The Fighting Irish – What's in a Name?

 May 31, 2016

quiet man“The Irish aren’t happy unless they are fighting someone,” my future brother-in-law had told me several years ago in reference to his mother’s penchant for stirring up trouble. While I could see this was true for his mother, I didn’t suspect that was the case for the Irish in general. I’ve known other people who are only happy when they are unhappy and didn’t consider it a character trait of any one country. I considered Notre Dame’s name, the Fighting Irish, just an indication of their skill in sports.

We had only been dating for about six months when my husband insisted I watch the movie, The Quiet Man, one of his mom’s favorites. His mom had been an Irish war bride; his dad had been stationed in Belfast during WWII where they had met. This movie, featuring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, included a long fight scene at the end, but even the heroine got in a few licks of her own during the movie.  It seems the quiet man wasn’t going to be allowed to live quietly unless he fought.

“So,” my husband asked, waiting for my response to the movie.

“It’s all about fighting,” I said. I wasn’t impressed.

Since being married to this first generation Irish man and going to Ireland twice, I’ve developed a much greater appreciation for this movie. Maybe there is something about the Irish.

The term, the Fighting Irish, was given to Irish immigrants because of their valor fighting for the Union during the Civil War. Others trace the name to anti-Catholic sentiments facing Irish immigrants in the early 19th century. Help wanted signs back then often read, “Irish need not apply.” They fought to get to America and had to fight to make a living here.

This small island’s history is full of stories of war, occupation, violence and starvation. Eking out a living on the rocky soil of Ireland was not for the faint of heart.

My Irish cousin through marriage, Brenda, recently sent me the following link about Silver McKee and Stormy Weather and their prowess in street fighting. Reading this brought to mind the fight scene in The Quiet Man.

Maybe there is something about those Irish – they have earned the term the Fighting Irish.

Do you agree? What has been your experience with “The Fighting Irish”?

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