From the Boston Celtics in America to the London Irish in England, here are 5 Irish-inspired sports teams outside of Ireland.
Sport plays an important role in Irish society; it brings our relatively small island together in a way nothing else can, and this is the main reason many clubs across the world have deeply rooted Irish links.
Here are the top 5 Irish-inspired sports teams outside Ireland.
5. Liverpool FC (football) – a historical Irish connection in England
Liverpool Football Club is known for having a historical Irish connection that stems back to when the club was first founded.
The famous ferry route from Dublin to Liverpool is a major link between both countries. During the industrial age, thousands of Irish people emigrated across this very route for work, forming a lively and dynamic Irish community that still exists today.
John Mc Kenna, who became the very first manager of Liverpool Football Club, was one of those emigrants. Under Mc Kenna’s direction, Liverpool would enter the Football League, of which they became champions in 1901.
Interestingly, Liverpool’s longest-serving player Elisha Scott is a Belfast-born goalkeeper who was at the club from 1912 to 1934. Signed by the chairman at the time, none other than John Mc Kenna!
Champions Leagues (previously European Cup) are Europe’s main indicator of success, and Liverpool have currently won six. Four of these victories included Irish influence: Steve Heighway (1977 & 1978), Michael Robinson, Ronnie Whelan & Mark Lawrenson (1984) and Steve Finnan (2005).
4. London Irish (rugby) – a London-based sporting club for Irishmen
At the end of the 19th century, a London-based sporting club for Irishmen was badly needed—a home away from home, a place to socialise and unwind while employment and education forced many across the water.
‘London Irish Rugby Football Club’ was subsequently formed in 1898 by an exceptional group of Irish lawyers, politicians and businessmen, providing an accessible home for all Irish people to meet.
World War I and II along with the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland had a terrible effect on Irish Rugby, and many of the club’s members were among the soldiers of Irish regiments that lost their lives throughout these violent periods.
The Irish Free State was established in 1923 and only then was the club able to welcome players regularly from across the Irish Sea.
Fast-forward through many tough years to July 2014, and London Irish moved into their brand-new state-of-the-art £12 million, 63-acre training complex.
How times change!
3. Glasgow Celtic FC (football) – a Scottish team with a strong Irish connection
Glasgow Celtic FC was founded in 1887 to raise funds for the poor Irish families in Scotland. Over 130 years later, this Irish connection still holds strong with Irish rebel ballads sung and tri-colour flags waving above the stands.
Celtic’s first match was the first Old Firm between Celtic and Rangers on May 28, 1888. From then on, an intense rivalry blossomed between both sides of Glasgow, a rivalry still strong to this day.
Celtic quickly built a loyal following among the Irish community in both Ireland and Scotland. Weekend matches provided Irish immigrants with a meeting point, which further developed the club’s Irish links.
Some of these early links include Newry’s own Willie Maley, who was Celtic’s first manager; the club’s founder Brother Walfrid from Sligo; and the first sod of turf laid in Celtic Park, which originated in Donegal and was planted by a man from Mayo, Michael Davitt.
2. Notre Dame ‘Fighting Irish’ (American football) – an American college team with Irish origins
Numerous stories have crept into public thinking over the decades about the origin of the Fighting Irish, and most likely, the true story is a bit of everything.
One credible possibility stems from Irish immigrant soldiers who fought in the Civil War with the Irish Brigade.
William Corby, the third president of Notre Dame, served as chaplain of the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg and granted absolution to the troops during battle, supposedly Notre Dame’s claim to the nickname.
The second possible theory dates back to a visit from Irish Freedom Fighter Eamon de Valera. Eamon was imprisoned and sentenced to death following his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.
He escaped, moved to America, and received a hero’s welcome at Notre Dame in October 1919.
A student publication points toward his visit swaying the campus union in favour of the ‘Fighting Irish’, although not totally, as a Tree of Liberty he planted was thrown in a lake by a student of ‘Unionist Alignment’.
1. Boston Celtics (basketball) – a big name in American professional basketball
The legend of the naming of the Boston Celtics professional basketball team dates back to when the franchise was formed in the summer of 1946.
The name was born out of a conversation between Walter Brown, the team’s founder, and Howie McHugh, a Boston publicist and the man assigned to handle the basketball entity.
McHugh, of Irish descent, had just returned from a trip to Ireland and was aware of the strong and passionate Irish heritage in the Boston area.
Walter Brown also wanted a reason to try and get that large Irish population on board. Both men suggested several names, but finally, Brown hit upon the idea of using the very Irish “Boston Celtics” as the name.
To this day the team uniforms are green and their mascot is “Lucky the Leprechaun”. Some would say this is slightly over the top, but we applaud their enthusiasm! They are certainly one of the top Irish-inspired sports teams outside of Ireland.