Irish-American experience when Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish rebel leader who had escaped to the United States, mobilized this sentiment by forming the Irish Brigade within the Union Army.  His brigade, made up entirely of Irish-born and Irish-American soldiers, quickly gained a reputation as one of the bravest and best fighting units in the entire Union force.  Widely referred to as the “Fighting Irish,” and marching under their notorious green flag that never seemed to fall from the front line of every battle, these Irish-Americans established themselves as a widely celebrated symbol of both Irish pride and American patriotism.

Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., chaplain of the Irish Brigade, also gained wide renown as a brave Catholic, Irish-American, and American patriot due to his bravery on the battlefield.  In 1863, moments prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, Fr, Corby “performed an act that seized the imagination of his countrymen” by granting general absolution to the entire Irish Brigade as they began to take on fire from their position at the front and center of the Union line (Burns, Vol. 1. 25).  At this crucial moment in American history, as a famous band of Irish-Americans prepared to take part in one of the deadliest battles recorded in human history, this symbolic act stood as a tribute to the combined powers of their Catholic faith and their devotion to America.  

After the war, Fr. Corby confronted the anti-Catholic sentiment that remained prevalent in America by publishing his memoirs: “Memoirs of Chaplain Life.”  He also brought Notre Dame into the overarching narrative that blended elements of Irish, Irish-American, and American history into one.  After serving with the Irish Brigade, he became the president of Notre Dame in 1866.  In 1891 a painting named “Absolution Under Fire,” which depicted Fr. Corby blessing the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg, became a celebrated addition to Notre Dame’s permanent art collection ("Absolution Under Fire" seen above, can be viewed at the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame).  The famous scene became immortalized again in 1910 when a statue was erected at Gettysburg as the only monument to a Civil War chaplain at that time, and a matching sculpture later appeared on Notre Dame’s campus.

At the turn of the century, the effects of World War I on the United States and the struggle for independence in Ireland contributed simultaneously to infuse the Irish-American identity with American patriotism and a direct sense of “Irishness.”  These sentiments also came to surface on campus at Notre Dame, where the words “Fighting Irish” would soon come to symbolize the new identity being embraced by all those associated with the university.  

The students’ outlook during this significant period in Irish-American history was reflected in The Scholastic from the 1918-1919 academic year.  The volume was dominated by publications exploring issues related to World War I, Irish independence, and the effects of both at Notre Dame.  Numerous articles, editorials, and pictures conveyed themes of American patriotism, as did several letters from Chaplains and students turned soldiers reporting back from European battlefronts.  Just as many articles, editorials, and poetry focused on Irish themes as well.  Concerns about what it meant to be a loyal American, the best ways to retain ties with Ireland, and how to be a proper Catholic student at Notre Dame were clearly the major campus issues of the time.

The tone on campus as reflected in the 1918-1919 volume of The Scholastic came to the fore through a sermon titled “The Duties of the Soldier Student” which university president Rev. John Cavanaugh, C.S.C. delivered at the 1918 school wide opening mass.  In his sermon, the Irish-American Fr. Cavanaugh talked to the students about the great uncertainties of the era, the transformation of the University due to the war effort, and the mindset he expected all of them to take as students during the war.  He lectured them on the importance of staying true to their identities and the Catholic faith, and how both related to their duties as responsible Americans.  According to Fr. Cavanaugh, the ideal Notre Dame student was strong, devoted, and “worthy to be a soldier in the army of Archangel Michael.”

By the start of WWI, “the identification of Notre Dame with Irish America and with the cause of Irish freedom was long established and widely recognized,” and the war for independence in Ireland drew great interest amongst the students (Burns, Vol. 1, 135).  Rev. James Burns, C.S.C. (also Irish-American) highlighted this interest when he became president of the university in 1919 by establishing “two large and flourishing chapters of the Friends of Irish Freedom” on campus (Id.).  In addition, Fr. Burns invited Eamon DeValera, the iconic American-born Irish nationalist and recently-elected president of the newly established Irish Republic, to visit Notre Dame as part of his American tour.  He advertized the visit as a chance for Notre Dame students to “greet and pay their respects to the hero of the Easter Rising.” (Id.)

