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Watching the haunting Bloody Sunday centenary commemoration at a dark and silent Croke Park

The GAA poignantly remembered the 14 people who were killed on a harrowing afternoon 100 years ago.

A NIGHT LIKE no other in Croke Park.

brendan-gleeson-speaking-at-the-gaa-bloody-sunday-commemoration-at-croke-park Brendan Gleeson speaking at the GAA Bloody Sunday Commemoration at Croke Park. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

100 years might have passed since the senseless attacks by British paramilitary forces on Jones’ Road, but the GAA remembered those tragic events and the 14 who lost their lives with a poignant ceremony last night.

It’s a pity that circumstances meant that Croke Park was almost empty for the event, apart from the assembled media, GAA officials and those involved in the ceremony itself. But in a way, it added to the uniqueness of the landmark occasion.

On the quiet street outside the Hogan Stand – named in 1926 after Michael Hogan who was the only player killed on the day – a group of people were gathered before the game at a small memorial. There was a plaque and candle for each of the victims. The people looked on in a respectful silence.

Inside, a different, more haunting silence enveloped the darkened, empty arena.

An empty Croke Park is a strange experience, even more so when it’s night time and the lights are off.

The only light in the ground came in the corner of Hill 16 and the current Cusack Stand, where the commemoration was set-up. It was the same corner where a machine gunner in an armoured car shot bullets into the air, causing chaos during the first-half of the challenge match between the footballers of Tipperary and Dublin a century ago.

A mixed force of RIC and Auxiliaries had arrived in at least 12 armoured lorries and fired indiscriminately at the crowds, causing injury, death and several crushes as people tried desperately to escape. The scars from the day never left the Association or Croke Park.

The grounds were only purchased by the GAA in 1913, yet the events of 21 November 1920 forever immortalised the venue as a historical landmark.

Special match programmes were issued for the Leinster football final, with front covers that mirrored the match tickets from Bloody Sunday. 

The names of the 14 victims –  Jane Boyle, James Burke, Daniel Carroll, Michael Feery, Michael Hogan, Tom Hogan, James Matthews, Patrick O’Dowd, Jerome O’Leary, William Robinson, Tom Ryan, John William Scott, James Teehan and Joseph Traynor – were stitched into one-off Dublin jerseys for the game.

a-view-of-the-dublin-jersey-in-commemoration-of-the-14-victims-of-bloody-sunday-on-jones-road A view of the Dublin Jersey in commemoration of the 14 victims of Bloody Sunday on Jones' Road. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Brendan Gleeson appeared out of the blackness to read aloud the names of the victims. He gave details about their lives and how they died. A flame was lit for each of them attached to a plaque, with 14 lights shining up into the night sky behind them.

The specially commissioned piece of music, More Than a Game, echoed out in stirring fashion as a video tribute celebrated the lives of the people who left their homes to attend a game and never returned. Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke, while President Michael D Higgins and GAA supremo John Horan placed a wreath below the tricolour.

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Two members of the Artane school of music stood holding Irish flags in front of where the wreaths were laid.

As lights of north Dublin flickered silently in the background, it was impossible not to picture the unspeakable scenes that unfolded on the field below 100 years earlier.

The image of Michael Hogan in his Tipperary kit lying dead on the field near the Cusack Stand sideline and supporter Tom Ryan slumped beside him, both shot in the 90 seconds of madness. Or Jane Boyle, holding the hand of her fiancee Daniel Byron, before a bullet ripped through her back and a crush of people separated them in her final moments. 

Or Patrick O’Dowd, the 57-year-old who was helping people over a high wall at the back of Croke Park when he was hit by a bullet and killed instantly. His limp body fell on top of the last person he dropped safely to the other side.

It was a privilege to be in Croke Park for a night of such significance, when they remembered events that will never be erased from the GAA’s memory and people that won’t be forgotten.

stephen-cluxton-lays-a-wreath-in-memory-of-bloody-sunday Stephen Cluxton lays a wreath in memory of Bloody Sunday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The game that followed was a massacre in a sporting sense, with Meath offering little resistance to Dublin’s sweep to a 10th straight Leinster title. 

After the game the Dublin players gathered at the commemoration where captain Stephen Cluxton laid a wreath as a mark of respect.

“Obviously it’s a huge occasion for the GAA,” reflected Sky Blues manager Dessie Farrell.

“In some ways, what happened here 100 years ago today is very much part and parcel of our identity as an organisation.

“We touched on it during the week about the importance of the night and the commemoration. We just felt in our own small way that it was important to recognise the people who perished on that night and (who were) struck down in very sad circumstances.

“And to just take the opportunity to be grateful for all we have and the opportunity that we’ve been provided by all those who have gone before us, our forefathers and people like who were killed here 100 years ago.”

It was a thoughtful gesture by Dublin on a night where the GAA struck the right tone in recalling the darkest day in its history.  

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Kevin O'Brien

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