Murders of 13 British officers earlier on same day largely forgotten
According to the GAA website, the organisation’s president John Horan has called on GAA members and supporters and the general public to light a candle at dusk this Saturday ‘in memory of the 14 people who were killed on Bloody Sunday in Croke Park in 1920 by British Forces’.
There will also be a wreath laying ceremony at Croke Park this coming Sunday but the candles and the wreath laying are only part of a much larger programme of commemoration for the centenary of Bloody Sunday 1920.
Already there is an exhibition at Croke Park and the GAA has specially commissioned videos, podcasts, documentaries and film series to bring the story to a broader audience in a digital age.
They have also commissioned special music by Colm Mac Con Iomaire.
The GAA is remembering the 14 people killed at Croke Park but in so doing they are not remembering Bloody Sunday, they are only remembering part of Bloody Sunday.
What happened that Sunday afternoon in Croke Park was the sequel to what had happened that Sunday morning elsewhere in Dublin when the IRA assassinated 13 British officers. Two civilians were also killed by the IRA, presumably by mistake.
The IRA operation was entrusted to a special IRA unit known as The Squad, under the direction of Michael Collins, and it was carried out early in the morning.
Most of the victims were still in bed when the gunmen burst into their lodgings and shot them.
A GAA challenge match between Tipperary and Dublin was due to take place at Croke Park just hours after the shootings and people were already making their way to Croke Park because the GAA General Council was due to hold a special meeting earlier in the day.
In his biography of Michael Collins, The Big Fellow, Frank O’Connor states that Collins ordered one of his men on Saturday evening to tell the GAA to cancel the Croke Park programme for the following day.
Collins seems to have suspected that the planned IRA operation might provoke retaliation later in the day, but if so why did he not postpone the IRA operation that he was organising?
Indeed when news of the IRA operation emerged on the Sunday morning, some of the GAA leadership also considered cancelling the game but decided to proceed.
Violence often begets violence and that was indeed the pattern during the Irish War of independence and the Irish Civil War.
Was what happened in Croke Park a deliberately planned act of reprisal or was it the result of confusion?
The city was crowded that day, so did the British authorities believe that the IRA killers had used the crowds of supporters as cover to evade arrest?
Those are matters which historians will research and write about but after a century it is unlikely that there will ever be an uncontested version of events.
However as we approach this weekend one thing is certain.
The off-duty officers who were shot on the Sunday morning are just as deserving of remembrance as the people who were killed later on in the afternoon.
Unfortunately the centenary commemoration has focused almost entirely on part of the day, part of the story and some of the victims.
Such partial remembering simply perpetuates and reinforces the Irish nationalist myth of being ‘the most oppressed people ever’.
As well as remembering those who were killed on Bloody Sunday, both in the morning and in the afternoon, it is also worth noting what happened to the IRA members who started the killing that day.
After independence one of the IRA gunmen had to flee abroad after the murder of two Jews in Dublin, one became a director of the state-sponsored organisation Bord na Mona and several became directors of the Irish Sweepstake.
However the most outstanding was undoubtedly Sean Lemass, who went on to become leader of Fianna Fail and Taoiseach of the Irish Republic from 1959 to 1966.