Tag Archives: Tipperary

Bloody Sunday: November 21 1920 – Representation and Legacy

As we wend our way through the next decade of commemorations great and small, sometimes with a sure footing, sometimes without, Fintan O’Toole has written that ‘the decade that is being marked is not only about violence and conflict but it is undeniably steeped in bloodshed, animosity and disastrous division. History should not wallow in these swamps, but it cannot stay clear of them either.’[1] Violence and sport are age-old bed-fellows – whether on the pitch or in the stands – violence, and the threat of it, forms part of the frisson of sporting endeavour. However, some forms of violence enacted in sporting contexts are utterly unexpected. Violence doesn’t tend to form as strong a part of Irish people’s conception of their sporting history as it does say in England, where violence at football in particular has been absorbed into its narrative particularly in the last forty years. Largely this is because the same phenomenon, hooliganism, hasn’t received quite as much attention in an Irish context – except by a sensationalist press – and because it happened on a much smaller scale. There is an exception to this: one violent act does loom large in Ireland’s sporting history.

Representation

One of the stand-out sequences in Neil Jordan’s biopic Michael Collins are those depicting the events of November 21 1920, more commonly known as Bloody Sunday. One of the most arresting aspects of Jordan’s portrayal is the Gaelic football match between Tipperary and Dublin in Croke Park. As with much of the film, Jordan took some liberties in portraying this retaliatory event, though having read some contemporary reports, there seems little need since the reality strikes me as being sufficiently shocking. Two of Jordan’s key changes, partially for the purposes of narrative drive but also for visual impact, was firstly to have the shooting done by Auxiliary Forces rather than the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and secondly to have an armoured tank come on the pitch to do the shooting, but this did not happen, rather the tank was outside the ground firing into the air. Sean Crosson, discussing the scene in an article on representations of the GAA on film says this scene was one of the most controversial on the films release in Ireland, in November 1996. According to Crosson ‘Jordan has defended his use of armoured cars as he wanted this “scene to last more than 30 seconds”‘.[2]

“A Thrilling Game Expected!”: A Challenge Match

Due to the disruptions to normal life caused by the war of independence, there were serious knock-on effects for sport too. Matches were less frequent and competition difficult to compete. It was in this context that a challenge match was arranged between Tipperary and Dublin to be played in November 1920. An ad in the Irish Independent the day beforehand let us know a thrilling game was expected between the challengers and the Leinster champions.[3] Somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 people turned out to witness the game. What few of the spectators would have known was that morning, some 14 British intelligence officers were shot around various parts of Dublin (according to Ferriter several were not in fact intelligence agents at all and one was a cousin of Michael Davitt).[4] FSL Lyons wrote that ‘this multiple shooting spread a wave of horror through both England and Ireland’ but, he continues on ‘the horror was redoubled by the revenge of the Black and Tans’, where in Lyons’ words they ‘fired indiscriminately on the players and the crowd.’[5] Not long into the match, shots rang out as according to some armoured vehicles were parked at each corner of the ground. Amid the confusion, 13 civilians – some of them children – were killed and one player, Tipperary captain that day Michael Hogan, was shot in the mouth as he scrambled to duck from the firing.  Mike Cronin, Paul Rouse and Mark Duncan’s The GAA: A People’s History wrote of it that ‘of all the bloody days of the War of Independence, this was the bloodiest of them all – at least in terms of its impact on the public psyche.’[6]

Press Reporting

In the days and even weeks following this event, the newspapers were full of reports of the events as more and more of what happened slowly came to light. The thrilling match that had been advertised turned out to be something rather different. Rather than a tale of sporting exploits, the headline in the Irish Independent that Monday read starkly:

