There’s an ancient Irish proverb that says “May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty.”

"Gary Gait" by JustLacrosse.com is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The thing about Irish proverbs is that they aren’t merely sayings. For the people of Ireland, they depict a way of life. 

This is not news to native people.

When the rules of the World Games threatened to expunge the Iroquois Nationals from its first-ever lacrosse tournament, the Irish weren’t having it.

Ireland’s national lacrosse team voluntarily dropped out of the event to open a place in the eight-team tournament for the Iroquois Nationals, the third-ranked team in the world. 

Ireland finished 12th at the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship, so certainly the Irish weren’t going to be a championship contender in the event. 

The Iroquois Nationals won the bronze medal, beating Australia 14-12 in the third-place match. They’d lost to Canada in the semifinals. 

However, that fact of life had little bearing on this decision by the Irish. 

Anyone familiar at all with the history of Irish-Native relations wasn’t the least bit surprised by this development. The bond between Ireland and Native tribes extends back almost two centuries and goes far beyond the playing fields of sporting events.

When Ireland was in need, the native people of the Choctaw tribe stepped up to help and the Irish have never forgotten that act of generosity.

During the Irish potato famine from 1845-49, when an estimated one million people died on the island, Choctaw leaders gave $170 to the Irish in 1847 to help feed the starving. Historians estimate the current monetary value of the amount to be approximately $5,000.

More Exchanges

That first gift of kindness and concern opened a window to a world of opportunity through which the Irish and the Choctaw have shared their respective cultures. A poetry collaboration between Choctaw author LeAnne Howe and Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa helped lead to the establishment of the Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship Programme, which enables Choctaw students to attend Ireland’s University of College Cork.

Over the years, there have been a number of back and forth visits between leaders from both nations. A feather-like sculpture entitled Kindred Spirits was created in Cork County to pay homage to the Choctaw.

This year, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck hard in the Navajo and Hopi nations, the people of Ireland launched a GoFundMe that raised nearly $6 million in aid. 

"Ireland VS Canada" by RicLaf is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Lacrosse Move A Fitting Tribute

The reason given by the World Games for the original omission of the Iroquois Nation was that the World Games follows International Olympic Committee rules, and those regulations require that all participants be sovereign states.

The International World Games Association changed that ruling and when there was no protest raised by any of the other seven competing associations, the Iroquois Nationals took their rightful place in the event.

The Iroquois Nationals, Australia, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Japan and the United States will be the eight teams entered in the lacrosse competition in Birmingham in July of 2022.

The Iroquois Nationals team is made up of athletes from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk), Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations. 

To the Irish, getting them in the tournament is the only outcome that made sense.

"We recognized that there was a problem with us going and with the Iroquois being number three in the world and not being deemed eligible for this event," Ireland Lacrosse communications director Catherine Conway told CBC News.

They also recognized that merely speaking out against the exclusion of the Iroquois Nation from the event wasn’t going to be a powerful enough statement to express how wrong that decision would have been.

"We felt really strongly that just putting another graphic on social media saying we support the Iroquois was not the appropriate thing to do, because talk is cheap,” Conway said. “We very much felt that action was necessary."

Members of the Iroquois Nationals tipped their caps in gratitude to the latest gesture of kindness extended between the Irish and Native people.

"We are certainly very thankful and have a great amount of respect for Ireland," said Leo Nolan, executive director of the Iroquois Nationals.

"We're very pleased that we will be competing. Without us, it would have been a very different kind of tournament."