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Notre Dame Fighting Irish logo Photo by: Google Images

The origins of Notre Dame’s name - why the Fighting Irish are the Fighting Irish

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish logo Photo by: Google Images

A squat man wearing a green and yellow suit, complete with a square hat, and pointed shoes raises his arms in a fighting stance. His bushy eyebrows like his beard are fierce. He is not the type of guy you want to meet alone in an alley or alone anywhere. As any college football fan could tell you this is the mascot of the University of Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish.

But exactly are the “Fighting Irish”? How did this name come to be and Why is this mascot so angry are questions that need to be answered.

The name Fighting Irish finds its origins in the Anti-Catholic sentiment facing the Irish immigrants of the early 19th century. Being that the majority of the first Irish immigrants were catholic they were congruous in the minds of the puritans at the time. The Irish faced oppression in the forms of ”Irish need not apply” signs in help wanted ads and chants of “Irish go home.” The term fighting Irish was a slur in New England during this period.

The school has thus embraced this underdog status and has used it as a badge of honor to represent “everyone who suffers from discrimination; to everyone who has an uphill fight for the elemental decencies, and the basic Christian principles woven into the texture of our nation”, according to Dorothy V. Corson in her essay “Why the Fighting Irish.

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The University of Notre Dame was established in November 26th, 1842. Its Irish tradition grew around the college’s location. It was the first major Catholic college, founded by Holy Cross brothers, in the midwest with access to such major cities as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwuakee. To this day 80 percent of the undergrad population at the university is Catholic.

Another origin of its nickname as applied to its football team established in 1887 has many theories. The school originally played under the name of the “Catholics” in the 1800s and the “Ramblers” in the 1920s. The team officially adopted its current moniker “The Fighting Irish” in 1927.

The roots of its name run far deeper.

It is believed in a game in 1889 as the the Irish led the Northwestern away at halftime by the score of 5-0 the crowd got whipped in a frenzy screaming , "Kill the Fighting Irish, kill the Fighting Irish."

Others cite a game in 1909 in which the Fighting Irish were losing at the half to Michigan. An incensed Notre Dame player trying to psych up his team called out some of his fellow Irish teammates. "What's the matter with you guys? You're all Irish and you're not fighting worth a lick." Notre Dame came back to win the game and the press picked up on the players feisty comments and thus dubbed the squad “The Fighting Irish”.

The official reason for the name was printed in the journal The Notre Dame Scholastic in 1929:
 "The term 'Fighting Irish' has been applied to Notre Dame teams for years. It first attached itself years ago when the school, comparatively unknown, sent its athletic teams away to play in another city ...At that time the title 'Fighting Irish' held no glory or prestige ...
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"The years passed swiftly and the school began to take a place in the sports world ...'Fighting Irish' took on a new meaning. The unknown of a few years past has boldly taken a place among the leaders. The unkind appellation became symbolic of the struggle for supremacy of the field. ...The team, while given in irony, has become our heritage. ...So truly does it represent us that we unwilling to part with it ..."

The leprechaun we know love and fear was not always the mascot for Notre Dame. The team for years was represented by an Irish terrier dog usually with the name Clashmore Mike. A relatively new invention the leprechaun was not introduced as the official face of the football team until 1965. 

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