Croke Park Ireland England Rugby Match

The (Irish) players take the field.

The National Anthems are sung.

A bit of rugby was played as well, as Ireland trounced England by 30 points on the hallowed grounds of Croker.

Update: "Was there something more than a Rugby match going on here?"

I'm sure you're aware of some of the history between Ireland and England, as in the fact that Ireland was an occupied colony of Britain for nearly 800 years. As such, any Ireland vs. England match is very emotional. However, this instance was particularly significant due to the venue.

Normally when Ireland plays rugby in Dublin they play at a moderately sized stadium (ca. 40,000) called Landsdowne Road. This year, however, the Irish rugby association embarked upon a plan to renovate the stadium, and as such there was no adequate stadium available for the soccer international and rugby matches, other than Croke Park. This is where the story becomes noteworthy.

Croke Park stadium has been wholly owned by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) since 1913. The GAA was formed in 1884 to preserve Irish sports, namely Hurling and Gaelic Football, and are a strictly amateur organisation, as in the players do not receive any pay for playing. In fact, the GAA is so protective of their sports that GAA players were, for decades, banned from playing any "english" sports such as soccer or rugby, and to be caught playing even a friendly backyard game of either meant that one was permanently banned from the GAA. The playing of English sports was also banned from Croke Park, from 1913 until the week before the match I have posted videos of above.

About the park itself, due to the fact the the players weren't paid that left all gate receipts to be spent on the main GAA venue itself, Croke Park, and thus it was expanded to hold the 82000 people it can hold today (making it the fourth largest stadium in all of europe). Perhaps more importantly is the historic influence on the stadium itself. One end of the stadium is called "Hill 16" due to the fact that it was built from the rubble (1) left on the main street through Dublin city centre, O'connell street (then "sackville" street) after it was flattened by the english bombardment after the Irish declaration of independence and ensuing war in 1916. There is another set of seats that the camera pans across at the beginning of the second video clip that's called the "Hogan Stand," named after a player that was shot to death on the field by the british army on the original "Bloody Sunday" in 1920.

What happened in that instance was that 12 british spies had been killed by the Irish
Republican Army the day before a GAA match between Tipperary and Dublin, so in "retaliation" the british army mercinary brigade (the "Black and Tans") drove out onto the field during the match and first opened fire on the players, and then opened fire on the spectators, killing more than a dozen people and injuring many more. That was the last time, until the match pictured above, that the english were in croke park.

So for the first time in its history, an english team was allowed to play an english sport on what you might understand from above to be considered by the irish as the "hallowed" grounds of Croke park. That brought up a couple of other big issues, namely (1) that the union jack, the flag of imperial britain that was the symbol of the empire for centuries, was going to fly over croke park, and that (2) the british national anthem, God Save the Queen, would be played at croke park. The first was an issue because after the bloody sunday massacre the GAA vowed that the union jack would never fly over croke park, and after some negotiation the english team agreed to have their secondary flag (a white flag with a red cross, called something like "st george's cross") flown. The second issue was met with threats from very nationalist Irish "Republicans" to disrupt the singing of God Save the queen, whose lyrics are considered inciteful towards former colonies (such as the anti-scottish "Lord, grant that Marshal Wade, May by thy mighty aid, Victory bring. May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush, Rebellious Scots to crush" and the references to their colonial peoples as "knaves"), and whose very meaning is the preservation of the symbol of tyranny and oppression that even the US once fought against.

But, the feared outbursts of disrespect during "god save the queen" never materialised, and upon the songs conclusion (as seen in the second clip) both the english fans and the irish fans applauded respectfully. Then, the irish national anthem ("Amhrán na bhFiann" or "A Soldier's Song" in english) was played, along with the official rugby anthem "Ireland's Call," both of which are songs about Ireland's fight for independence from England, and which were both sung by the 75000 strong contingent of irish fans on hand for the match. One of my favorite bits of the second video is when the BRITISH Broadcasting Company announcer could only eek out a "I've got a lump in my throat after that" when they were finished singing the irish national anthem.

What made the match so important to the irish people was that it was an opportunity for them to set aside the bitterness, anger, and resentment that has torn the nation apart at its seams for centuries, and move forward, leaving behind the preoccupation with anger towards england and instead focusing on pride for ireland, which was displayed in the match's final result, a 43-13 victory for Ireland, which was Englands largest margin of defeat ever. England, who at the time were the reigning world champions of rugby. England, 13-43 to Ireland. At croke park. It was magnificant.

So important was the historic significance of the english team being allowed to play an english sport at Croke park that the english coach had a retired GAA player and historian flown to england to brief the english team on the importance of the occasion. You might also get an idea of what it meant by perusing some of the newspaper articles on the match, available below.

From "The Irish Times"

Hair-raising cry of anthems fills Croker with pride and joy

The music swelled in Croke Park, and somehow, we swallowed the lump in our throat. We sang. Misty-eyed, we sang our hearts out, writes Miriam Lord.

The message, not the words, mattered: Here we are. All of us. Happy. Proud. This is Ireland. We are Ireland. Live with it.

Before this rugby game, there was too much talk of sell-outs and patriots spinning in their republican plots. The good humoured maturity of the Irish fans settled that question before an English boot touched the ball.

On this significant Saturday, with the Cross of St George flying alongside the Ulster flag and Irish Tricolour, England came to Croke Park to play a non-Gaelic game. There was tension in the air.

