The Fighting Irish have a rich history, one of which was fraught with prejudice before victory and terriers before leprechauns.
According to a Notre Dame religious bulletin released in 1953 the name “Fightinig Irish” has more meaning than what the average sport fan might think.
“To us, it doesn’t mean race exclusively; nor is it just another nickname.” the bulletin stated. “The fact is, it keeps alive the memory of a long, uphill fight for recognition against a spirit that was not always generous, nor even fair-minded.”
The bulletin went on to say that in colonial times, the term “Irish” was a slur because it rerferred to the unwanted Catholic immigrants, a majority of whom were Irish. The terms “Catholic” and “Irish” became interchangeable at the time and Notre Dame’s teams were called both. At the time it was common for team’s to be called by their religious afflilations.
As other schools’ teams abandoned their religious names, Notre Dame proudly held on to the name “Irish” despite it’s original derogatory context.
As for the name “Fighting Irish”, its origination is unknown with many surrounding rumors.
One rumor reported on the Notre Dame athletics website said the name came at halftime in a game against Northwestern in which the Wildcats began chanting “Kill the Fighting Irish!”
Another prominent legend says the name came about in a 1909 game where Notre Dame trailed behind Michigan. During halftime one of the players yelled to his team mates whose last lames were predominantly Irish, “What’s the matter with you guys? You’re all Irish and you’re not fighting worth a lick!”
According to the website Notre Dame came back for the win and the press who overheard the player reported the game as a victory for the “Fighting Irish.”
However the name came about, by the 1920’s the name stuck. But as the demand for a team mascots rose the Fighting Irish had difficulty settling on a mascot until the 1930’s.
After several mascots including film actress Sally O’Neil, Notre Dame turned to animals, including canaries, goats, and trick dogs.
As years passed, dogs stole the spotlight and became the main mascots for the team.
After having a hairless Mexican and an American bulldog named Mike, the team fittingly narrowed the mascot down to Irish terriers.
The team’s first Irish terrier was presented in 1924. According to the Notre Dame Archives the student body participated in a contest to name the dog and decided upon Tipperary Terrence, or Terry for short. Unfortunately, the dog was hit by a car just a few short months later.
“The need of a mascot was acute.” the Notre Dame Daily, the school’s newspaper said. ” All the other colleges in the United States have their mascot supposed to represent in some manner the character of the school. Terry was given to the school because it was felt that one of his breed was the best standard bearer that we could possibly have.”
The school replaced Terry with Tipperary Terrence II who then was later replaced with Top Shaun Rhu, another Irish Terrier who was known for wandering on campus and the city streets. In 1933 Top Shaun Rhu finally wandered off a little too far and was never seen again.
One of the most well-known Irish Terrier mascots was Clashmore Mike, who came onto the field in 1935 and became a University favorite who, according to the Notre Dame Archives, entertained the crowd with his sideline gymnastics for ten years before he died. Clashmore Mike received the honor of being buried in the Notre Dame Stadium in 1945.
The history of the Irish Terriers is extensive, including one terrier that had to be “put away” according to Notre Dame Archives for “(becoming) disctinctly anti-social.”
1940 is the first year an “Irishman” appeared at a Notre Dame pep rally, but it wasn’t until 1960 that Notre Dame introduced the mascot we know today as The Leprechaun.
For years both the terriers and The Leprechaun shared the Notre Dame field, but with the creation of Ted Drake’s leprechaun logo that was featured in TIME magazine in 1964, The Leprechaun became a more prominent symbol while the appearance of terriers slowly tapered off by the 1970s.
The Leprechaun remains one of the few human mascots in college football today with a green hat and trimmed beard, but many have not forgotten the terriers that originally represented the team. Since the 1980’s efforts have been made to reinstate more terriers as mascots. So far the dream of bringing back the Irish terriers has not come to fruition.