Páirc an Chrócaigh

1 Nov

As we approached Croke Park from the train, I was amazed at its size. It was the biggest structure in the entire neighborhood in Dublin is it located in. It towers over the rows and rows of houses that surround it as though as if they are meant to protect the giant structure from invaders. The sheer size of the structure was amazing. With a seating capacity of 82,500, standing next to it made me feel like an ant. As we sat in the stands and listened to the tour guides speak, I realized that there is so much more to Croak Park than its size and the sports that are played within it.

Croak Park is a living symbol of Irish history, past and present. The stadium has quite literally grown along with the city of Dublin. I think the best example of this is the section of seating referred to as Hill 16. After the Easter Rising of 1916, most of Dublin was blown to pieces from British artillery attacks. At this time, Croak Park was simply a green playing field with no high-rise structures for people to sit on. People just stood as close as they could to the field. The city decided to take some of the rubble from the destroyed buildings and make a mountain of it beside the field so that spectators would have something to sit on and get a good view of the games. For a while, this was the stadium’s seating until new seating was put up. It is believed that under the new seating there are still traces of the rubble mound that used to lie there.

It was also home to one of the worst assaults on the Irish public from the British ever. The event, known as Bloody Sunday, occurred on the 21st of November in 1920. It was in the midst of the Irish War of Independence. Angered British forces entered the stadium, bitter from the deaths of some of the comrades from the night before, and open fired on the crowd. Fourteen people died in this horrific event and it is still commemorated in the stadium today. One of the sections of seating, called Hogan stand was named after Michael Hogan, a GAA member who was killed in the attack.

Croak Park also looks to insuring the future of sport in Ireland. This is done through the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Croak Park is home to the GAA where they have their headquarters and a museum that shows the viewers the history of the association and teaches them about different Irish sports. The sports the GAA promotes are are hurling, Gaelic football, handball, rounders and camogie. The goal of the organization is to keep Irish culture and language alive through sport.

Many other events have been held at the park, which has been met with some harsh criticism. A few years ago when another stadium in Dublin, the Aviva Stadium, had to close for renovations, soccer and rugby players were left without a home. The GAA actually had to change their constitution to allow these sports to be played on their field as their constitution stated that use of the field was for true Gaelic sport only. This angered many who were opposed to the idea of non-Gaelic sport being played in Croak Park, but this anger has seemed to seize in recent years as more non-Gaelic events have been scheduled for the upcoming year such as a concert by the band One Direction and an American Football match between Penn State and the UCF Knights.

The future of Croak Park looks bright as popularity in its sports grows every year within and outside of Ireland. The GAA has a strong backing with over one million faithful members who support and donate their time to the organization in any way they can, whether it is through playing sport or helping organize events. Croak Park has shown me the power of sport and community. I have never seen sport unite so many people and bring them together to celebrate their heritage and culture. The Irish sense of unity and pride in culture can be felt at Croak Park, even when no game is being played.

-Scott Schmidt

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