November 21 marks the 99th anniversary of one of the most momentous days in modern Irish history.

That date in 1920 fell on a Sunday, the first one in this country to be given the sombre appellation Bloody for it was the most violent day in the War of Independence. Thirty two people in all lost their lives that day.

Thirteen were members of British military and intelligence, known as the Cairo Gang, and in Dublin for the purpose of seeking out and executing IRA members. They were shot dead along with two civilians when members of the Dublin Brigade struck at a number of premises mostly on the south of the city which had been identified by IRA intelligence as the addresses of their targets.

The previous day, the Dublin Brigade OC Dick McKee from Finglas, Peadar Clancy from Clare who was the Brigade adjutant, and a civilian Conor Clune also from Clare, were tortured and killed in Dublin Castle.

McKee and Clancy, who knew the details of the operation against the Castle, had been arrested in the early hours of the morning at Seán Fitzpatrick’s house on Gloucester Street, now Seán MacDermott Street. Despite the torture they did not divulge any of the details of the planned assassinations which began as they were being held in the Castle.

The informant who led to their arrest, a local criminal named Shankers Ryan whose family were involved in the Monto exploitation of young women, was shot dead in Hynes pub at the Gloucester Diamond a few months later.

The most infamous killings were those of the 14 people shot dead at Croke Park in the afternoon when a force of Royal Irish Constabulary Auxiliaries opened fire on the players and spectators at a challenge match between Tipperary and Dublin.

Those two teams contested the 1920 All Ireland final, with Tipp winning, but that match could not be held until June 1922, just a fortnight before the Civil War began. The match was therefore a major attraction, made more so by the gate receipts being donated to the prisoners defendants’ fund, and drew a crowd of 5,000 despite the anxiety gripping the city. Seán Russell who had been involved in the IRA operation had tried to persuade the GAA to call the match off, but they decided to go ahead.

One of those killed was Michael Hogan a Tipperary player from Grangemockler which was the club representing the county. The Hogan Stand is named in his honour.

Next year then marks the 100th anniversary and preparations are in place to organise a number of events. This will involve the GAA in Tipperary and Dublin, as well as a number of historians and some descendants of those killed. The programme will culminate in a challenge match between the current Dublin and Tipperary senior football teams in Croke Park on Saturday November 21, 2020. Hopefully, that will bring a large crowd, and perhaps be televised.

It is an event worthy of commemoration as it underlines the deep connection that there was between the cultural and sporting organisations and the political and military struggle against the British attempt to suppress the mandate to establish Dáil Éireann as the representative parliament of the island.

Although Conor Clune was not an active Volunteer, he was a member of Conradh na Gaeilige and manager of the Raheen co-operative at Quin. His fate was sealed by his having decided to spend the night at Vaughan’s Hotel on Parnell Square and not having registered as a guest which made the Auxiliaries who raided the hotel after being tipped off by a tout who had spotted leading IRA members on the premises, suspicious that Clune was there on similar business. He is remembered along with McKee and Clancy in having had a road named in his honour in Finglas.

So it is a fine thing that this day be properly remembered, and indeed that the focus will be on the individuals who were part of it all, rather than being another part of the hagiography of big fellas and their myths. Too often Irish history is told through the prism of great heroes rather than the decent folk who were so emboldened by a vision of what Ireland and its people might be, that they defied the brute force ranged against them.

I have a personal connection in that my grandmother’s sister Daisy’s husband Jack Dunne was in charge of the arms dump at Denzille Lane where many of the weapons used were stored. Her brother Dan had been caught a few months earlier and was in Ballykinlar.

I doubt that her vision of the Ireland she dreamt of as a young girl in 1916 and as a teenager during the Tan War and with which she imbued me through her tales of those times, was realised. She was an unrepentant Free Stater, but supported the nationalists in the north in practical ways. I wonder what she would have to say about the current leaders of the party she voted for all her life. I doubt she would be impressed.

I suspect the organisers of this will not be cowed by the need to be “inclusive” or ashamed of what the vision of an Irish nation meant then. Indeed it is refreshing to see that the commemoration of our history is being taken back from those who would seek to replace the revisionist censorship of the past with an absurd distortion of what Irish nationalism actually means.

 

Michael Hogan, the Tipperary footballer who was killed at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday on November 21st, 1920

 

Original ticket for the GAA football challenge match

 

Vancouver Daily World Headlines the day following the massacre