Irish Independent, Monday 22 November 1920

Irish Independent, Monday 22 November 1920

The newspaper reported ‘terrifying scenes’ when the RIC, military and auxiliaries made their appearance. They reported too that there were ‘most painful scenes’ as the dead and injured were picked up and brought to hospital for treatment.[7] The Freeman’s Journal wrote about a priest who ministered the last rites to the injured and dying.[8] The same issue of the newspaper carried an official statement from Dublin Castle to say that the RIC and other personnel had gone to the grounds on information of finding some particular suspects.[9] The Freeman’s Journal a few days later reported that Sir Hamar Greenwood in response to a query in Parliament about the matter that ‘the firing by the Crown forces was fully justified in the exceptional circumstances of the situation Sunday last.’[10] The Irish Times reports were the only ones to acknowledge that there was some ambiguity to the exact sequence of events, and conflicting reports. Given the papers political stance, the front page next Saturday led with the murder of the famous ‘Cairo Gang’ but their front page also had this as a follow on from that story:

Irish Times, Saturday 27 November 1920

Irish Times, Saturday 27 November 1920

Legacy

In the aftermath of the event, Hogan was buried in his Tipperary jersey, his coffin draped in the Irish tricolour. In their people’s history of the GAA Mike Cronin, Paul Rouse and Mark Duncan write of Bloody Sunday 1920 being ‘for the GAA… an entirely new aspect to the place of Croke Park in the story of the Association. This was now more than merely a playing field: it was martyred ground’. It was, they write ‘the place where people had been shot because they attended a Gaelic football match.’[11] Echoing this, John Sugden and Alan Bairner described the event as one ‘etched in the consciousness of Gaels’ and argue that ‘events like [Bloody Sunday] rapidly accelerated the alienation felt between the authorities and the Irish people’, thus ‘undermining the basis for continued British rule in Ireland.’[12]

The  naming of a stand after the Tipperary player who died, Michael Hogan, four years later attests to this – it is indeed hard to sit in a seat in the Hogan Stand and not, even briefly, cast your mind back to the event and so to the surrounding events. This stand was built in time for the 1924 Aonach Tailteann, a project for promoting the newly independent state to the world via the medium of sport.[13] Brian Hanley informs us the events of Bloody Sunday were being used in the mid-1960s in an United Irishman newspaper article on the ban on foreign games where the journalist insisted that on that day in 1920 the Black and Tans “knew where to find the Fíor Gael” and that was at Croke Park and not at Lansdowne Road or Dalymount.[14]

A ticket from the Bloody Sunday match, recently sold at auction. Image Source: www.thurles.info

A ticket from the Bloody Sunday match, recently sold at auction. Image Source: www.thurles.info

Former President of the GAA Peter Quinn (1991-1994), reflected that when the GAA was during his tenure considering the redevelopment or building of a new state-of-the-art stadium that the management committee decided that ‘tradition, history, the symbolism of Hill 16, the memory of Bloody Sunday and a myriad of other factors’ dictated against a new ground and instead the redevelopment of Croke Park as it then existed.[15] According to an Irish Examiner report, a ticket from that match (pictured above) was sold at auction in Co. Clare in 2012 for over €5,000. The same article notes that another ticket from the match had a few years previously, in 2007, sold for around the €7,500 mark. The Irish Examiner article places this March 2007 sale in the context of the opening of Croke Park to foreign games.[16] The event was a central part of the Queen’s visit to Croke Park as part of her visit to Ireland in the summer of 2011, where according to a report on TheScore.ie then President of the GAA, Christy Cooney, while making reference to the tragic events of Bloody Sunday 1920 said that

We also know that in our shared history there have been many tragic events which have inflicted hurt on us all.

While acknowledging the significance of the past and honouring all those that have lost their lives, including those that died in this place, the Gaelic Athletic Association has consistently supported and helped advance the peace process in Northern Ireland.

This use of the event stands in stark contrast to that which Brian Hanley noted in the 1960s in the pages of the United Irishman. This particular articulation of the event, as being part of a shared history, is in keeping with the more conciliatory role the GAA has been seen to play since the 1990s, and noted by both Bairner and Sugden in their work on sport and sectarianism in Ireland. Of all the legacies, tributes, and modes of commemoration, one stands out most. The most poignant tribute made to Hogan was the one when Tipperary would play Dublin for the title of 1920 All-Ireland champions in 1922, and upon winning, the Tipperary players gathered at the spot where Hogan was shot to hear the music struck up by the CJ Kickham band.[17]


