A jeweled shillelagh is passed between the annual winner of the USC-Notre Dame game, perhaps the finest intersectional rivalry in college football.
A shillelagh (pronounced “shuh-LAY-lee”) is a Gaelic war club made of oak or blackthorn saplings from Ireland. Those are the only woods used because, it is said, they are the only ones tougher than an Irish skull.
The foot-long shillelagh has ruby-adorned Trojan heads with the year and game score representing USC victories, while emerald-studded shamrocks stand for Notre Dame wins. For tie games, a combined Trojan head/shamrock medallion is used. On the end of the club is engraved, “From the Emerald Isle.” The victor of the Trojan-Irish game gains year-long possession of the trophy.
Upon its initial presentation in 1952 by the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Los Angeles, it was said that “this shillelagh will serve to symbolize in part the high tradition, the keen rivalry and above all the sincere respect which these two great universities have for each other.”
The original shillelagh was flown from Ireland by Howard Hughes’ pilot, according to legend. It was devised by the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Los Angeles, based on a suggestion by Vern Rickard. John Groen designed it. Although the shillelagh was introduced in 1952, the medallions go back to the start of the series in 1926.
When the original shillelagh ran out of space for the Trojan heads and shamrocks after the 1989 game, it was retired and is permanently displayed at Notre Dame.
A new shillelagh — slightly longer than the original — was commissioned by Jim Gillis, a former baseball player at both USC and Notre Dame and a one-time president of the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles, and handcrafted in 1997 in County Leitrim, Ireland. It contains medallions beginning with the 1990 game.
There are now 45 shamrocks, 35 Trojan heads and 5 combined medallions on the shillelaghs. (Does not include 1 USC win vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 36 Trojan heads.)