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University of Notre Dame - the "Fighting Irish" now and forever

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Tommy Rees will lead the Fighting Irish against the USC Trojans
on Saturday night.
{Photo: Chicago Sun-Times}
Let's get one thing straight right off: the name "Fighting Irish" is non-negotiable. Notre Dame was, is and must remain the "Fighting Irish." The PC brigade cannot be allowed to change that.

There has been a lot of hoopla lately about the Washington Redskins' name. Is the name Redskins based on racial stereotypes? Certainly. But is it insulting? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. The name was originally chosen by the Boston (yes, Boston) NFL franchise because there was a local Major League baseball team called the Braves. (Yes, Boston Braves. Atlanta came later.)

So the owner was only doing as so many business leaders have done before: copying a successful model. With hindsight he could have chosen a less racially insensitve name, but he certainly didn't mean it as an insult. No owner would want the players and fans to feel anything but pride in their team's name.

The name and the logo were chosen to invoke a certain spirit, the spirit of a warrior people. By choosing the name 'Redskins' the owner was saying, 'We want our players to show the same indomitable spirit on the gridiron as the Indians showed on the battlefield.'

I don't think that's insulting, but I haven't seen the Redskins play in over 20 years. I have no idea how that name and logo are employed and deployed by the club.

In fairness to the PC brigade the name Redskins does 'sound' awful, especially to our über-sensitive racially tuned ears. And, let's face it, the name 'Redskins' was neither chosen nor adopted by Native Americans.

The same is not true of "Fighting Irish." The name goes back to the Civil War, when it was used to describe the Irish Brigade. The name "Fighting Irish" had nothing to do with drinking or loutishness. It was a compliment, one that said, "These men are resolute, bold, courageous ... admirable. We're glad they're on our side." That was BIG for the Irish in America at that time.

One of those Fighting Irish was Father William Corby, chaplain to the Irish Brigade. Fr Corby, who was recommended for a Medal of Honor for his service during the war, became President of Notre Dame after the war. The fact that Corby was known as "The Fighting Chaplain" and was well known for his Irish Brigade service may be the source for the name "Fighting Irish" coming to be associated with Notre Dame. Maybe. Nobody knows.

Absolution Under Fire, by Paul Henry Wood
Fr Corby giving absolution to the Irish Brigade before the 2nd day of fighting at Gettysburg.
{Image thanks to CivilWarTalk.com}

How Notre Dame became the "Fighting Irish" is lost to time, but by the 1920s the team was known as the "Fighting Irish" and their fans were more than just their students and alumni. As Paul Gallico wrote before a Notre Dame–Army game in New York during the 1920s:

This is the annual gathering of that amazing clan of self-appointed Notre Dame alumni which will whoop and rage and rant and roar through our town from sunup until long after sundown tomorrow in honor of a school to which they never went.

Those are the Subway Alumni - unique in college sports. And why? What caused this phenomenon? Why the allegiance? The name is the key: these people who never went to college, who only hoped and prayed that their children or grandchildren would have such an opportunity were loyal to the name, to the "Fighting Irish."

I suspect that if I hated Notre Dame I'd want to see the nickname changed. Not because "Fighting Irish" was an insult to the Irish, but rather because I'd think Notre Dame unworthy of such a name. The name "Fighting Irish" is one that should be spoken in reverence. Notre Dame is fortunate to have had their playing teams dubbed with so noble a moniker.

The only way I'd want to see Notre Dame change their nickname is if the university proved itself unworthy of the name. And how will I know when that day's arrived? I'll know if they don't shout down those who demand a change. That will be the moment.

If those who run Notre Dame can't muster the will, the courage, the stomach to withstand the threats of the PC bullies, if they're too lily-livered to stand up and fight for the name "Fighting Irish"  I'll know, indeed we'll all know - Notre Dame is no longer worthy of its nickname.

Until that day we root for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. If that dark day should ever come we'll have to find a new home for the "Fighting Irish."

Go Irish. Go Fighting Irish.

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