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Croke Park
by Clint Wayne
2007-02-12 08:39:47
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Croke Park, Ireland’s National Stadium and the fourth largest sporting arena in Europe, this Sunday, takes an enormous step and probably a ‘cultural shock’ as a ‘foreign’ sport takes place for the first time in its history when Ireland take on France in the Six Nations Rugby Championship.

ovi magazine - croke park - ovi lehti - rugbyUp to now, the stadium has only been the home to Ireland’s National Sports of Gaelic Football and Hurling, but due to the imminent re-development of Lansdowne Road it will now become the temporary home to both the Irish Rugby and Football teams.

Starting life as an athletics track on the north side of Dublin, with the formation of the Gaelic Athletic Association [GAA], it became the venue for Gaelic football in 1884 with the All Irelands Finals being contested from 1896. Following a short period of private ownership, it was bought by the GAA and named after Archbishop Thomas Croke, a strong supporter of Irish Nationalism and one of the GAA’s patrons.

By 1913 it had two stands and grassy banks all round, but following the significant Easter Rising in 1916 the resulting brick rubble from a demolished O’Connell Street, from the crushed up-rising, was used to construct a grassy bank at the railway end of the ground offering a better view for spectators and now immortalised as ‘Hill 16’, one of the most famous terraces in the world.

The Easter Rising was seen as a key turning point of the conflict as it marked a huge step towards the physical force of Irish Republicanism from the mainstream non-violent Parliamentary Party led by John Redmond who, through democratic political bargaining with the British Government, had seen in 1914 the split of a United Ireland into a partitioned Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland.

On November 21st 1920, the hallowed turf was stained with Irish blood when Croke Park was the scene of the senseless slaughter of 12 innocent spectators and one player, Tipperary’s captain Michael Hogan, in a totally indiscriminate retaliation attack by the British Police Auxiliaries following the assassination of 12 British Intelligent Officers by revolutionary leader Michael Collins, which was well-depicted in the 1996 movie Michael Collins. Although much of the film was criticised at the time for its inaccuracies, this scene was thought to be correct. This murderous day in the long conflict of Irish Independence became famously known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

Four years later in 1926, the construction of a new stand was posthumously named after the Tipperary captain. There followed much development of the ground from both sides of the war with the ‘Cusack Stand’ constructed in 1927 and a second tier added in 1936. The same year saw the formation of concrete terracing on Hill 16. The ‘Nally Stand’, named in memory of a GAA founder member, was constructed in 1952, with the first cantilevered stand constructed to celebrate the GAA’s 75th anniversary that led to the highest ever attendance recorded at Croke Park of 90,556 for the 1961 All Ireland Football Final. Following the introduction of seating and more recent triple tier developments its capacity is now 82,300.

The changing of the rules in 2005 to allow the playing of both football and rugby has saved their respective associations the ignominy of being driven to playing their games on foreign soil. In doing so, they deserve the gratitude of all Ireland fans for being able to watch on home soil and when nearly 80,000 Irishman pack into Croke Park, dressed in their green regalia, for the first time on Sunday against France, and then again when England arrive in two weeks, it will surely be a tremendous atmosphere as the first rugby ball in history falls on to Hill 16.

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Asa2007-02-12 09:59:23
It's a shame they didn't win.

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