Lansdowne Road, the home of Irish rugby (The Irish rugby team represents the whole of the island) and where the Republic’s Football team plays its home internationals, is undergoing a major renovation and will be unavailable for use until 2009. In the meantime the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has allowed both teams to use its ground at Croke Park.
That the GAA has allowed rugby and football matches to be played at Croke Park required a change in its rules: until 2005 there was a ban on “foreign” sports using GAA grounds (The ban seemed to be against Football and Rugby and I suppose Cricket and Hockey too. Croke Park had been the venue for an American football match in the 80s). The first British “foreign” sport to be played there was the Ireland – France Six Nations rugby international which France won 20-17
Ireland plays England there on 24 February. According to Sunday’s Observer (Not sure how I missed it, I can thank Gert for highlighting it) at the Northern Ireland Office is considering plans for the Secretary of State, Peter Hain, to lay a wreath at a memorial to Gaelic sports fans shot dead by British forces inside the stadium in 1920 and issue an apology from the British government for what has become known as the first Bloody Sunday massacre.
Briefly, 21 November 1920 was a particularly bloody day during the Irish War of Independence. On the morning of 21 November, IRA teams acting on the orders of Michael Collins mounted an operation aimed at destroying the British intelligence network in Dublin. The operation was successful and 14 agents were killed.
In the afternoon 5000 spectators had gathered in Croke Park to attend a football match between Dublin and Tipperary. A police force was given the task of surrounding the venue with the stated intention of searching all males leaving the stadium. Shots seem to have been fired at the police convoy as it arrived at the stadium. The police entered the ground and fired into the crowd. 14 people died, either shot or trampled to death by fleeing spectators.
November 21 was a disastrous day for British rule in Ireland. Not only was British Intelligence in Ireland crippled the deaths at Coke Park increased support for the republican government.
The proposals to lay a wreath are opposed by Irish rugby veterans and Unionist MPs. Hard line republicans are unsurprisingly disgusted that a British “foreign” sport would be held at Croke Park in the first place.
Former Ireland international Trevor Ringland said that the proposal posed great dangers for peace and reconciliation. Ringland, who runs the anti-sectarian 'One Small Step' campaign in Northern Ireland, said: 'The fact that this game is being played at Croke Park, thanks to the generous decision of the Gaelic Athletic Association, will have positive ripple effects for the future. But plans for a wreath-laying ceremony and the apology will only mix sport with politics. It will bring the politics of the 20th century into the attempts at reconciliation in the 21st century. The government should think again before going ahead with something like this.'
Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson accused the Northern Ireland Office of “'monumental stupidity”. 'Whoever thought up this bright idea ought to consign it now to the dustbin of history. Rugby has always been a community where politics and sports do not mix. I sincerely hope this plan is dropped immediately, as it would outrage thousands of rugby fans, not only in Northern Ireland but also across this island.'
English fans may well encounter republican protests at the game. The breakaway nationalist group Republican Sinn Fein (RSF), which opposes the peace process, has confirmed it will picket the match. The political allies of the Continuity IRA said playing the game at Croke Park - the home of Gaelic sports in Ireland - was part of a process to 'normalise the occupation of Ireland'. Des Dalton, RSF's vice-president, said: 'The political symbolism of inviting the national team of a country which forcibly occupies part of Ireland to Croke Park is something Irish republicans are determined to publicly protest against.'
What to say about tall of this? I am glad that the GAA has overturned its anachronistic rule against rugby and football matches being held at its grounds . Doctrine and dogma aside, it will surely be a very profitable venture for them. As for the wreath - will it undo what happened nearly 90 years ago? Of course not. Can it be anything else other than an empty gesture? . I somehow get the feeling that the only thing laid to rest will be the proposal itself! I hope it is a good game and failing the cricket test, sorry, rugby test I hope Ireland are victorious! As ever I wish old throwbacks like the RSF went the way of the dinosaurs.