Why Bother With Tradition?
The history of a regiment is the history of an inner faith and its transmission from man to man and from generation to generation. A regiment's success or failure in war turns in the last resort on that faith. To the uninitiated, these customs may appear to be useless anachronisms, but to those who understand their origin, they are the basis of the potent driving force which in a military organization is known as "esprit de corps".
As you can see below, the 69th NY has some of the richest and most dearly held traditions of any regiment in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Regimental Nickname: "The Fighting 69th"
The 69th NY has no less a hero than General Robert E. Lee to thank for the nickname "Fighting 69th". Upon hearing that the 69th NY faced his troops across the battlefield at Fredericksburg in December of 1862, Lee remarked, "Ah yes, that Fighting 69th."
Regimental Battle Cry: Faugh A Ballagh
The Regimental Battle Cry "Faugh A Ballagh" was first used by the Regiment during the American Civil War. It is a Gaelic phrase meaning "Clear The Way". While there is great debate within the unit as to how to pronounce this phrase properly, our latest research indicates that it is said "Fah-g Ahn BAY-Lick"
Regimental Battle Flag Motto:
This phrase appears on the original 69th New York Regimental Colors under a Sunburst and Irish Harp. Translated it says "Who never retreated from the clash of spears". It is pronounced "Reeve naw-r ghruid owe spairn lon".
Regimental March: Garryowen
Although played on the Irish Pipes for centuries, Garryowen only became known to the outside world after it was heard in an English pantomime called "Harlequin Amulet", which was produced in 1800. Garryowen was adopted by the 69th NY not by formal decree (even to this day), but by its continued use and undying popularity.
Another musical tradition is the playing of "The Rakes of Mallow" during the Alternated Ceremony, or Officer's Center, at a Regimental Review. Mallow is a town in County Cork, Ireland.
Regimental Mascot: the Irish Wolfhound
The Irish Wolfhound is the Regiment's hereditary mascot. It is called the "Great Dog of Ireland", and is a match for any wolf on earth. The Irish Wolfhounds are prominent on the Regiment's coat of arms (above), and it was the traits and disposition of the Irish Wolfhound that inspired the 69th Regimental Motto. On March 17, 1953, two Irish Wolfhounds were adopted by the 69th as Regimental Mascots. They are clad in green coats with the gold numerals "69", and parade immediately to the rear of the Regimental Color Guard.
The Irish Wolfhound is known as the Great Dog of Ireland. The Wolfhounds were companions to the Kings of Ireland, and are prominently featured on the original coat of arms and badges of the regiment. The Irish wolfhound is traditionally known to be gentle when stroked, and fierce when provoked. Hence the motto.
Patron Saint of the Regiment: St. Patrick
The adoption of St. Patrick as the patron saint of the 69th Regiment holds a two-fold purpose. St. Patrick is not only the Patron Saint of Ireland and the Irish, but is also the Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of New York, within whose juridiction the 69th NY Armory is located.
Unit (Regimental) Day: March 17th
The 69th Regiment is the Military Escort for the Irish Societies in the Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade each March 17th in New York City. Before the parade, it is a tradition for the Sixty-Ninth to attend solemn military Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The day has always been celebrated with the traditional Mass and parade, no matter where the Regiment has been stationed. In 1963, by decree of the Department of the Army, March 17th was designated the official Unit (Regimental) Day of the 69th NY.
Tradition has it that General Thomas Meagher, Commander of the Irish Brigade, was very fond of Irish Whiskey and Vichy Water (Vichy water is like Perrier). While campaigning in Virginia, an orderly was sent out by Meagher to obtain Vichy Water, but he could find none. As a replacement, the orderly suggested champagne, which General Meagher promptly mixed with the Irish Whiskey to form a drink even more pleasing to his tastes. It has been a regimental tradition ever since, and is served by the officers at all functions. The recipe is one part Irish Whiskey to two parts Champagne.