Band restructures Irish Guard
Lesley Stevenson | Friday, May 2, 2014
The Irish Guard, the kilted group of marchers who meet a six-foot-two height requirement and perform with the Band of the Fighting Irish, has undergone significant changes for the upcoming football season, Guard captain and junior Andrew Pemberton said.
“The Irish Guard will continue to be a section within the band, but will now be reserved for members who demonstrate at least one year of service and leadership as a musician or manager,” Pemberton said in an email. “The new plan likens the Irish Guard to drum majors or band president, with the goal of making membership in the Irish Guard a one-year honorary position.”
Dr. Kenneth Dye, director of bands, confirmed the change in the selection process for new Guard members. He said the band staff invited the 2013 Guard members to audition for the 2014 football season but chose to select an entirely new group from current band members based on the idea that serving on the Guard will now be a one- to two-year commitment.
“We interviewed the [previous Guard members] who decided to apply and then we told them recently that we were going to start with a new group,” Dye said. “… The idea is not to have four-year Irish Guard members or three-year Irish Guard members.
“We want to limit it to something that is done as a special leadership opportunity that is perhaps one or two years in duration. [The 2013] group has already served one or two years, and we thought that that was fair.”
Dye said he and the band staff, with the approval of the Office of Student Affairs, believe restricting membership in the Irish Guard to current band members and managers will increase their level of commitment to the specialized group.
“We’re trying to elevate the responsibility of the Guard so that they exemplify the best qualities of a Notre Dame student,” he said. “… If we pick from the membership of the  Guard rather than from an auditioning membership at the beginning of the fall, then we know what their record and habits and citizenship are, and it gives us a stronger pool of applicants and participants to really put the best people that we have in front of the band.”Pemberton said he was concerned that the changes could affect the history and tradition of the Guard, which has existed since 1949, according to the band website.
“I would hope that the significance of the Irish Guard within the band would become more prominent as a result of these changes, as that was their intended effect, but I can’t help but feel that [the Guard’s] significance on campus and as a symbol of the strength, integrity and athleticism of Notre Dame and of the Fighting Irish will slowly diminish as a result of these changes,” Pemberton said. “Regarding its legacy, this may be the end of a long line of Guardsmen who, for 65 years, have passed down the stories, techniques and respect for the uniform that originated with John Fyfe.”
“While there will still be kilted members of the band to lead it onto the field and perhaps perform Damsha Bua, our victory clog, much of the lore and pageantry that has become a large part of the pregame ritual on fall Saturdays will be lost,” he said. “There are a lot of little things that go on that spectators wouldn’t necessary notice, but have become very significant for Guardsmen and their friends and families.
“For example, just as the band is setting up for [the] concert on the steps and before we march in our ranks onto Bond Quad to meet them, we take a moment to halt in the middle of God Quad and salute Mary on top of the Golden Dome. It’s the little things that make marching out every week so special to all of us and to all of the Guard alumni — many of whom come back to greet us every week and treat us as their own kids.”
The Irish Guard began as a group of students who played bagpipes with the band, according to the band website. Dye said drawing members from current band members would move the group closer to its historical tradition.
“[We are] going back to where it started, where [Irish Guard members] were musicians in the band,” he said. “That was continued for a couple of decades and then it strayed from there. It does have musical roots, and we are going back to our roots.”
Dye said no other eligibility requirements would be changed other than the elimination of a specific height requirement.
“Next year’s Guard will all be very tall in stature, but we don’t want to put a number on a person,” he said. “So next year’s Guard will probably be visibly just as tall, but we … don’t want to ever number a person because a lot of it depends on their poise and how they stand and their posture and we want to make sure that there is a uniformity in look — that we maintain that tradition — but we don’t want to put a number on it.”
Dye said the new process will allow for more leadership opportunities within the band, a large group that he said has proportionally fewer leadership roles than other campus clubs. He said changing the policies to require one year of service in the band as a performer or manager will allow potential Guard members to demonstrate their commitment to the group.
“We’re looking for the qualities of the student,” Dye said. “We’re looking for a student that has fabulous service to the band and the community, great attendance and citizenship in the band — someone that has proven themselves in the organization for a minimum of one year, preferably longer. With the current system, there really isn’t that time to assess their leadership qualities and participation in the band.”
Dye said he hopes making the Irish Guard a more leadership-focused position within the band will give the position added prestige.
“We hope that [new Irish Guard members] are model band students and model Notre Dame students, so that when you say ‘Irish Guard,’ and you’re interviewing for job, that this is the kind of person you want for a manager or a CEO of a company,” he said.
Associate News Editor Jack Rooney contributed to this report.