Croke Park may be one of the best examples of Irish culture that the country has to offer. Not only is it used to host and preserve Gaelic games such as hurling and Gaelic football, but it also has a long political history that ties it to the struggles of the country it represents. Just as targeted by the British as the Irish people were, Croke Park and the GAA became symbols of Irish national power and an independent future to come.
Opened in 1884, the grounds officially became the stadium it is today when it was bought by the GAA in 1913. But even from this early start, it reflected Irish current events. With only two stands, rubble from the Easter Rising in 1916 was used to provide better views of the field in 1917. The Easter Rising was the armed insurrection during Easter Week, the most significant in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798, where Irish republicans fought with the aim of ending British rule. They seized key locations of Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic independent of the United Kingdom. Many of the GAA’s (Gaelic Athletic Association) members were imprisoned, forcing the GAA to enter a political agreement in which it agreed to send a delegation to a Dublin Corporation so that it could form a Political Prisoners Amnesty Association. After the Rising ended, British Authorities continued to be a problem for the association when they stopped traffic throughout Ireland, including trains that transported people to Croke Park.
Croke Park was again a target for British torment in 1918 on a day known as Gaelic Sunday. The GAA was informed that no hurling or football games were allowed to be played unless a permit was obtained from Dublin Castle. However, the GAA agreed that no permit should be needed or allowed by the players and turned the words of the British around on them. They declared that anyone found with a permit would be suspended from the GAA. And, to top it all off, they organized a series of matches to take place throughout the country on Sunday, August 4, 1918.
But the worst, and probably the most well known, was yet to come. A few years later, the stadium was thrown into the spotlight again with the Bloody Sunday attacks on November 21, 1920. The night before the IRA was responsible for the assassination of the Cairo Gang, a team of undercover agents of the British Crown working in Dublin. In retaliation, British Auxiliary stormed the stadium the next day during a Gaelic football match, shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. They killed or fatally wounded fourteen people. One of these was the captain of one of the playing teams, Michael Hogan, for whom the park honored by naming the Hogan Stand after, which was built in 1924.
After the Civil War, Croke Park was also responsible for bringing Ireland back together with the revival of the ancient Tailteann Games, a Celtic version of the Olympics. The games were an exhibition of the best Irish sports and athletes. Competitions were open to all people of Irish birth, or those with parents or grandparents from Ireland and those living in Ireland for 12 months prior to August 1, 1924. The 16 day event featured international contests included hurling, football, camogie, athletics, and boxing, as well as chess, billiards, dance and music competitions. The games were basically an exhibition of everything Irish, which helped reunite a country broken by fighting and violence.
Today, Croke Park continues to be a symbol of Ireland. As a group we visited the stadium a few weeks ago. It still houses Gaelic games and continues to promote the Irish culture, but it is also used occasionally for other purposes. In 2003 it hosted both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Special Olympics, and over time it has held numerous music concerts by major international acts. During the construction of the Aviva Stadium, another stadium in Dublin, it temporarily became home to the Irish national rugby team and the national football team. Finally, in June 2012, the stadium was used to host the closing ceremony of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, where the Pope gave an address. Today, thanks to the GAA, Croke Park is so much more than just a stadium. It represents the identity of a country with a diverse group of inhabitants, however, they are all brought together by common factors, such as the pride of being Irish.