DeValera arrived at Notre dame on October 15, 1919, which he described as his “happiest day since coming to America.”  Upon his arrival, Fr. Burns greeted him along with the officers of the Notre Dame Friends of Irish Freedom and over 1,600 students who gave him “one of the greatest ovations that Notre Dame has ever accorded a visitor.” (The Scholastic).  As a momentous gesture, DeValera made it a point to visit the statue of Fr. Corby before touring any other part of campus.  He placed a wreath at the foot of the monument in tribute to the Irish-American hero, then gave a speech that drew parallels between the general absolution given by Fr. Corby before the Battle of Gettysburg and the absolution that was given to the Irish rebels prior to the Easter Rising.  Afterwards, he visited the Notre Dame library to view the Gaelic collection, including the sword of General Meagher (which I’ve held!) and the flag of the Irish Brigade (which is sadly stored away and out of sight in some vault).  Finally, in front of a packed house inside Washington Hall, the Irish president made an emotional appeal for American support that produced several more standing ovations from the students.  Unsurprisingly, DeValera’s visit gave momentum to the “Fighting Irish” nickname and student publications soon began using the term consistently to describe the prowess of their football team.

DeValera at Notre Dame, 1919

Just three days after DeValera visited campus, the editors of The Scholastic published a letter they had received from an anonymous ND grad who was upset about their use of the term “Fighting Irish” in a recent article about the football team.  This individual, who revealed himself only as “An Alumnus and Former Athlete,” claimed that the term was un-American, misrepresentative of Notre Dame, and that those of Irish ancestry did not deserve credit for all of the athletic success at the university:

 “Dear Sir: Your article in The Scholastic of September 27, 1919 has come to my attention. It contains very little on football, but a great deal on “fighting Irish spirit.” Such characterizations do not do Notre Dame any good. Besides others have and do attend Notre Dame who are not Irish. If you study Notre Dame's athletic history you will find that most of her athletic prowess was gained by others than Irishmen. You have yet a long life to lead and much to learn. Better start now! And in these days, you know, we are all Americans.”                       
-Alumnus and Former Athlete

The editors of the scholastic followed this letter with an open invitation for all Notre Dame students to submit replies that would be published the following week (thus initiating a 1919 version of today’s Viewpoint wars).  In doing so, they rightly predicted that current students would not share this particular former student’s sentiments.  Consequently, the letter set off a firestorm that may have given the “Fighting Irish” nickname more momentum than even DeValera could have. 

With the words of the most famous fighting Irishman at that time still ringing in their ears, Notre Dame students blasted the anonymous graduate who had criticized the “Fighting Irish” nickname.  The editors of The Scholastic published six student responses in a section of the next week’s edition called “Replies to an alumnus and former athlete.” (The Scholastic, LIII (1919-1920), p 78-80).  Each response took a different approach, but they all shared the same message in defense of the words “Fighting Irish” as they vigorously protected what they deemed to be an important part of their historical legacy and a symbol of the ideals they held with high esteem:

Excerpts from published student responses:

 “The study, which you suggest, of Notre Dame's athletic history as recorded in the Athletic Guide, that a total of 470 monograms awarded at Notre Dame in the last thirty years and 260 have been given to men whose names strongly indicate Gaelic stock; that of the 92 men chosen to captain the Notre Dame teams, 58 have decidedly Irish names…”  - E. Morris Starrett, '21

 “You do not seem to understand, as any alumnus of Notre Dame should understand, that ‘You don't have to be from Ireland to be Irish.’ The term as applied to the Notre Dame athlete has for decades in everybody's understanding - except your own, as it seems - meant merely that he possesses in some degree certain qualities in which the sons of Erin excel - among others, wit, grit and patriotism. If we could all boast of these attributes we should better Americans for it." -M.J. Tierney, '21

“Cultivate some of that ‘fighting Irish spirit’ and don't spend the rest of your days grumbling because Notre Dame is not the Polish Falcon, or the Spanish Omelette.” - T.H.Beacom, '20

