bloody sunday This weekend let us remember the 14 Irish people who went to a game in Croke Park and never came home
Tonight before the Leinster football final in Croke Park, the GAA will commemorate the centenary of Bloody Sunday in a special ceremony which will be broadcast live on RTE 2.
The tragic killing of 14 civilians, including Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan who was playing in a challenge match against Dublin, remains one of the most-poignant episodes in the history of the Association.
Thanks primarily to the work of journalist Michael Foley, we have learned more about the background to the atrocity and what happened on Sunday, November 21, 1920 than we ever did in our history books at school.
In 1984, I was privileged to interview a retired Sligo national schoolteacher, Matt Brady, who was in Croke Park on that fateful Sunday in 1920.
Then a student in St Patrick's teacher training college in Drumcondra, he had celebrated his 19th birthday the previous month.
This is Matt Brady’s personal account of Bloody Sunday:
“On the morning of the game, the college football team, who were known as Eire’s Hope, had been defeated by Dun Laoghaire Commercials in the final of the Dublin Intermediate championship. When we assembled in the hallway after dinner, we decided to go down to Croke Park to the big match between Dublin and Tipperary.
“At about 3 o'clock, a group of us gathered on the shilling side just outside the wire, mid-way under where the Cusack Stand is now situated. Soon after the game began an aeroplane flew low over the pitch and, after a few slow circuits, headed off again.
“The game was about ten or twelve minutes on when the Black and Tans arrived in Crossley tenders on the Canal Bridge just outside the ground and began firing into the pitch and the crowd.
“There were about 15,000 people at the game and from the first moment nobody needed to be told ‘hurry’, There was no greater incentive to do so than forty or fifty rifles crackling in your direction. Between where we stood and the boundary wall was only a distance of eight to ten yards.
“So, on all fours we headed for this wall, scaled it and dropped into the Belvedere College rugby grounds. Being reared on a farm meant that I was used to climbing walls.
“We ran across the field and, at its lower end, we scaled another high wall and found ourselves outside a cottage in Ballybough. We failed to gain admission to the living quarters, but we got into a barn where the family stored potatoes and turf.
“Most of us prayed. I promised God I would never stand in Croke Park if I came safe, a promise I kept for a fortnight.”
“The place was alive with Black and Tans. After about three-quarters of an hour, we were told it was safe to come out. We were searched and allowed go.
"It wasn’t until I read the newspapers the next day that we found out about the killing of the British intelligence officers (on the morning of the game). We were later told that if they hadn’t been killed, the IRA would have been destroyed in Dublin.”
Mr Brady, recalled how one of his fellow students from Monaghan decided to pray aloud when the shooting started.
“At the risk of being accused of a slight profanity I must relate this incident. This Monaghan student decided to say the Act of Contrition which he proceeded to recite out loud. And this is how he said it.
"‘Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest my sins above every evil because they displease thee my God. Here he left and text and added 'the curse o' Hell on them'. He never finished the prayer, even his own version of it.”
A native of Spring Garden, Dromard, County Sligo, Mr Brady was Patron of the GAA Sligo County Board in 1984. In a remarkable coincidence, a young woman from nearby Dromore west in Sligo is remembered for her bravery that day.
Annie M Burke risked her life by running across the pitch to put a coat over one of the bodies. She never cleaned her glasses which were blood stained in the incident and they were later donated to the GAA museum.
“She was the certainly the bravest person in Croke Park that day," recalled Matt.
So, on this special weekend let us remember the 14 Irish people who went to a game in Croke Park one hundred years ago and never came home.
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