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Students write, perform new Fighting Irish hype song

| Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Claire Kopischke | The Observer

Jim Small didn’t expect much to come of his conversation with Jay Rivera-Herrans last November.

Rivera-Herrans, a senior and film, television and theater student, was looking to write a song. Small, the University’s associate vice president for storytelling and engagement, suggested that he write it about the history of the term “the Fighting Irish.”

“We had this conversation last November and six months later he stops in my office and plays a demo of the song — it was a great surprise,” Small said. 

Now, that song, “The Fighting Irish (Of Notre Dame, Y’all)” is for sale on CD and available for streaming on Amazon and Spotify. Rivera-Herrans created the song, which is part rap and part ballad, with his classmate, Teagan Earley, a Notre Dame senior and vocalist.

Rivera-Herrans and Earley publicly performed the song for the first time on Friday afternoon at the Eck Visitors Center, followed by a CD signing at the Hammes Bookstore. At the Notre Dame Pep Rally on South Quad that evening, they again performed the song, which featured lyrics telling the story of how Notre Dame overcame anti-Irish discrimination.

For many years, Irish immigrants endured discrimination in the United States by facing stereotypes and hostility.

“Many companies openly advertised ‘Irish Need Not Apply’ — that’s how difficult it was,” Small said. “For many years in our country, the term ‘Fighting Irish’ was a derogatory slur to define Irish people as violent, drunk and prone to poverty and crime.”

Small said he has a personal connection to that story.

“As an Irish Catholic, my grandparents educated all of us as to the struggles the Irish had when they first immigrated to America in the mid-1800’s,” he said. “The only jobs they could get, if any at all, were the most dangerous or lowest paying.”

In 1909, a sportswriter at the “Detroit Free Press” used the slur “Fighting Irish” directed at Notre Dame, mocking the school for its association with Irish immigrants.

The University, however, soon embraced the term. In 1927, University President Matthew Walsh issued a statement proclaiming that University officials welcomed the spirit “embodied in the term ‘Fighting Irish.’”

Rivera-Herrans said he was inspired by how “we ended up embracing [the term] as this badge of honor to unify us.”

With that spirit in mind, he and Earley began putting that history into song, he said.

After Rivera-Herrans and Earley decided to take on the project, the actual writing process took months. Rivera-Herrans said he and Earley went through many drafts before arriving at the final product.

“At one point, I had written an entire song and we just scrapped the entire thing,” Rivera-Herrans said. “Like started from scratch, a totally different vibe and everything. But it was a lot of fun.”

The song isn’t Rivera-Herrans’ first major project. He wrote and starred in the musical “Stupid Humans,” which premiered February at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. This year, Rivera-Herrans said he’s in “development mode,” working on a wide array of projects.

Although Rivera-Herrans said he’s excited about the new song, he doesn’t want it to replace Cathy Richardson’s “Here Come the Irish,” the popular Notre Dame hype song that plays before football games.

“That’s not it at all — I’d never try to do that,” Rivera-Herrans said. “If it just becomes another little piece of the Notre Dame story, then that’s more than enough for me.”

He and Small encouraged Fighting Irish fans to download and stream the song.

“I hope our students, alumni, parents and fans will like it enough to download the song and add it to their Notre Dame playlist — for many years to come,” Small said. “I can tell you I used to have 10 songs on my Notre Dame playlist. Now I have 11.”

About Genevieve Redsten

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