Archive for Croke Park

Domhnach na Fola

Posted in History, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2020 by telescoper

In the days before lockdown I would often travel past Croke Park on the train from Maynooth into Dublin Connolly station. It’s a magnificent stadium, with a capacity over 80,000, its stands towering up on all sides of the playing field which is used for major sporting events organized by the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), chiefly hurling and gaelic football. It’s located quite close to Drumcondra Station, the last stop before Connolly on the way into Dublin. I’ve never actually been inside the ground, and you can’t see much of the interior from the train because of the stands, but I do hope to see a match there one day.

Croke Park looked very different a hundred years ago today, on November 21st 1920 (which was a Sunday).

Croke Park, looking towards Hill 16, taken on the day of November 21st 1920.

Incidentally, the low hill you can see in the background is Hill 16. There’s a story that this was built up using rubble from buildings destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, but this seems to be apocryphal.

Anyway, as you can see, there wasn’t much in the way of buildings around the playing field in those days, and not much to give spectators cover if they were trying to flee from gunfire.

A Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary started in Croke Park at 2.45 pm on November 21st. About ten minutes into the game, armed police (including members of the regular Royal Irish Constabulary, Auxiliaries, and some Black and Tans) suddenly arrived at the southern end of the park, panicking some of the spectators who tried to run away. Without warning the police opened fire on the crowd. The first to die was 11 year old William Robinson who was sitting in a tree outside the ground to get a better view. Overall the firing lasted about 90 seconds. Thirteen people were killed outright and another died of his wounds later. Others were injured either by gunfire or in the crush resulting from the panic.

Among the dead was Tipperary’s star player Michael Hogan, who was shot dead on the playing field as he tried to find cover. Information from post-mortems released many years after the event revealed that most of the victims had been shot in the back.

Michael Hogan, star player and Captain for the Tipperary team at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday. He died that day.

The massacre could have been even worse had the British forces at the other end of the ground, who had an armoured car with a machine gun, shown more restraint. The machine gun was fired above the heads of the people running towards this contingent. They didn’t shoot anyone but they did force the crowd back towards the gunfire from the other end of the ground. Had they opened fire at the crowd there would have been a massacre on the scale of Amritsar, where hundreds died.

Witnesses also said that while the security forces let all the Dublin players go, they lined up the entire Tipperary team against a fence and were preparing to shoot them all when a junior officer intervened and ordered them to be released. Tipperary was perceived to be a hotbed of IRA activity. Michael Hogan was in fact a member of the Irish Volunteers.

So what on Earth had happened to trigger this indiscriminate slaughter, on the day known now as Bloody Sunday (Irish: Domhnach na Fola)

The overall context is the Irish War of Independence which started in 1919 and was largely a guerilla campaign waged in rural areas. There had not been large-scale eruptions of violence in Dublin. That changed on November 21st 1920. That morning, members of the Irish Republican Army under the direction of Michael Collins, had carried out an operation across Dublin intended to eliminate the ability of the British forces to gather intelligence on the IRA. Hit squads entered the homes of known or suspected British intelligence operatives across the town and shot them. Fifteen people were killed that morning, including at least two innocent civilians in the process.

The IRA members responsible for the killings on Sunday morning melted away into the city. Once again the police and security services seemed to be fighting an invisible enemy. However, knowing that there was a football match going on that afternoon, and that at least some of those involved with the GAA had strong Republican leanings and may indeed be active IRA members, they decided to search all the spectators at the match of which there were over 10,000. The hope was, presumably, to find in the crowd at least some of those responsible for the morning’s assassinations. Instructions were given that anyone who ran away when the search operation began should be presumed guilty and shot.

News about the morning’s events had spread through Dublin that morning and it was widely anticipated that the British would carry out reprisal killings, probably in their usual indiscriminate fashion they had employed previously. When armed men arrived in vehicles outside the ground, the instinct of many spectators was therefore to run even before the searching began. Nervous and trigger-happy police deployed in a harebrained plan to make the slaughter inevitable. Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the murders at Croke Park.

Later that day two members of the IRA were caught by the security services, taken to Dublin Castle, beaten and then shot under the pretext that they were trying to escape. These killings brought the death toll past thirty. Bloody Sunday indeed.

The events in Croke Park handed a major propaganda victory to the IRA and also sparked an escalation of the violence. Just a week later, at Kilmichael in County Cork, the IRA ambushed two trucks carrying a total of 18 Auxiliaries, killing 17 of them and leaving the other for dead. On December 11th the British burned down a large part of the city of Cork in retaliation against another attack on their forces. And so it went on into 1921 to the point where the British eventually realized that Ireland had become ungovernable (by them) and a process was started that brought about independence (at least for part of Ireland).

As you can imagine there have been many commemorations of the grim events of a century ago. I watched a very interesting documentary on the TV earlier this week and there have been many articles in the newspapers and elsewhere about it, taking different angles. Those I found the most moving were those that dealt with the memory of the innocent lives lost. One very poignant idea was to stage 14 very short plays around Croke Park about each of the victims.

Here is a sort of trailer, featuring the heartbreaking story of Jane Boyle – the only woman to die on Bloody Sunday. Her death was particularly tragic as she was due to marry her fiancé Daniel Byron the following week. The couple went to mass at St Kevin’s Church on Harrington Street on Sunday morning and proceeded to Croke Park afterwards. When the firing started, they fled. In the scramble for safety, Daniel felt Jane’s hand go limp; she had been shot in the back and died instantly. She was buried later that week in her wedding gown.

Hurling Today

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2018 by telescoper

This afternoon I had my first experience of watching hurling. I have seen clips of action before, but never a whole game. What a game to start with!

I didn’t actually get to Croke Park to see Galway versus Clare in the All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final but I did the next best thing, which is to watch it in a pub with a few pints of Guinness and a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd.

If you’ve never seen hurling before then the first thing that strikes you is the phenomenal speed at which the game is played. The sliotar (ball) can travel from one end of the pitch to the other in a second and the players have to be extremely fit. Brave too. This is definitely not a game for faint hearts!

Anyway, the game started at 5pm and for the first 15 minutes or so Galway were all over Clare, scoring a goal and 7 points to Clare’s solitary point. It looked like being a very one-sided game, but gradually Clare clawed their way back, so that at half time it was Galway 1-10 to Clare 0-9, a lead of 4 (a goal is worth three points).

The second half saw the Clare fightback continue, and at full time it was level scoring, 1-23 to 0-26. Extra time followed, during which Clare scored a goal, but it ended 1-30 versus 1-30. There will be a replay.

It was raining heavily at the end and both teams looked exhausted but it was immensely exciting to watch, even if it did make me late getting home for dinner.

UPDATE: The second semi-final (on Sunday) was also a cracker that also went to extra time. It finished Limerick 3-32 Cork 2-31. Limerick will play whoever wins the replay of the above match.