So how did this University, founded by a French priest, become so synonymous with all things Irish? Cue Shake Down the Thunder.
In 1927, [former student press agent Francis] Wallace moved to the mass circulation New York Daily News and disseminated "Fighting Irish" to a huge audience. The wire services then began employing the term and, that same year, when the editor of the World wrote to the Golden Dome about the official Notre Dame position on the nickname, President Walsh decided to put the school's imprimatur on "Fighting Irish."That's right, it's St. Patrick's Day and you're all Irish to us. Sláinte! Of course, if like Stuhldreher (and me) you are also of German descent and want to pay homage to your mixed lineage, the Bookstore has you covered.
Walsh acted mainly to short-circuit the increasing popularity of "Ramblers," "Nomads," and their variants (in fact, it took many years for these nicknames, as well as "Catholics" and "Hoosiers," to disappear). His 1927 reply to Herbert Bayard Swope, the influential editor of the New York World, permanently set Notre Dame's policy:
The University authorities are in no way averse to the name "Fighting Irish" as applied to our athletic teams....It seems to embody the kind of spirit that we like to see carried into effect by the various organizations which represent us on the athletic field. I sincerely hope that we may always be worthy of the ideals embodied in the term "Fighting Irish."
N.D. players of non-Irish descent also approved of the nickname. For Harry Stuhldreher, of German ancestry, it represented the team's "fighting, competitive spirit," and he liked to quote Rockne's retort to reporters who listed all the non-Irish players on the roster -- "They're all Irish to me. They have the Irish spirit and that's what counts."
(thanks to Father Nieuwland and FightingIrishRadio for an assist on the quotes)