I went to Croke Park where both men and women’s hurling and gaelic football are played. It was pretty fantastic. The stadium itself was spectacular as I think most stadiums are. There is something about standing on the sidelines, looking up into those stands, and seeing the pristine care of the grass, imagining those stands filled with people, that just gives you chills. Or maybe that’s just me. But I really don’t think it is.
There were a couple of things that struck me as I walked around the museum and the stadium itself. The first is that, technically, the players of these games are amateurs. It isn’t used in the same sense we would use in Canada (ie. they pretty much just aren’t good), but they take it from the original French translation, basically meaning that they have heart. The men and women who play on these teams have full-time jobs, actual professions, that they go to Monday to Friday, 9-5, as anyone else would. When work is done, they go to practice and in the case of a team like Dublin’s, these practises happen every single night.
Could you imagine that being your life? No kidding they have heart… that level of dedication is incredible.
What the tour guide said was so spectacular about that in specific is that you could watch a guy score the game-winning goal, make an amazing save, or create that one play that changed the whole game and then, a few days later, walk into the bank and he would be your teller. Or you could go to your child’s classroom and he would be teaching. Or be your lawyer. You get the idea.
There is something about that which makes me just smile so big.
The other thing that struck me was that even these games and associations were not impervious to the problems that Ireland has experienced with politics, nationality, and violence. Back in 1920, a few years after the Easter Uprising, there were ongoing issues with the British Army and various Irish groups. One of the Irish men, Michael Collins, had assassinated fourteen British spies in Dublin the night prior to a friendly match between Dublin and Tipperary. These spies were there to try to discover who in Ireland were part of these forces but, obviously, they were one step ahead of the British.
Because of this, there were heavy tensions in the stadium knowing what was rumoured to have happened the night before and there had been rumours circulating that the British were going to come and search the crowd. The game was set to go ahead despite some members of the IRA pleading for them to cancel it. About five minutes after the first throw-in, British forces stormed the arena and opened fire almost immediately. Fourteen people were killed, some as young as ten, and over twenty injured.
It is just another piece of history that made me stop and go, “Really?”
I’m continually blown away by this country, its violence and its history. I’m blown away by their ability to rally together and continue on with their culture, sports, and activities despite these events. I also have yet to find one aspect of Irish culture that wasn’t affected (and in some instances still is) by the War for Independence, the troubles, and the overall struggle for identity and nationality.