This week, both the South Bend Tribune and Fox News saw fit to dive back into the controversy surrounding the fundamental changes wrought upon the Irish Guard last month by the University of Notre Dame. Those articles caused me to re-examine my earlier piece and look for support, for or against, those changes. What I found is that not only do the recently-imposed changes seem contrary to the origins of the Irish Guard as described by contemporaneous sources, it seems like everyone is wrong about the Irish Guard’s birth date.
If you believe the official history, Scully, the Irish Guard “was formed in 1949.” But, if that is in fact so, why does the unidentified author of Irish Pipers Don Kilts, Plaids and Doublets; Hope’s Giants Set for Debut Against Purdue (The Notre Dame Scholastic, vol. 93, no. 7, Oct. 26, 1951, p. 13) write that these predecessors of the Irish Guard had been only “practicing on the chanters (a kind of pipe) since last Spring”? I find it odd that it would take almost two years to develop a group of pipers, and have them start on the complete set of pipes in September of 1951. Further support for a 1951 start date comes courtesy of author Bob Haine, who referred to the Irish Pipers as “recently formed” (Scholastic, vol. 94, no. 10, Dec. 5, 1952, p. 42). Is definitive proof provided by Tim O’Reilly, who wrote in 1957 that “[t]he Irish Guard, which precedes the Marching Band, was founded in 1951”? (Scholastic, vol. 99, no. 10, Dec. 13, 1957, p. 45). Sure seems that way.
By 1953, it appears that the “Kilted Pipers, officially called the Irish Guard, paraded with the band [. . .] carried silver sabres [. . .] [and] did not play their instruments,” at all during the 1953 season, according to Paul Fullmer (The Scholastic, vol. 95, No.11, Dec. 11, 1953, p. 45). This same article contains a description of the Irish Piper’s purpose that can only be taken seriously when read in a serious, Ward Cleaver tone: “[t]hus the purpose of the Fighting Irish Pipers is to stimulate ND’s football warriors on the gridiron.”
The 1954 season-in-review issue excludes the Irish Pipers from an enumeration of instruments that does manage to include “two kettle drums [and] two glockenspiels [. . .].” (The Scholastic, vol. 96, No. 9, Dec. 10, 1954, ,p. 45). The next two season reviews appear bereft of any mention of the Pipers or the band, but the aforementioned 1957 issue describes the Irish Guard as consisting of “eight members dressed in kilts and bearskin hats [. . .].” It seems odd that the author would not mention an instrument as unique as bagpipes. Does this constitute evidence against Dr. Dye’s statement quoted in The Observer that “[we are] going back to where it started, where [Irish Guard members] were musicians in the band. 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”?
When The Notre Dame Scholastic first wrote about the Irish Pipers, it described the entrance requirements as follows: applicants “must be freshmen, six feet two inches or over in height. Previous musical training not necessary, but would help somewhat.” Does this sound like “musicians in the band”? It does not to me. If being in the band was a requirement, why wouldn’t the author have said that? In fact, the very notion that an applicant had to come from the band seems undercut by the statement that “previous musical training not necessary.” While I accept that perhaps that was a jibe at bagpipes or that few, if any, in the band had previous experience on the pipes, it seems most likely to me that being a member of the band was not necessary. What was necessary? Being six feet two or over. I think it bears noting here that Max Hastings, the author of Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, p. 136, points out that the Irish Guards, on whose name our own Irish Guard was modeled (if you believe Wikipedia), “made their own rules of enlistment.” While this may not have served His Majesty’s soldiers very well at Mons, a unique set of admissions criteria has served Our Lady’s Irish Guard pretty well over the decades, while recognizing the abuses and lapses in judgment.
Thus, the narrative that has been put forth regarding the recent changes to the Irish Guard seems without much support. I could find little to none for it in issues of Scholastic dating back to 1951, which I would suggest should be at least reliable sources for developments on campus at the time. I would welcome the input of the band or the ND archivist to set me straight. Until then, though, I am comfortable that everything you know about the start of the Irish Guard and its musical history, is wrong.