From the Archives: The Fighting Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
Uyen Le, Lilyann Gardner, Spencer Kelly and Thomas Dobbs | Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Notre Dame usually schedules spring break to include St. Patrick’s Day, but once every four years, students get to spend the beloved holiday on campus, where they participate in a combination of drunken antics and cultural appreciation.
In this week’s edition of From the Archives, we will take a look at what the Fighting Irish were up to on Paddy’s Day over the years, as Notre Dame students celebrated their school’s roots in Irish tradition but, perhaps more prominently, the excitement of being young, impulsive and adventurous.
The Observer advertises St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on and off campus
March 17, 1989 | Doug Radtke & Janice Archer | Researched by Lilyann Gardner
The Observer ensured that the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame did not fall short when it came to celebrating and partaking in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities of 1989.
Accent writers Doug Radtke (‘91) and Janice Archer (‘92) collaborated to create an outline of all the hotspots on and off campus that would make St. Patrick’s Day a worthwhile experience.
Radtke prompted Notre Dame students to embrace their “assumed Irish heritage” by looking toward several establishments across South Bend that were offering special deals, meals and activities.
“If you have been in the dark studying since you returned from Spring Break, then you may be unaware that both Bridget’s and The Commons opened their doors this morning at 7,” reported Doug Radtke as a way to kick off St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Bridget’s, a South Bend bar that was demolished in 2004, served a “Wake and Bake” breakfast, and Macri’s Deli cooked up traditional Irish foods such as “corned beef, cabbage and Irish stew” and provided a free meal to whichever customer was best dressed.
Several other restaurants and bars such as Center Street Blues Cafe and Senor Kelly’s hired live bands to play Irish folk music while patrons enjoyed their meals.
“A student band is playing at Senor Kelly’s in the early evening. So if you desire to start off in a more civil manner, you can enjoy real Irish music, traditional Irish food and green beer while sitting in a comfortable atmosphere,” offered Radtke.
Off-campus eateries were not the only places to seek great music and food.
Notre Dame’s Student Union Board sponsored a St. Patrick’s Day celebration on campus at Fieldhouse Mall that included musicians Dave Glynn and Tom Dahill, a dance floor and free Irish soda bread from University Food Services.
Additionally, Janice Archer emphasized that student organizations and the Catholic community at Notre Dame recognized that these celebrations could serve as the perfect opportunity to provide aid to struggling groups in Ireland.
Mass was held at Sacred Heart Church with the collection supporting the North Wall Women’s Center, an organization that supported unwed and impoverished mothers and expectant mothers in Dublin, and the Glee Club put on a concert at Stepan Center.
“The concert is a benefit for the Irish Children’s Fund for the betterment of children of war-torn Northern Ireland. The Fund provides relief to the children of Northern Ireland who are victimized by social and political unrest by paying to bring them to America for several weeks to remove them temporarily from their stressful situation at home,” Archer wrote.
Notre Dame students were encouraged to have fun, stay safe and honor Irish culture by taking part in all the wonderful events that were offered.
The University of Notre Dame and The Observer worked in tandem to inform and commemorate the variety of St. Patrick Day activities in 1989 that have influenced the traditions of today.
Sheer ‘shamrockery’: Irish natives assess American St. Patrick’s Day traditions
March 17, 1980 | Researched by Spencer Kelly
For Americans, St. Patrick’s Day conjures up images of parades, parties, shamrocks and spirits. But according to a couple of Irish natives, this style of celebration was not shared in St. Patrick’s home country.
“When it reached the stage of selling buttons that read ‘Kiss me I’m Irish,’ it lost all touch with the St. Patrick’s Day of Ireland,” Sean V. Golden, a Notre Dame assistant professor from Ireland, said. “The Irish call practices like this ‘shamrockery.’”
“I used to find the festivities offensive,” said Michael J. Clancy, a County Clare native who was a Notre Dame PhD candidate at the time. “But now I give the charity of my silence.”
For Golden and Clancy, this was a Holy Day of Obligation to celebrate Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. Rather than throwing a wild party, Irish Catholics would go to Mass.
After Mass, the community would often gather at the pub, but not for St. Patrick per se. Golden and Clancy said St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated as the midpoint of the Lenten season.
“It is a rest stop in the middle of Lent,” Clancy said. “On Paddy’s Day and typical Sundays the women will return [to the pub] and dance a few sets. If something is going on and if the music is good, the people may stay until closing time.”
The distinctly American St. Patrick’s Day tradition can be traced to the colonial era. Perhaps the first St. Patrick’s celebration in the U.S. was held by the Irish Society of Boston in 1737.
Over time, a host of ostensibly Irish but actually American symbols became associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Corned beef and cabbage, a popular “Irish” dish, was actually “an American invention,” according to Golden. Even the color green was misattributed.
“St. Patrick’s color is blue,” Golden said.
But other symbols represented Irish Americans intentionally taking ownership of derogatory depictions. The shamrock, first used as a slur against Irish Catholics, was later adopted by Irish people as a good luck charm. The leprechaun was initially an insulting depiction of Irish immigrants, but, as From the Archives previously explored, came to proudly represent Irish heritage.
“Irish Americans turned these forms of insults and wore them as badges of pride,” Golden said.
Still, Clancy and Golden said they would not partake in the Americanized St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Golden described his subdued plan for the holiday, more in line with Irish tradition.
“I go to a quiet bar, run by Italians, with some Irish friends and drink beer that isn’t green,” Golden said.
A tri-campus gift: Leprechauns infiltrate Le Mans bell tower
March 18, 1970 | Cliff Wintrode | Researched by Thomas Dobbs
On March 17, 1970, a group of self-proclaimed “leprechauns” — Notre Dame students Enzo F. Palmieri, Sterling J. Tufts III and Buzzard Fontinini — gained access to the Le Mans bell tower and posted a St. Patrick’s Day message. Although some may be inclined to view such a prank as impulsive, Observer Associate Editor Wintrode argued that the job “had been in the planning for a week and a half,” in which the culprits studied Saint Mary’s security patterns, hoping to find a window of golden opportunity.
After careful observation, the leprechauns concluded they had exactly 15 minutes between rotations to ascend and plant the flag on Le Mans tower. Along with the help of an unidentified female inside agent, presumed to be a Saint Mary’s student, the leprechauns posted the following message: “Happy St. Pat’s Day From Notre Dame Kudos.”
Interestingly, though the culprits had planned to complete the job in under 15 minutes to avoid detection, Wintrode added that the prank took longer than expected and that the group “marched unbusted out of the Le Mans lobby singing the Mission Impossible theme song and climbed into the getaway car.”
When asked about the motivations of the message, the Irish crew replied that they hoped the sign would “brighten up the day by the fact that some Notre Dame leprechauns got up there to do it.”
Considering that St. Patrick’s Day often coincides with spring break, the rare occasion in which St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on campus elicits special celebration. Given this reality, the mischievous leprechauns added that they had “wanted to add a little excitement and do something different and suspenseful for Saint Patrick’s Day.”