Croke Park in Dublin.
The graphic novel Croke Park which I created with the cartoonist Richard Guérineau came out on September 30 and was published by the Delcourt publishing house in the “Coup de tête” collection. It deals with the Bloody Sunday of 1920 which took place in two parts. In the morning, Michael Collins got rid of the threat -established by the British spies who had spread everywhere in Dublin- by having them murdered.
Then, in the afternoon, the British occupation forces, who were looking for the assassins, entered Croke Park in Dublin stadium (in Gaelic “Páirc an Chrócaigh”) where a football match was played and the police operations turned into a slaughter…
These events occurred during the Irish War of Independence.
Starting on January 21, 1919 when Sinn Féin (1), which won 73 seats out of the 105 Irish seats in the last general elections, refused to sit in the House of Commons to establish a parliament in Dublin. Just like during the Easter Rising (2), these elected members announced the independence of the Republic of Ireland. On the same day, some members of the Irish Volunteers (3) killed two officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary (4), during an ambush at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary.
The RIC was the main target of the IRA (5) during the conflict.
Because these officers were the eyes and ears of the British government in Ireland. Under the pressure of the nationalist rebels decided by Michael Collins, the RIC experienced many defections and became less efficient. Consequently, the British government created two paramilitary units. The Black and Tans, former soldiers who arrived in March 1920, followed by the Auxiliaries in July, an elite corps of officers.
Their brutality, which soon became legendary, was controlled by the authorities which wanted to destroy the vague Irish desires of independence. From a political perspective, Lloyd George, prime minister of the United Kingdom, reacted by appointing General Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, the new British military commander, Sir Henry Hugh Tudor the ‘Police Adviser’ and Sir Ormonde de l’Épée Winter. All these men were appointed to form an efficient intelligence service. From September, Sir Ormonde de l’Épée Winter developed his network of spies, the Special Gang. Whose members slept in a hotel room in different places of the city and spent a lot of time in the Kidd’s Buffet and the Cairo Café in order to gather information about Sinn Féin and IRA members.
As the noose was tightening around his organization, Michael Collins, who was leading the secret services of IRA, consequently decided to get rid of these British spies. One of his informers, lieutenant G, decided to plan the operation for Sunday 31rst of November, in order to take advantage from the gathering crowds of fans sure to attend the Tipperary-Dublin Gaelic football game to be played that day. Considering spies may be more active at night, it was decided to strike at 9am, when they are still fast asleep and it seems easier to get them by surprise. Hence about fifty members from the Special Gang were identified and located, though the target was actually reduced to 35, by lack of satisfactory evidence.
But only twelve will eventually be executed on that Bloody Sunday morning.
Plus another who died from his wounds on 10th December. Two cadets on duty were also side victims killed on that morning. This result nevertheless was far from the initial plan. Collins, well aware of this semi failure, knew some members from the Dublin brigade were a disappointment. To his credit, it must be stated that many of the spotted spies couldn’t be found were they were supposed to be.
What’s so ever these murders fostered a great panic among the British.
The survivors and their wives immediately rushed, in as many taxis, towards Dublin Castle. This symbol of military power and of British political empowerment over Ireland suddenly turned into a shelter from armed rebels who seemed to have an advantage over them, for having jeopardized the enemies’ secret services.
The charity match played between Dublin and Tipperary that day at 14:45 was dedicated to the Volunteers’ families. Who were deeply suffering from the war for independence. This match was opposing two of the would-be winners of the All-Ireland, the Gaelic football championship. At the castle, the British authorities thought that IRA had used this match to call for province killers to Dublin, as well as to cover its crimes. They strongly believed that murderers were hiding in the audience, so they gave orders to carry out arrests on the spot.
When the pictures of both teams had been taken, Mick Salmon, the referee, blew his whistle …
The match began with half an hour delay on the schedule. There were between 5,000 and 15,000 spectators (depending on the sources). Meanwhile, lieutenant-colonel Bray’s soldiers surrounded outside the stadium. Then, one hundred Black and Tans and a lesser number of Auxiliaries arrived to Croke Park, under the command of Major Mills.
After ten minutes game or so, a plane flew twice over the field (was it the signal?), then shootings occurred at the ‘’Canal’’ entrance, in the South-Western part of the stadium. Spectators were panic-stricken! In less than three minutes, which seemed to last for ages, British forces killed fourteen civilians (three more died on the following days) including one player and three children; they also wounded 62 people while shooting 228 bullets with handguns, rifles and 50 cartridges with a military machine gun.
To justify the actions of his men …
… Sir Hamar Greenwood, the secretary-in-chief of Ireland, asserted that the British forces only returned gunfire after the shots of the Irish civilians, who were in charge of the surveillance of the stadium. According to him, most of the spectators died having been either squashed by a falling ramp or trampled by the crowd.
To insist on his version of events, he explained that thirty guns were recovered which had been abandoned by men as they fled. Therefore attributing the entire responsibility of this tragedy to the IRA. This version was confirmed in December by the report of two commissions on military inquiry, which was not made public until 1999 (file W035/88B). Nevertheless, this account has been contradicted by the report of Major Mills, which appears in this file. In reality, there was no more of a “legitimate defense” than there was a “premeditated revenge” by the English, as had been written. Rather, the behavior of the Black and Tans and of the auxiliaries at Croke Park fit the wider pattern of the State’s indiscriminate use of violence, which it continuously exercised in order to justify suppression of the nationalist rebellion.
A massacre !
This massacre would therefore be a terrible “blunder” of the forces of law and order who had been fairly frenzied, disgusted by crimes committed by the IRA a few hours earlier, and psychologically exhausted by the constant harassment of the Irish separatists.
This tragic day, further tarnished by other crimes, is depicted in the graphic novel entitled “Croke Park”, which also puts in parallel with these facts the explosive encounter of a rugby match between Ireland and England, which took place on the twenty-fourth of February 2007 in this same stadium, where the British forces of law and order had committed this odious slaughter so many years before.
Text : Sylvain Gâche
Translation : Sabrina Lecoq, Claude Petit et Corinne Vannier
Croke Park in Dublin – Notes
(1) Sinn Féin
Founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith (“We ourselves”, in Gaelic), Sinn Féin is an Irish republican and nationalist party which became more radical after the Easter Rising in 1916, to get to independence.
(2) The Easter Rising
Thousand of Irish republicans seized strategically important buildings in Dublin and hoisted their tricolored flag at the top of the central post office. These battles went on for a week, but the rebels surrendered unconditionally on April 29. The British suppression was brutal.
(3) Irish Volunteers.
Irish local militias from 1913 to 1919, which took part in the Easter Rising in 1916, standing with the feminine section created at the same time (Cummann na nBan). In 1919, the Irish Volunteers disappeared into the Irish Republican Army (5).
(4) Royal Irish Constabulary
Founded by England in 1822, the RIC was the police force in Ireland, which tried to maintain order in Ireland until 1921. According to the rules, Catholics couldn’t be admitted.
Original IRA, today the “Old IRA”: this republican paramilitary organization whose purpose was to use armed force against British government during the Irish War of Independence. It was derived from the union between the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers.
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