[1] Fintan O’Toole, “Beyond Amnesia and Piety” in Horne, John and Madigan, Edward, Towards Commemoration: Ireland in War and Revolution, 1912-923, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy 2013, p.158

[2] Seán Crosson, “Gaelic Games and ‘the Movies’”, in Cronin, Murphy, Rouse (eds.) The Gaelic Athletic Association, 1884-2009, Dublin: Irish Academic Press 2009, p.119

[3] Irish Independent, 20 November 1920

[4] Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000, London: Profile Books 2005, p.235

[5] FSL Lyons, Ireland Since the Great Famine, London: Fontana Press 1985 edition, p.419

[6] Cronin, Duncan, Rouse, The GAA: A People’s History, Cork: The Collins Press 2009, p.154

[7] Irish Independent, 22 November 1920

[8] Freemans Journal, 22 November 1920

[9] Ibid.

[10] Freemans Journal, 27 November 1920

[11] Cronin, Duncan, Rouse, The GAA: A People’s History, p.154

[12] Sugden, John and Bairner, Alan, Sport and Sectarianism in a Divided Ireland, London: Leicester University Press 1993, p.33

[13] Cronin, Mike and Higgins, Roisín, Places We Play: Ireland’s Sporting Heritage, Cork: The Collins Press 2011, p.96; See also Mike Cronin, “The Irish Free State and Aonach Tailteann”, in Bairner, Alan (ed.) Sport and the Irish: Histories, Identities, Issues, Dublin: UCD Press 2005, pp.53-69

[14] Brian Hanley, “Irish Republican Attitudes to sport since 1921”, in McAnallen, Hassan and Hegarty (eds.), The Evolution of the GAA: Ulaidh, Éire agus Eile, Dublin: The GAA 2009, p.179; Interestingly though, one of the Tipperary players that day – James McNamara, had less than ten years previously won trophies playing soccer with Cahir Park Football Club, see Paul Buckley, Cameos of a Century, Cahir: Cahir Park 2010, p.9

[15] Peter Quinn, “From Tigh Mór to Croke Park”, in McAnallen, Hassan and Hegarty (eds.), The Evolution of the GAA, p.48

[16] Irish Examiner, 15 February 2012

[17] Cronin, Duncan, Rouse, The GAA: County by County, Cork: The Collins Press, pp.362-3

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Filed under Irish History, Memory, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Those Pesky Kids! Football on the Street

This post is driven by the same impulses as those that produced my piece on fish ‘n’ chips in Ireland, which you can check out here.

The part of Cork I live in is reasonably old, with most of the houses dating from around the 1880s. The oldest houses are in terraced rows. There are plenty of children in the area, and in the good weather they can be seen out and about, playing. One particular gable end is a favoured spot of some boys to either kick a ball or hurl a sliotar at. The importance of having a gable end that can operate as a goal, or as someone to pass the ball back to you tends to be underestimated. This particular gable end is in a wide open spot near the major road artery that brings you around to all of the streets in the area. This is usually only used by maybe one or two kids at a time and rarely are full-blown matches played here.

richardmaynefootballThe iconic image to the left, taken by British photographer Roger Mayne in 1956, captures the essence of playing on the street. There was a time, before the mass provision of outdoor and indoor facilities for sport in Ireland by the local club, the local government, or private leisure companies – the field of dreams for many was the street. Often narrow, usually packed, dirty, noisy, and always hard, they saw sporting triumph and tragedy to match any of the great pantheons of modern sport. For many kids, being out on the street playing was a necessity – small, cramped housing in many of Ireland’s towns and cities invariably meant that children were more likely to be found on the relatively spacious streets as opposed to their small homes.

Not surprisingly, much of this play was not looked on too kindly by some adults, and certainly not by the police. The antagonism between ball-playing youngsters and either local residents or police, has a long established tradition in Ireland. In Dublin Tenement Life, Kevin Kearns’ excellent oral history of inner-city, working-class Dublin, a huge array of stories abound on this subject. Take for instance the testimony of Senan Finucan, a Clare native who was a policeman in the Liberties in the 1930s:

Children all in the streets playing football and handball. They shouldn’t have been but they’d just give a signal that the police are coming and they’d run. And children swinging on the lamp-posts, that was dangerous with the lorries coming along. And scutting that was highly dangerous. We always tried to prevent that.

