The Irish have made a huge contribution to sports around the world and often, as a means of expressing themselves on the sports field, teams were given an Irish identity.
As we celebrate St Patrick's Day let’s explore some of the teams in different sports that have been named after him.
Unfortunately for St Patrick, he is not the most popular choice for Irish named teams around the world. Teams called the Shamrocks are easily the most common, Celtic(s) or Hibernians are quite popular too, with Fighting Irish being used by numerous teams, mainly in the United States.
Often when a team is called St Patrick’s, it is because of the involvement of a church or school named after him and there are certainly plenty of those. There are even a few communities such as St Patrick, Minnesota and San Patricio in Texas.
In some other cases, the owners named the team after St Patrick in the hope of appealing to the local Irish community, while there are several GAA teams named after St Patrick, particularly in the United States, yet here we focus on other sports.
Toronto St Patricks (Ice Hockey, Canada)
Once nicknamed the Belfast of Canada due to the violence between Catholic Irish and Protestant Irish, it was inevitable that the Irish in Toronto would become involved in ice hockey.
From the early 1900s, St Patrick’s were an amateur hockey team operating in the city. The professional Toronto St Patrick’s were formed in 1919 two years after the creation of the NHL.
Before them in 1915 were the short-lived Toronto Shamrocks who failed to capture the public audience and before the Toronto Shamrocks and over in Quebec were the Montreal Shamrocks who won the Stanley Cup in 1899 and 1900 thanks to innovative players such as Harry Trihey and Art Farrell.
The Toronto St Patrick’s assembled a strong team under coach George O’Donoghue and captured the Stanley Cup in 1922.
By 1927, the St Pat's were on the verge of leaving Toronto, again the team couldn’t muster a crowd as the Irish audience couldn’t afford the admission prices.
The team were saved by Conn Smythe whose father was Irish. Smythe renamed the St Pat's to Toronto Maple Leafs, changing the colours from green & white to blue & white.
The Maple Leafs are today one of the biggest sports teams in Canada.
Current president of the Maple Leafs is hockey legend Brendan Shanahan whose parents both emigrated from Ireland. Around St Patrick’s day each year, the Leafs wear a heritage jersey of the Toronto St Patricks for a NHL game. The St Patrick’s remain the only Irish named team in the NHL.
Around the same era of the Toronto St Patrick’s were the Quebec St Patrick’s who competed in the Quebec City league while the Ottawa St Patrick’s took part in the city league there which at various times also included the Shamrocks, St Brigid’s, and Emmets.
Wigan St Patricks (Rugby League, England)
There was much emigration from Ireland to the industrial northern towns of England. Many of those Irish became passionate about rugby league and team names such as Dewsbury Celtic and Halifax Irish acknowledge the Irish influence.
But Irish community teams were also found in Widnes, Oldham, and other towns usually playing under a saint's name.
The most successful of the Irish clubs was formed in the rugby league hotbed that is Wigan.
The main team in the town are the Wigan Warriors who are one of the most famous teams in England, with former players Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards well known to fans of both rugby codes.
A feeder team for the Warriors are the amateur St Patrick’s who are something of a nursery for developing players.
The St Patrick's were founded in 1910. The club were a founding member of the National Amateur League which is the fourth tier of rugby league.
Over fifty players from the club have gone on to the professional Warriors including Sean O’Loughlin, Liam Farrell, Kris Radlinski, and Sam Tomkins.
A young Owen Farrell played for the club at underage level. Playing in black and white, the St Patrick’s play an important role in developing youth and grassroots rugby league with the club having sixteen teams across men’s, women’s, and underage.
Zabbar St Patrick FC (Football, Malta)
Malta was a long-time British colony and football was brought to the islands by their military.
Among the regiments that played football were the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who in 1905 played a series of games against Floriana.
Afterwards the teams swapped jerseys with Floriana adopting the green and white of the Fusiliers that they still wear today.
Many in Malta wanted to break the connection to the British Empire. This independence stance often saw the Maltese look to Ireland for their inspiration and in some cases Irish names became used for football teams.
Early examples were Senglea Shamrocks who played before the first World War and Hibernians who took the name in the early 1930s.
