I have never been a true sports fan but I must admit that visiting Croke Park or Páirc an Chrócaigh last Friday was a memorable experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. Home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), this stadium has a haunting historical past dating back to 1920. During the Irish War of Independence in which the Irish Nationalists fought against the British, there was a tragic event known as Bloody Sunday on 21 November 1920 in Dublin. On this violent day, there were many killings throughout the city to total 31 deaths, 14 of which took place in Croke Park itself. Michael Hogan, a Gaelic football player participating in a match that evening, was one of the victims shot while on the field. The “Hogan Stand” was named after him in memory of his membership in the GAA and involvement at Croke Park.
To think that Croke Park was the location of such tragedy less than 100 years ago is unsettling and disheartening in many aspects. However, to see its growth in the past few years, along with the many games, concerts, and other events within the stadium, is uplifting. The stadium has come a long way from where it was during Bloody Sunday, and the history within makes it much more interesting. One of the reasons why I respect the stadium and association’s attribution to Gaelic sports is because it is a very neutral area. For example, on the tour we learned that the changing rooms for the home and visitor teams are completely identical because there isn’t technically any one “home” team- Croke Park is the home for each of the counties in Ireland. It is a place where Gaelic sport players can come to play in neutral grounds to demonstrate their talents against other players across Ireland. Unlike professional sports, the players on the teams are amateurs representing their county with pride and honor. They don’t play for the money but rather for the pure enjoyment they receive while on the field. There is little hatred that exists in the stadium as the fans join together to celebrate their Irish backgrounds by supporting the players. When I was standing there, looking out onto the field, I could imagine the unity that the stadium creates through the many games. My perspective on the sports world has altered due to my visit to Croke Park.
— Prachi Gupta