“Prisoners of Our History No More” seems a vain hope given the current Political impasse in the North, but perhaps, just perhaps this occasion, un thinkable until very recently, symbolises another small step away from the vortex of antipathy which all too often seems to overpower and suck all hope of burying the past away.
Hill 16, the Hogan Stand, both stark reminders of what tore Ireland asunder during the War of Independence, and the subsequent heartbreak of Civil Conflict with families, friends and communities ruptured and fractured, some scars never healing, a time so brilliantly portrayed by Ken Loach in his masterpiece “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”. (See entry for 16th August).
To the outsider it seemed a no brainer that the IRFU and the FAI would simply move into Croke Park, a 80,000 all seater venue fit for the 21st Century, but this is Ireland where symbolism counts for maybe far too much.
In the aftermath of the 1920 Bloody Sunday Massacre which took place inside Croke Park
the GAA took a variety of measures to distance Ireland’s sporting culture from possible Anglicisation, which included banning of people who worked for the Crown (Police, Army, Civil Service) from being active in GAA organised games, and preventing rugby and soccer from using their facilities.
Extreme, yes. But also understandable given the persecution the GAA continued to suffer in the North during the Stormont and Direct Rule eras. Petty things such as buzzing by Army helicopters during games, plus routine stop and search around the grounds and systematic harassment of Officials.
Unfortunately this made GAA membership seem like a subversive act, and when I lived in the North you could see what was afoot……
Thus it was a Rubicon Moment when the GAA voted to lift the various bans in place in order to accommodate rugby and soccer at Croker, plus allow members of the PSNI to join and have a full part in GAA activities. A clear sign that it’s time to move on.
I have been to Croke Park on two occasions, firstly to see U2 in 1987, and then again in 1994 when I stood on Hill 16 with my family and friends to witness Limerick’s All Ireland Hurling Semi Final victory over Antrim. It was a fantastic day with a breathtaking atmosphere plus a great time in the most enormous pub you’ve ever seen. So many stories from THAT day!
Last night Ireland routed England and we inflicted the heaviest defeat suffered by the Red Rose in Tests against the hosts.
Tactically Eddie O’Sullivan played a blinder as all the pre match hype surrounded England stand off and playmaker Jonny Wilkinson, but instead former GB and Ireland RL Skipper Andrew Farrell was targeted as the weak link.
Thus anything Ellis and Wilkinson produced was neutered by England’s disastrous performance in midfield.
The watershed was the unfortunate sin binning of England lock Danny Grewcock for a frankly daft, but entirely predictable interference in the ruck, Ireland took full advantage by racking up 20 points whilst the Bath forward was off the park.
England were so utterly poor that the game had the air of anti climax, but I always enjoy seeing them humiliated and it was good that Ireland rammed home their advantage in a thoroughly professional way.
Farrell must rue the day he walked out on RL, but I hold no antipathy towards him as he was a great ambassador for what is the superior form of the game, and his savaging in the London based Public School Rugger Bugger media is totally over the top and uncalled for, but tiresomely inevitable.
Elsewhere Italy shocked a dreadful Scotland by running in three converted tries in the first quarter if the game, no way back for the hosts and Italy have their first away win in Six Nations history by a convincing 17-37.
And Wales lifted hearts and then crushed them in the Stade de France by scoring twice but then the French got it together and ran out 32-21 winners.