After the island’s heroics in the second World War, a form of self-government was granted in 1947. Just after self-government in 1948 the leading team in Zabbar adopted the name of Ireland’s patron saint, becoming St Patrick.
Some historians believe the name links back to Irish soldiers stationed at a nearby barracks during World War I.
They were called St Patrick up to 2013 when they changed to Zabbar St Patrick. The club have played occasionally in the top Maltese league but are currently playing in the third level which is amateur.
Between June 1980 and May 1982 they went on a 37-game unbeaten run, a record in Maltese football climbing the divisions to reach the top league. Malta became a republic in 1974.
Marist St Pat's (Rugby, New Zealand)
Like a lot of rugby playing countries, schools became important in developing young players interested in the sport.
In New Zealand, the Marist order have a strong connection to rugby. The Marists are a French order but had a strong Irish presence, so much so that the first Marist school to open in New Zealand was St Patrick’s, Wellington which opened in 1885.
Many of the early teachers were from the Marist College in Dundalk. In 1931, due to an increase in student numbers, the boarding part of the school moved location to become St Patrick’s, Silverstream, with the day school becoming St Pat’s Town.
The two schools enjoy a healthy rivalry in all sporting competitions but particularly in rugby.
Both schools have produced players that have played for New Zealand with St Pat’s Town having two All Blacks captains in Maurice Brownlie and Jerry Collins.
The Marist network in New Zealand hold regular rugby tournaments and among the various trophies that can be won are the Spillane Cup, the Brennan Cup, and the Moran Cup.
In 1971 a club called Marist St Pat's formed in Wellington, the club was an amalgamation of Marist Club formed in 1918 and St Pat's Old Boys formed in 1926.
When they joined together, they couldn’t decide on new club colours with neither club wanting to sacrifice their clubs.
Eventually in 1974, a compromise was reached, and the club decided to adopt totally new colours, those of the British and Irish Lions who toured South Africa that summer.
Despite some reservations from members the change was made and remains today.
Among the Marist St Pat's players to play for the All Blacks are John Fleming, Brian McGrattan, and more recently Victor Vito.
St Patrick's Athletic Club (Athletics, Canada)
The winner of the Boston Marathon in 1900 and in 1901 was Jack Caffrey, who broke the course record on both occasions.
A son of Irish immigrants, he was born and raised in the Corktown area of Hamilton, Ontario.
Caffrey was the first Canadian to win the Boston Marathon. He was a member of the St Patrick’s Athletic Club who were a prominent athletic organisation in Hamilton at the time and were most likely associated with St Patrick’s church in the city.
This was a golden era for Irish athletic organisations in North America. The most well-known being the Irish - American Athletic club in New York. "The Winged Fists" achieved remarkable records. At the 1908 Olympics, the club on its own finished third on the medals chart.
Caffrey also enjoyed success at the Around the Bay competition in Hamilton, one of the oldest annual races in North America.
He finished 11th at the 1908 Olympics in London. By then one of his St Patrick’s club mates had reached the Olympic pinnacle.
Billy Sherring had finished second to Caffrey at the 1900 Boston Marathon but at the 1906 Olympic Games (now called Intercalated Games) in Athens he claimed the gold medal at the marathon.
He returned home to a hero’s welcome, receiving numerous gifts, and even had townships named after him.
His home city of Hamilton named a park after him. Sherring ran with a large shamrock on his vest, and some historians have a theory that this shamrock inspired the founders of Panathinaikos football club to adopt a shamrock in 1918.
Youngstown Patricians (American Football, United States)
On the south side of Youngstown, Ohio there is a church called St Patrick’s. The church has a connection to a member of the Ohio League, an early American football league that would evolve into the NFL.
The Youngstown Patricians are believed to be the only professional American football team to be set up in a Catholic church.
The team had been formed in 1911 by Father Charles Martin as a means to provide recreation for the boys and young men of the parish.
Fr Martin also hoped that involvement with sport would help to keep them on the straight and narrow in a tough steel and coal city.
While they also had a basketball team, it was the football team that would grab the attention.
Even though the football team had started as a pastime for the young men, it quickly progressed into a serious venture.
The team went semi-professional in 1914 and started to recruit for top local players. They enjoyed their high point in 1915 defeating the "world champion" Washington DC Vigilants who had claimed the title since 1907.
