Casement Park needs a new name to signal new era for GAA
Casement Park has certainly been in the news in recent months and for two reasons. The first is that there has been a long-running court case brought by some local residents against the planned redevelopment of the stadium, which will involve an increase in seating capacity. Residents are concerned that a new stadium will overshadow their houses and will lead to serious traffic problems.
The second is that the Irish Rugby Football Union is to make a cross-border bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. That will require a number of venues in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and the intention is that a redeveloped Casement Park should be part of the bid.
After 60 years Casement Park is certainly in need of redevelopment. It was opened on Sunday June, 14, 1953, and was named after the Irish republican hero Roger Casement. At that time the GAA was more overtly republican and the opening was a major event for nationalists and republicans in the city.
The official opening was performed by Cardinal D'Alton, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and the streets were decorated with papal flags and tricolours. The opening ceremony brought together the GAA, the Roman Catholic Church and Irish republicanism, and the cardinal and the president of the GAA inspected guards of honour of the Knights of Malta and the old IRA under Commandant Tom Flynn of the 3rd Northern Brigade.
The stadium was blessed and opened by Cardinal D'Alton, who said that he looked on Casement Park as a symbol of patriotism. He spoke of "a sacred duty to honour the memory of our heroic dead that we may cherish their ideals and derive inspiration from their example".
Vincent O'Donoghue, president of the GAA, spoke of "the opening of the green field" as "a prelude to the recovery of the fourth green field" and said that "as long as Belfast holds such imperishable tabernacles of freedom as Casement Park, Belfast is Irish and Ulster is Ireland's".
This was much more than the opening of a sports ground, both the name and the ceremony were an assertion and affirmation of an Irish republican identity and they were a reflection of the nature and ethos of the GAA at that time. Today the GAA is less overt and less strident and that is to be welcomed, but there is still some way to go for the GAA constitution still requires its members to endorse Irish nationalism.
As the GAA prepares for the redevelopment of Casement Park it will undoubtedly have to consider the name of the ground. Many new sports stadiums acquire a name through sponsorship and the old Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin gave way to the Aviva Stadium, as a result of a 10-year deal for the naming rights. Undoubtedly, the GAA will not want to miss the opportunity of securing a substantial income from the name.
A new stadium, with a new opening and a new name, would be a step towards a new era and a new ethos. It could help the GAA move towards a shared and better future.
Of course, Casement Park is not the only park that needs a new name. It may be a different type of park, but the Raymond McCreesh Park in Newry remains as a blight on that city.
The fact that SDLP and Sinn Fein councillors named a children's playground after an IRA terrorist is to their shame. What sort of message were they trying to send out to young children? McCreesh was convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of firearms with intent to endanger life and IRA membership, and yet in December 2012, 20 nationalist councillors, including six SDLP councillors, voted for the name.
Next April the Newry and Mourne Council will be merged into a new and larger council - do those councillors want to carry that blight with them into the new council?
Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee