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‘Every part of the band to represent every part of the school’: Irish Guard features two Black members for the first time, makes changes in pandemic

| Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Since its founding in 1949, the Irish Guard has remained a staple of the Notre Dame football experience. With their multicolored kilts and tall black hats, one can recognize the Guard as a symbol of the marching band. This year has proven to be history-making for the Guard in more ways than one. For the first time, there are two Black members of the Guard, juniors Tarik Brown and Kossivi “Armel” Mignondje.

Courtesy of Kilian Vidourek

Members of the Irish Guard pose at the top of the stadium during the football game against Louisville Saturday, Oct. 17. The group has temporarily replaced its traditional kilted uniform, due to the pandemic, with bright red t-shirts to wear to the games.

“After I joined marching band in my freshman year, the first thing that really got me excited was seeing the Irish Guard,” Brown said. “I remember thinking, ‘Man, I think it would be really cool to be one of those people wearing kilts.’”

The Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish was the main reason for the Guard’s creation, since spectators would get so close to the band members that the instrumentalists needed protection on their marches around campus. The Irish Guard has since become integrated into every game-day experience.

Brown said he tried out for the Guard at the end of his sophomore year after being encouraged by his friends to audition.

“There was already a culture of people supporting each other, so that sort of motivated me to audition,” he said.

Brown said this culture that the Guard has cultivated has continued throughout his entire experience.

“It’s been really great,” Brown said. “It’s been a lot of extra work, but it’s also a lot of extra fun work. The Irish Guard is like its own little family. We have all of our own traditions, and it’s just a really fun time.”

The Irish Guard has undergone several other reforms in the past 20 years, such as the inclusion of women to the group and the removal of the 6’2” height requirement.

Even though this season has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown said he still thinks the achievement that the Guard has made should be acknowledged.  

“I think that given everything that’s going on, we should still look at these things and celebrate them because that’s how we end up making progress,” Brown said. “In the past, having a woman in the Irish Guard didn’t seem like it would happen, and it happened. And now having more Black members of the Irish Guard is something that could happen, and it’s just nice to see that progress.”

Brown also tied the achievement to its relevance for all of Notre Dame.

“You want every part of the band to represent every part of the school,” Brown said. “And that includes Irish Guard, so it’s just exciting to finally see that happen.” 

Other members of the Guard spoke to the group’s inclusivity efforts. Shannon May, a Saint Mary’s senior and co-captain of the Irish Guard, said she is proud of the season’s first.

“First and foremost, it’s very exciting,” May said. “It’s very cool to be on ground zero for this achievement. It’s happening right here in front of me, and I’m very proud and excited to be involved in it with them.”

Kilian Vidourek, another captain of the Guard and Notre Dame senior, said he had similar thoughts.

“It’s super cool to have those two gentlemen ramp up the band in that way,” he said.

Vidourek also recalled the Guard featured four women last year.

“Guard is making big steps,” he said. 

Both Vidourek and May expressed their excitement for the Guard’s progression.

“The Guard started off as literally a guard to protect the band, then became this whole super rich tradition,” Vidourek said. “[The traditions] went a little too far. Now this is kind of like the start of a fresh new Guard. To enter a new year, a new era for the Guard, for the band.”

Another way in which the Irish Guard is making history is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vidourek said. The Irish Guard is still keeping the same spirit they’ve maintained for over 70 years, even if the group looks a little different this year. Instead of the traditional uniform, the Guard has been wearing red t-shirts as their signifier.

“We are still an officially functioning Irish Guard,” Vidourek said. “It doesn’t matter whether we are in kilts or not.” 

He explained that they have upheld several traditions of the Guard, like saluting “Mother Mary” when they pass by the Dome, as well as performing the Irish victory clog after every win for the football team. 

According to the captains, another change that had been made was to the Guard’s practices.

“For a while, we were just with our instrument sections, because we’re also all members of our instrument section,” May said. “We are now marching as a Guard.” 

This recent shift has helped bring a sense of normalcy back to the group, showing that the Fighting Irish spirit is still there.

“Nothing’s planned. Nothing’s structured,” Vidourek said. “We’re just going off in t-shirts, and we’re calling it the same thing. It feels the same.”

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