Slainté and Erin go Bragh, friends. As everyone begins to get their green ready for the annual celebration of poor balance and worse judgement that is St. Patrick's Day abroad, I'm struck with a realization that St. Patrick's Day is much like the Irish themselves, that is to say, very different in North America than at home. Ireland isn't a large island, and it's population - sitting a little under 7 million (including the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) - reflects that. There are a few big names in the world of sports that come directly from Ireland, but that's about it. Much more robust is the stock of athletes who claim Irish heritage rather than citizenship. A census taken in 2013 showed there to be nearly 35 million American citizens who list their heritage as either primarily or partially Irish, making the Irish-American population nearly five times the population of the motherland itself, and those are admittedly old figures.
Now, it's not exactly rocket science to explain that a larger market + a larger population = a larger number of athletes from any given heritage group, but it is interesting to note that, much like St. Paddy's Day itself (admittedly a somewhat tame affair cross the pond), the fame and prestige of Irish athletes has swollen, changed and become something quite its own here in North America. It's an illuminating insight into the larger-than-life nature of America, the very same nature that enticed peoples from all across the globe to leave the familiarity and comfort of their homelands and try their hand at carpe-ing their diem and creating a better life for themselves in a new world. However, as I've been getting at this day, in this land is NOT a day for heavy thoughts, history and philosophy, no. It's a day for celebration! To help us get into the spirit of liberation and libation, here is a list of some of the greatest Irish athletes to ever grace our lands!
Dia is Mhuire Duit agus Padraig, everyone!
Old man McIlroy, pictured here embracing fossilized golfer Dustin Johnson
Rory McIlroy is a son of Northern Ireland, though we'll try our best not to hold that against him. He belongs to an elite, three-man fraternity - other members being rather obscure golfers Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus - to have won three majors by the age of 25, meaning that he accomplished in a quarter century more than most of us could accomplish in several. McIlroy has represented Europe, Great Britain and Ireland and Ireland proper on the world stage and became the youngest golfer to earn 10 million Euro (at the age of 22) and continues to collect tournament wins now, and will reach the ripe old age of 28 later this year. McIlroy is easily one of the greatest Irish athletes of all time and certainly seems to have the world famous luck of his people!
Coach McHale, calculating how many times he needs to beat his players with his shillelagh after the game
He played for the Boston Celtics and his name is McHale, did you really think he wouldn't be on this list? Kevin McHale is best known for his time as a member of the "Big 3" front line, often considered to be the best ever in the history of the game, along with Larry Bird and Robert Parish. Together this trio led the Celtics to 5 NBA Finals and 3 championships. When his playing days were over, McHale went on to coach the Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets, whom he led to the Western Conference Finals in 2015 before being fired later that year. Illustrious career and he still gets canned? Sounds about Irish to me!
McEnroe, moments after beating the tar out of Justin Bieber and stealing his hat
Nobody does Irish temper quite like ol' Johnny Mac, but very few people do Tennis much like him either, and that's whats made him so famous. Though retired now, John McEnroe was ranked the World #1 in his day and still holds high regard as one of the greatest tennis players that have ever lived, especially in regards to his buttery touch on the volley. Throughout his career he won 7 Grand Slam singles titles, 9 Grand Slam doubles titles and even one Grand Slam mixed doubles title. Much like every position in life, when you're that damn good at whacking a wee ball around, we all either turn a blind eye to the verbal abuse of chair umpires or actually straight up enjoy it!
"How long is the number on my ATM screen? THIIIIIIIS long!"
Now I know nobody is surprised to see Mr. Infamous on here for a number of reasons. One, he's arguably the most high-profile athlete, let alone Irish athlete, in the world right now. Secondly, he was in the bloody header photo on this article, so don't think you're winning any prizes here. McGregor is more than deserving of his infamous monicker due to his prolific trash talking, exceeded only by his overwhelming success in the octagon. The hype generated by the mere whiff of an ACTUAL match against long-time rival Floyd Mayweather, Jr. recently set the internet on fire. In more intimate moments, it is shown that McGregor is a hard-working, dedicated fighter, whose bravado, though very real, is not the only facet to the man. He is an absolute powerhouse on social media and is the first fighter in UFC history to hold two title belts, Featherweight and Lightweight, simultaneously.