I recently took a visit to Croke Park with my Irish Life and Cultures class. Croke Park is a Gaelic Athletic Association stadium located in Dublin that also serves as the GAA headquarters. The stadium has been used primarily by the GAA to host the Gaelic Games, most notably the annual All-Ireland finals in Gaelic Football and Hurling. Our group was fortunate enough to take guided tours of the GAA museum and the park itself. Visiting the museum we were able learn more about the history of the park and the organization itself.
Our tour of the museum allowed us to learn more about some of the controversy surrounding the organization. Since its foundation in 1884, the GAA has had a major influence on the Irish cultural identity and sense nationality. The organization was created with the aim of preserving Irish culture mainly by promoting Gaelic games. These games include the traditional Irish sports of Hurling, Camogie, Gaelic football, Handball, and Rounders. Throughout its history the organization has been closely associated with the nationalist cause. In 1920 the GAA became directly caught up in national politics when the British Military entered Croke Park and opened fire on the stands killing 14 people in an event that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” (History Timeline, GAA.ie) In this particular case, the GAA’s reputation as a group of nationalist supporters caused it to be targeted by RIC and British Army forces. This tragedy was seen as a victory for the IRA as it increased sympathy for the Irish nationalist cause at home and abroad. The GAA was also involved in several other controversies stemming from three organization rules. Rule 27 put a ban on “foreign sports” like rugby, soccer, and cricket. Rule 21 banned members of British security forces from the GAA, and Rule 42 banned “foreign sports” from being played on GAA property. These various rules were mostly anti-British in nature, and were only rescinded recently. Throughout its history the GAA has tried to foster a sense of Irish nationality. Banning any British sports and anyone playing British sports was the GAA’s way of separating Irish culture from British culture. Despite all of this conflict and controversy, the GAA continues to operate successfully in Ireland today.
After my visit to Croke Park with my class, I have to say that I left surprised. The history behind Croke Park is deeper than I imagined at first. Actually being able to walk through the stadium and see where “Bloody Sunday” took place was an experience that sent a chill down my back. I could not imagine how I would have reacted if an American Football stadium experienced a similar tragedy such as the one that the Irish had to suffer from in 1920. At least now I have a better understanding and can relate a little bit better to those that lost loved ones or ancestors on that fateful day.