The Irish Guard led the Band of the Fighting Irish onto the new turf of Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday for the first time since the band directors replaced the entire group of former guardsmen with band members last April.
“The Irish Guard are an integral part of the Notre Dame Band, and the whole band did a fine job on Saturday with only a short amount of time to get ready since arriving back on campus this fall,” Dr. Kenneth Dye, director of bands, said.
The changes to the structure of the Irish Guard included the elimination of the six-foot-two height requirement and the addition of one mandatory year of service to the band as a musician or manager. Although members of last season’s Guard auditioned for this year, none were selected.
“There is no longer a definitive height requirement for Guard members, and the selection process emphasizes stature, citizenship, band service, marching ability, attitude and poise,” Dye said. “All of the current Guard meet these requirements and have fulfilled a year of service in the band as either a musician or a manager as is consistent with the selection criteria.
“Eight to 10 members may march on any given Saturday based on the precision marching routines,” he said. “The group continues to wear its traditional uniforms, marching before games as well as during pre-game, halftime and post-game, and continues to assist with the pre-game flag ceremony.”
The changes met resistance, particularly from the ousted guardsmen as well as alumni who served in the Guard. The group has been in existence since 1949, according to the Notre Dame Band website.
After Saturday’s opening game against Rice, current students noticed changes in the Guard. Junior Kim Mai said the new members did not project the same force they have in years past.
“The Irish Guard … have a way that they hold themselves, and they’re supposed to be tall and stoic and poised,” she said. “That’s the tone that they set on the field, and now you don’t really get that. It’s kind of like the end of an era.”
Junior Connor Quigley said he disagreed with the directors’ decision to change the composition of the Guard and considered it a needless break from a noteworthy tradition.
“At a University that stands so much on tradition, why change such a big one?” Quigley said. “The Irish Guard is something that is very recognizable with Notre Dame football and is a big part of game days. I don’t like that they would change it … I would rather see the Irish Guard completely removed.”
Other students, however, did not perceive any drastic changes in the Guard on the field Saturday compared to the groups of years past. Junior Kerry Walsh said although the new guardsmen appeared shorter than their predecessors, their presence was the same.
“I didn’t see much of a difference between the Irish Guard this year and last,” Walsh said. “It’s hard to tell as a student in the student section that the members are different … I saw them at halftime and remembered that they had switched the policy, so I noted they were different only at halftime. I’m also no marching expert but they seemed like they were doing a pretty good job.”
Current and former members of the Irish Guard did not respond to requests for comment.
Last spring, Dye said he and the band staff, with the approval of the Office of Student Affairs, changed the requirements for new guardsmen in hopes of increasing the leadership potential of the group and the commitment of its members.
“We’re trying to elevate the responsibility of the Guard so that they exemplify the best qualities of a Notre Dame student,” Dye said in May. “… 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.”
Dye said Sunday he expects the tradition of the Irish Guard to continue as it has for the last 65 years.
“The Irish Guard is certainly a valued and unique tradition at Notre Dame, and the University hopes that its presence will endure for years to come,” he said.