Throughout the book there are stories from people playing in the streets, in pitch ‘n’ toss schools, keeping sketch for policemen that might be coming. Such things weren’t restricted to Dublin’s inner-city though. Way back in 1875, in Nenagh, north Tipperary, football was already popular with young boys in the area with many being brought before the Petty Sessions in order to be fined either for playing football on the street or trespassing in farmer’s fields to play games with a football.

On one occasion a total of more than thirty young boys were summoned by the court in Waterford to pay one shilling for the “nuisance” they had caused with their ball playing. He said that it was a pity there weren’t more playing pitches in the city, and thought it a good thing that the boys should be playing football, calling it a “natural” thing. The previous day he had fined two boys five shillings and warned those in front of him that future fines would be two shillings six pence.

Similar incidences happened elsewhere throughout the country, even in the county towns. In Bantry, to take another example, one boy was brought before court for kicking a football off the bonnet of a Ford car during a game in which fifteen or sixteen boys took part according to a report in the Southern Star in September 1930, while many years earlier boys near Borrisoleigh in north Tipperary were summoned to court for trespassing on a farmer’s land to play football, according to court reports in the Nenagh Guardian during August of 1909 – following in the footsteps of boys nearby back in 1875.

In 1905, a tiny notice appeared in the Limerick Leader, informing us that at the Petty Sessions recently two boys were each fined a shilling for playing football on Market Alley. And, in Derry in April 1925, a boy of 16 was fined the remarkable sum of five shillings for playing football in the street, with the magistrate quoted as complaining that it was ‘almost impossible to get walking on the footpath in some districts.’ It’s unlikely the surly magistrate had the sunny south-east in mind, but around the same time in Waterford there was much he would have recognised.  Between 1927 and 1930 especially there was a good number of cases appeared before the district court relating to young boys who had been apprehended for playing football in the street, often with broken windows becoming a problem from stray footballs.

For one journalist, this was the thin end of the wedge, writing in the Irish Independent in July 1933 that kids who are fined for playing football in the streets come ‘to treat as no more serious [the laws forbidding] street football the laws forbidding truancy and petty stealing.’ Moralistic alarmism this may well have been but remarkably, the same newspaper records an incident in Belfast where a woman, Matilda Kernaghan, 74 years of age died in hospital from shock and exhaustion. This was  following a fractured leg sustained after being knocked over by a boy during a game of football on the street in April 1937.

street footie 1

Irish Press, 19 January 1934

Only three years previously, the Irish Press reported of a near fatal game which saw two boys involved in a game brought before the circuit criminal court in Dublin, when one boy caused sever bodily harm to another he was playing against in January 1934.

In July of that same year, the Irish Press ran the story of a Dublin dressmaker who had collected some 400 footballs that had been put through her window by boys playing in the street, which a Garda cited in the case of 17 year old boy four shillings for playing football in Denmark Street. These were extreme and unusual cases, but were apt to cause panic and dismay.

street footie 2

Irish Press, 6 July 1934

Part of the problem of course was that where previously road traffic had been minimal in Ireland, it was increasingly the case that cars were on the roads. By 1940 things had reached such a pitch over this issue of playing on the streets, and the accidents it was causing that the ‘Safety First’ Association published a handbook Safety First for Children. The publication was the subject of an Irish Times article in May 1940, which threw scorn upon those parents whose children played on the streets.  Although the article acknowledges the dearth of playing spaces, nevertheless the blame lies squarely with the parents who don’t teach their children how best to behave on the roads.In Waterford, the problem had become such by the 1940s that the newspapers nonchalantly ended court reports with the topic in a careworn fashion:

The usual fines were imposed on a number of city youths charged with ball playing on the street

Highlighting a significant gap between those for whom streets were fields of play and those for whom they were to be patrolled, these stories bear out the gap between desired and actual behaviour at a time when it was deemed right and proper that children should be seen and not heard!

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Filed under Irish History, Nineteenth Century, Social History, Sports History, Twentieth Century