I visited the Gaelic Athletic Association Stadium at Croke Park in Dublin on Friday, the site of events on Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920. A GAA football match was planned for Croke Park that Sunday with the proceeds to go to the Irish Republican Prisoners Fund. But the match never was, as the Crown forces and the Black & Tan, a British paramilitary group known for their brutality, had other plans.
The GAA was then and continues to be amateur athletics. Players represent the counties where they were born. In 1920, it was the Dublin team to play Tipperary, the champions from Munster.
On the night before, Michael Collins’ squad converged upon the Cairo Gang, a British undercover force, killing fourteen of them. It was a crushing defeat for the British at the hands of the Irish Republican forces. On the day of the match, the Crown forces and their paramilitary compatriots went to the football match for what was first described as a planned search but was in reality an opportunity for reprisal against the Irish.
The Republicans got wind of the British plans but too late to cancel the match, as some ten thousand Irish men, women and children had filled the stadium. At 3:15 the match began and within five minutes, the British forces invaded the stadium with rifles and revolvers, shooting immediately from the northwest end of the field, near the canal.
When the massacre was over, fourteen Irish were dead, including a Tipperary player, Michael Hogan, and a fourteen year old boy, William Scott, who was so badly mutilated he was believed to have been bayonetted to death. That night, three more died when Irish Republican prisoners were executed.
Official Dublin Castle versions of the event placed blame for the start of the violence on the spectators, contradicting witness accounts. It was widely considered a cover-up for British thuggery. The stadium crowd included women and children and was an easy target for the British forces. The Black & Tan were notorious for brutality against all Irish, not just the men of the IRA. No arms, aside from those used by the British forces, were found in Croke Park when it was searched later that day.
But the Bloody Sunday that occurred in 1920 wasn’t the only Bloody Sunday where Irish nationals were massacred by British. The 1972 events on 30 January, also known as The Bogside Massacre, took place in Northern Ireland, in County Derry, when 26 unarmed civil rights protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers of the British Army. And again, the official British version was a whitewash of the true course of events. These unjustified and unjustifiable acts were the basis for the U2 1983 song, “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
In 1998, a thorough inquiry into the incident began in the UK and took twelve years to complete. In 2010, it was determined that none of the soldiers had been threatened as they claimed; they did not fire in self-defense. Many Irish were shot while waving white flags, while going to the aid of others, and while trying to get away. Five of the wounded were shot in the back. At the conclusion of the inquiry, the British PM, David Cameron, finally issued a formal apology.
Today I’m watching the GAA Hurling match on the Gaelic Grounds here in Limerick to determine the Munster Championship for 2013. Limerick is playing Tipperary and the winner will go on to the Munster Finals. One of these teams may find themselves in Croke Park for the national championship game later this year. The stands are jammed with fans in green for Limerick and Blue for Tipp. It’s gratifying to see how strongly the Irish football and hurling leagues continue to be supported. These amateur players show great will, great heart and great enthusiasm and the crowd is testament to the dedication of the Irish to their Gaelic sports.