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Bloody details of 1920 Croke Park horror is brought to life

Riveting reads highlights dark day

By Declan Bogue

Among the sports writing fraternity of the GAA, a healthy competition began rousing itself around 15 years ago, leading to over a decade of left-field 'concept' books and superb documenting of Gaelic Games.

The trickle-down effect has emboldened many writers willing to experiment on their work.

Each Christmas, Gaelic Games has a glut of sports books produced. For an indigenous sport and an amateur one at that, it is possibly even over-subscribed with capable authors.

The high-water mark this Christmas, and for a few more, might just be reached by the release of Michael Foley's 'The Bloodied Field', an historic account of the events of November 21, 1920; the original Bloody Sunday, when 14 people were shot by a gathering of British Auxiliaries in Croke Park during a challenge match between Dublin and Tipperary.

The day itself had a gruesome start when Michael Collins mobilised his IRA troops and assassinated 14 British spies across Dublin. The Dublin goalkeeper Johnny McDonnell took part in one of the raids.

An extraordinary period and day in the history and relationship between Ireland and the British Government, now captured.

With every great idea, it began with an earnest wish. The thought first occurred to Foley around about the time of the historic Six Nations rugby game between Ireland and England staged at Croke Park in 2007.

If that evening was not poignant enough, it was widely claimed that Shane Horgan touched down for the final try of the day in the same spot that Michael Hogan was shot and killed.

As is the case with most too-good-to-be-true yarns, it was indeed that. He began looking into the accounts of that day and felt that the events deserved more than an inaccurate few seconds of depiction in Neil Jordan's 1996 movie 'Michael Collins.'

Once Foley began peeling back the layers of the story, he uncovered more and more fascinations through the private diary accounts, autopsy reports, newspaper accounts and reams of Hansard transcriptions.

We peer into the soul of those that pulled the triggers and we learn of the after-effects and legacy of that doomed day in Dublin. He piques the ultimate fascination of the human condition, which is other people.

In order to do that, he freely admits in the foreword to applying the principle of Occam's razor in order to keep the story flowing. It gives a context for the loss of lives.

Such as Michael Feery. Nobody would have given tuppence for him in his life, of which he gave a good chunk over to the British Army.

But one Sunday he took himself out of the Mountjoy Square slums to his minor indulgence of Croke Park to watch a game of football.

He lay on the slab in the mortuary that evening in his army cardigan and army boots, a leather tobacco pouch in one of his pockets. There for four days before anyone identified his body.

His long-held assumption was that his son Michael would gain an apprenticeship with the Army because of his service.

That was never granted, the decision-makers believing it would admit culpability in some way.

Or George Dudley, a man who won the Military Cross before becoming a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary a few months before Bloody Sunday.

Less than a year after those cruel events, he had gathered up £300 of expenses owed to policemen in his latest posting of Magherafelt, County Derry, and made off to a new life in Glasgow.

We last hear of him as the first Police Commissioner of the Northern Territories of Australia.

Foley has carried the memory and something of the souls of all those vanquished and brought them to life.

This is a rich book. It has soul and a beating heart and it stands alone as an astonishing, affecting piece of work. If you are in the habit of visiting Croke Park, you will never look at it again with the same eyes.

Only greatness can achieve that effect. And this book is great.

Belfast Telegraph

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