This journey to the crucible of the GAA had been a long one. Fourteen people shot dead by British forces during a match in 1920. The Hogan stand, named in memory of the young Tipperary footballer killed in that massacre. Hill 16, built on the rubble taken from O'Connell Street after the Easter Rising.

And now, here we were, minutes away from a rendition of God Save the Queen . Oh, passions were high alright. But only about the game.

Outside, the riot police, on standby, stood by. A few streets away, the pursed lip brigade of stubborn old men rehashed their desiccated rhetoric for the media. Then they lodged a protest letter with the GAA.

Back inside the stadium, back in step with time, the English sportsmen got a generous welcome. But when Brian O'Driscoll led out his Irish squad, the noise was deafening.

The players lined up to meet President Mary McAleese. It seemed like an age before she returned to her seat, heightening the sense of anticipation before the national anthems.

The teams waited. The crowd hushed. Finally, but not before she was grabbed and kissed twice by Bertie Ahern, the President sat down. The Garda Band and the Army Number One Band struck up. The English were in good voice. They made themselves heard.

At last, our turn. The Irish may need two anthems, but those who wear the green share a singular passion. Amhrán na bhFiann and Ireland's Call were belted out with such hair-raising intensity that men and women were crying as they sang. No dishonour in that. On the field, the players battled with their emotions too. Hooker Jerry Flannery, in floods. John Hayes, a scary looking prop forward with a shaven head and greased up cauliflower ears, blubbered.

How could England have touched these men, imbued with such an unshakeable sense of destiny on this historic day? They couldn't. In their play, O'Driscoll's men reflected the maturity, confidence, spirit and passion of the fans who cheered them. Marvellous. Ireland 43 - England 13. Cry God for Croker, Ireland and the oval ball!
© 2007 The Irish Times

From "The Irish Independent"

Hatred Kicked into touch


THEY played God Save The Queen at Croke Park yesterday. And the World did not stop turning.

More than 7,000 English fans sang their national anthem with gusto and pride.

And from 75,000 Irish supporters which included The President Mrs Mary McAleese and An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, there was the respectful silence that we always knew there would be.

Not a single boo or cat call, not a single derisory whistle.

This was a great occasion and those bigots who tried to drive a political wedge between Irish and English rugby fans got the answer they deserved - complete and utter indifference.

The much-hyped protest outside Croke Park if it could be called such, was a damp squib attended by some 150 misguided souls

They included a hard core of Republican Sinn Fein and various hangers-on included a large number of teenagers.

They were outnumbered by print and broadcast media, stewards and gardai.

The only hint of dissonance at Croke Park came when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern kissed McAleese on the cheek in the preliminary moments before the playing of God Save The Queen. It was the moment as the crowd didn't know whether to cheer or jeer.

The English XV were greeted with a standing ovation from both sets of supporters as they ran onto the hallowed turf of Croke Park to the sound of Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common man.

Mrs McAleese was greeted warmly by the players and some of the palpable tension of the pre-match nerves dissipated amid genuine smiles.

The 60-strong combined Army No 1 band and the Garda band provided a rousing rendition of both anthems starting with God Save the Queen. There was some tension as if 82,000 were praying that no-one would try to make a name for themselves with an unseemly outburst.

It didn't happen. The conclusion was greeted with strong applause.

Then of course our own anthem - never sung louder on even the most passionate of All-Ireland Sundays.

Ireland's Call lifted the roof and the hairs stood up on the back of the neck.

What happened next? Oh yes, there was a game of rugby.

The result was immaterial really.

This was a day when Ireland grew up.

All the talk of protest and old GAA greats handing back their medals faded into insignificance.

It was a moment to savour for those who have fought for reconciliation, another important milestone in the growth of a nation.

This was more than a rugby match between Ireland and England, it was a defiant symbol of a new maturity and a confident battle cry that we will no longer be prisoners of the past.

The eyes of the world were on Croke Park and the stadium was a sight to behold.

Dublin, 1916

More pictures here.


Anonymous said...

Ok ummmmm

Forgive me but the commentator said that it was Ireland leaving the past and taking the hand of the future.... was there something else besides a Rugby match going on here?

Forgive me for being uninformed here.

misneach said...

THJ!! I figured you'd given up on my blog the same as everyone else as i haven't posted in


I should have included the historical circumstances of the match rather than just posting the

two videos, but I kind've assumed that the only people who would stumble upon this post would

have been searching google (where 95% of my referrals come from) for the match and would

thusly know the situation.

(and i was being lazy)

But anyway, I'll explain.
(actually, why don't I just add it to the post. The "update" is for you THJ)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history. Sorry I have not been around in a while. I will be checking in more often.

Thanks again.

chi said...

good stuff bro. well done on the update, and as for the latest post...? i'm impressed.

email your mother, btw. :p happy friday.

Cartledge said...

It sounds like a recent Australia - New Zealand game, and we are essentially friendly foes.
Nothing like a gentleman's game to bring out the finer points of our natures.

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Anonymous said...

excuse me for putting in a little edit but the rule of allowing "foreign sports" not just or indeed exclusive to English sports was changed months before the match was played, and not as the blog states "a week" before the match. however there was fierce debate about it for almost two years and it literally divided the country and indeed divided friendships.
Anyway, its a very good post.
Thank you,
From a proud Irish man.

sewa elf jakarta said...

Very nice, thanks.

Natalie said...

really good article, just stumbled on it whilst googleing the event... but umm... did you watch the Michael Collins movie? the black and tans never actually drove their vehicle into the stadium, the movie just did that to make it look 'good'...

Sincerely A-Level in Irish History.. :P