Archived Story

Irish proud of ‘fighting’ nickname

Published 1:36am Sunday, March 17, 2013

Being St. Patrick’s Day, it seemed only fitting to link sports to the feast day by regaling a story about the history of how Notre Dame got the nickname of “The Fighting Irish.”

Currently there has been some politically correct talk that the Fighting Irish logo is offensive somehow to the Irish. Some say it depicts a stereotype that the Irish are historically hostile, that they drink and fight.

The argument is if schools with Indian nicknames were forced to change, the NCAA should make Notre Dame change, too.

Yeah, no other nationality or country drinks alcohol or fights, including Americans.

So somehow this is demeaning because it leads people to think that the Irish are fighters.

Damn right we’re fighters. Where do you think the nickname came from?

One story suggests that during a game in 1887 at Northwestern and Notre Dame losing 5-0 at halftime that the Wildcat fans began chanting, “Kill the Fighting Irish” as the second half opened.

A few years later in a 1909 game against Michigan, Irish quarterback John Murphy yelled to his teammates who happened to have the names Dolan, Kelly, Glen, Duffy and Ryan, “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, overhearing the remark, reported the game as a victory for the Fighting Irish.

However, the most accepted account was the press reporting the nickname as a characteristic of the Notre Dame athletic teams and their never-say-die fighting spirit and their Irish qualities of grit, determination and tenacity.

Regardless of which of the three is true, what’s the problem?

It’s a good thing the Irish had a fighting spirit. More than half the men who fought in the Revolutionary War were of Irish decent.


As a side note, Ironton is know as the Fighting Tigers but it is not offensive to anyone since it deals with an animal.

Actually, Ironton was trying to decide between the nickname of Buckeyes and Tigers. The choice would determine whether they would take the school colors of red and gray or orange and black.

At the time, Ironton wanted to have its own identity and not be linked to the university. The school chose Tigers and the current colors of orange and black.

Since that time, Tigers has become a very common nickname for teams for the obvious characteristics a tiger gives to athletic teams.

Former football coach Bob Bruney gave Ironton a distinction with its nickname during his tenure from 1966-71.

Ironton was playing then SEOAL member Waverly, also nicknamed the Tigers. Bruney said, “They’re just Tigers, but we’re the Fighting Tigers.”

And so it stuck.


It is Sunday and St. Patrick’s Day. The two are forever linked because Jesus, too, was Irish.

I know, I know, but the Bible is wrong in this case. Look at the facts. Jesus was 30 years old and still lived at home, he didn’t have a job, he had 12 drinking buddies and his mother thought he was God.

I told you He was Irish.

On the other hand, St. Patrick wasn’t really Irish. He was born in England and his real named was believed to be Maewyn Succat.

St. Patrick was born in England but was sold as a slave, imprisoned as a teen where he turned to Christianity.

Upon his release from prison, St. Patrick became a priest and went to Ireland in the year 432. At that time Ireland was a pagan country, but by the time Patrick died in 460 almost the entire nation had become Christian.

Not only did the St. Patrick “drive the snakes from Ireland” — it was a metaphor for erasing the country’s pagan ways — but he also managed to have the laws of the country changed to reflect Christianity.


On a personal note, when the potato famine hit Ireland between 1845-52, many immigrants came to America seeking a better life but were treated worse than any immigrants who have ever arrived at our shores.

Signs were posted that said “Irish Need Not Apply” for job openings or “Irish Not Welcome” at local businesses.

The Irish lived in poverty but they hung together and fought their way through the prejudice they suffered.

Two of the immigrants were my great grandparents. My great grandfather John McGowan and his wife settled in the Hanging Rock area.

From the stories I have been told, he was a typical Irishman who had a fighting spirit. He didn’t like being forced to do anything or believe anything that went against his principles and/or his Catholic faith.

Great grand-pappy operated a coalmine until one morning the men who worked for him were standing around. He asked them what was wrong and they said they wouldn’t work unless they got more money.

John McGowan shut down the mine and took up farming.

I’m beginning to understand myself a little better.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.

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