“You evidently need to open your heart as well as your eyes to the fact that this term signifies merely that Notre Dame athletes are characterized by those natural fighting qualities of the Irishman…”  - L.Ward, '20
“Far be it from us to attribute Notre Dame's athletic prowess solely to athletes of Irish descent... As a Catholic university, however, Notre Dame has always had in its student body a great number of Irish descent, and nowhere has this fact been more evident than in the athletic squads who have fought her battles at home and abroad with the grim determination most aptly known as the Irish spirit. It is for this reason that the sport writers of the daily press have long ago fixed upon us irremovably the designation, ‘Fighting Irish.’  Your attitude savors of a prejudice against the race of Erin which we find hard to reconcile with your training at Notre Dame. The athletes not Irish on the present and former Notre Dame teams would, I am sure, dare you to find an expression which could better express the do-or-die spirit which has always characterized the Gold-and-Blue athletes.”                                                      
- Walter O'Keefe, '21

“…The joke in your note concerning the “fighting Irish spirit” is thoroughly appreciated. Personally, I imagine you a great big generous-hearted “harp,” with the map of Ireland printed all over your Celtic face and a hat “like the one my dear old father wore” - on your head. You were, I am sure, just doing your little share to arouse enthusiasm at Notre Dame for the coming of De Valera [President of Ireland] last week.  There are but two interpretations possible to your letter, and I think I have taken the right one. If not, then you are obviously an Orangeman, or perhaps your athletic record, if looked up, would show you a Mongolian.”                                                                       -T.J. Duffy

The debate sparked by one angry alum's disapproval of the “Fighting Irish” nickname also became a debate about self-identity at Notre Dame.  With sarcasm, a sense of humor that allowed them to poke fun at Irish stereotypes, and obvious knowledge of Irish-American and Notre Dame histories, the students came out in full force to defend what they saw as an integral piece of their group identity.  At this high-point of direct connections between Irish, American, and Irish-American narratives at Notre Dame, the term “Fighting Irish” clearly matched the collective consciousness of the student body.  Their freshly strengthened sense of “Irishness” understandably made identification with the nickname appealing.  At the same time, Notre Dame’s contributions to the war effort and its association with the recently elevated social status of the Irish-American community separated it from the negative Irish stereotypes of the post-famine era.  Accordingly, students no longer felt threatened by the image associated with the words “Fighting Irish.” Thus, the term became a symbol of pride that allowed them to assert themselves by claiming it as an embodiment of American ideals and honorable “Irish” qualities.  

Reviving the Fighting Irish:

(Vol. II: Part IV to come Monday, July 9)

Jul 1, 2012

Power Hour Like A Champion Today

It's July!


Our very own DJ LepreCon just dropped his latest work - the new Official Pre-Game Anthem of all Fightin' Irishmen & Women: Power Hour Like A Champion Today (feat. The Rocket, Dr. Lou & Rock) just in time for your 4th of July festivities.  Plan accordingly, and we hope to hear this mix bumpin' throughout the JACC lots come September!

download link: http://soundcloud.com/djleprecon/power-hour-like-a-champion

(Remember to always Power Hour responsibly and in moderation)

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule
DateOpponent / EventLocationTime / Result
09/01/12vs. Navy Dublin, IrelandW, 50-10
09/08/12vs. PurdontNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-17
09/15/12at SpartyEast Lansing, Mich.W, 20-3
09/22/12vs. SkunkbearsNotre Dame, Ind.W, 13-6
Shamrock Series
10/06/12vs. Da UChicago, Ill.W, 41-3
10/13/12vs. TreesNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-13 (OT)
10/20/12vs. BYU Notre Dame, Ind.W, 17-14
10/27/12at Oklahoma Norman, Okla.W, 30-13
11/03/12vs. Pittsburgh Notre Dame, Ind.W, 29-26 (3OT)
11/10/12at Backup College Chestnut Hill, Mass.W, 21-6
11/17/12vs. Fake Worest Notre Dame, Ind.W, 38-0
11/24/12at U$C Los Angeles, Calif.W, 22-13
1/7/13vs. AlabamaBCS CHAMPIONSHIP
(Miami, Florida)
L, :(