The victory for the Y-Pat's allowed them to take the mantle. Some modern accounts say it is disputed due to the weak schedule they played but others recognise the win as legit as it was acknowledged and accepted in 1915 that they had won.
In 1917, the team beat the Canton Bulldogs team featuring the legendary sportsman Jim Thorpe 3-0 but two years later, the team had folded.
In 1922, a team of the same name was granted an NFL licence, but it never became a reality.
Club de Pato San Patricio (Pato, Argentina)
Even though football is the sport of the Argentine people, the national game of Argentina was declared by President Juan Perón in 1953 to be Pato.
The sport is a mix of polo and basketball, with players riding on horses to throw a ball through a hoop to score points - it is popular out on the ranches.
One of the most successful clubs at Pato are the San Patricio club. Playing in their yellow and green halved shirts with green shamrock, the Irish connection is clear.
The team was founded by the Reilly brothers in the early 1960s and Irish surnames are prominent with notable players in the club’s history including Diego Kelly, Nucho Kelly, Juan Ganly, Guillermo Kennedy, Gustavo Fitzsimons, and the Rossiter brothers Carlos, Normando and Patricio.
Unrelated to the Pato club, the San Patricio name can also be found at a field hockey and rugby club in Pilar, Buenos Aires.
The club was founded on 17 March 1973, hence the choice of name.
St Patrick’s Cricket Club (Australia)
A Cork man, Thomas Horan, played for Australia in the first official Test match which took place between Australia and England in 1877.
The Australian cricket team has often seen Irish surnames out on the oval with the 1930s being a golden era for players of Irish heritage.
The Australian team at that time contained four prominent players who all had Irish grandparents – Bill O’Reilly, Stan McCabe, Jack Fingleton, and Leo O’Brien.
St Patrick’s is the name of at least three cricket clubs in Australia. One plays in a local district league, one is focused on youth cricket, while the third plays in a church league. All three are in New South Wales.
On the border with Victoria is Albury where a version of St Patrick's Cricket Club first took to the field in 1919/20 season.
After a few stops and starts, the team really got going in the 1950s and are still playing today. A highlight was the 2010/11 season when the club won their district Leagues A grade, B grade, and C grade in a triple triumph.
A southern suburb of Sydney is Sutherland where one can find St Patrick’s church as well as St Patrick’s primary school and St Patrick’s College secondary school run on the rules set out by the Presentation Sisters, and Christian Brothers, two Irish orders.
Out of the College, a sports club grew with the club offering cricket, rugby league, baseball and soccer at youth levels. The cricket club has been a steppingstone for many cricketeers for over sixty years.
In the western Sydney suburb of Strathfield is another St Patrick’s College. An old boy’s cricket team was formed in 2009 and the Paddies as they’re nicknamed compete in New South Wales church cricket competitions.
St Patrick High School (Basketball, United States)
The Irish have played a big role in the US educational system and many of these Irish schools have emphasised sports for the betterment of their students.
Today, high school sports are a big deal and here we look at two examples of schools named after our patron saint that have excelled at basketball.
Based in northwest Chicago, the St Patrick school opened in 1861, making it one of the oldest schools in the city.
The all-boys school has a long association with basketball. In 1932, St Patrick surprisingly won the National Catholic School Basketball Tournament against teams from basketball strongholds such as New York and Indiana. In 1949, they captured the Chicago city championship.
Under coach Max Kurland the school enjoyed much success in his 35 years tenure, capturing many conference titles in their all-catholic school league.
Another high school with the St Patrick’s name was in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
The school was set up by St Patrick’s parish as a vocational school in 1863. The high school closed its doors in 2012 but by then St Patrick’s Celtics had won the New Jersey Tournament of Champions five times since it commenced in 1989, winning in 1998, 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2009.
Leading the team to that last title was current NBA player Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets.
He was joined by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who at the time was considered one of the top underage basketball talents in the country.
The St Patrick’s basketball program was regarded as one of the best in New Jersey state. When the high school closed, a new school was set up called The Patrick School, which continued the legacy of the old school.
They would win the state championship in 2017.
Samuel Kingston is a historian from Clonakilty who is currently researching a book on the Irish impact on sports around the world.