Stadium: Croke Park
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Sport: Gaelic Athletic Association
Occupant: GAA, Dublin GAA
Home of the All-Ireland Finals
Slainte and very welcome greetings from Dublin friends and fellow collectors. My partner and Amanda and I are currently in the middle of our first European holiday together. And I am pleased to share that yesterday morning, while we and our friends were at Trinity College Library, I asked Amanda to marry me, and she said yes.
Well, she said “Are you shitting me?”, then after her brain rebooted, she said yes. It was adorable to watch a very intelligent woman’s brain completely break. It was a well kept secret, and a public thank you to our friends Chris and Amanda and also my new friend Mark from the Kay Jewelers in Swansea, MA (and Belfast native) for all their help in the cloak and daggery that went in to making yesterday a very special day for both of us. I also want to thank all the other tourists at the library (including the 50 or so Italian teenagers) for not doing the very American thing of applauding and trying to be a part of our moment, and rather seeing a thing happening and fucking off so we could have our moment together.
If you’re wondering, the ring was my Aunt’s. Her mother, my grandmother, was an actress here in Dublin in the late 20’s/early 30’s. Her name was Kitty Curling, she was a contemporary of WB Yeats, and we believe she was engaged to actor Dennis O’Dea (who featured in several Disney films in the 30’s. Kitty was a featured player at the Abbey Theatre, which we will be touring on Friday with a private tour and conversation with the company’s resident archivist.
Bottom line, boys, it has been and will continue to be a phenomenal trip. But, to the point of this post: Croke Park.
We visited Croke Park this morning to do the stadium tour and visit the GAA Museum. Croke is an 82,500 seat outdoor stadium owned by the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). At 82 and a half, it is the third largest outdoor arena in Europe and is the largest that isn’t designated by UEFA.
The stadium is steeped in sport and political history. Politically significant is the Hill 16, which sits at one end and is a terrace (SRO section). Hill 16 refers to the 1916 rebellion. The “far side” stands, opposite the benches is the Hogan Stand, named after Tipperary man Michael Hogan who was one of 14 victims, and the only player who was killed by British forces during the 1920 Bloody Sunday incident in which the Royal Irish Constabulary sought retribution for the assassination of 15 suspected British spies called the Cairo Gang by Michael Collins’ “squad” earlier on the day.
History lesson aside, Croke is an impressive facility. Set back in a very quaint looking neighborhood on James Road. It holds 82,500 fans, and hosts the annual GAA championship called the All-Ireland Finals. And as our taxi driver said this morning, finding tickets to an All-Ireland are tantamount to winning the lottery. It is the biggest day in Irish sport. By the way, everyone who participates in the GAA from the members of the governing body, to the players and coaches are all volunteers. It is possibly the largest amateur sports league in the world.
Architecturally, Croke is rather pedestrian. Externally, it resembles many European soccer or rugby stadiums with concrete construction in a fully enclosed complex with a light roof covering the upper deck. The roof hosts a Skywalk tour, from which one can see the entire city and all the way out to the mountains of Wicklow.
The main entrance begins with a concrete wall and blue barricades that funnel fans into a plaza that looks to have a concession stand and some picnic benches that then leads either downstairs to the GAA Museum or up stairs to the main entrance to the stadium. In the middle of the plaza is a statue of Archbishop Thomas Croke, who was an early patron of the GAA in the latter 19th century who passed away shortly before the field was purchased by the GAA in 1913. Down the steps at the entrance of the museum are two walls with all crests representing all the GAA clubs in Ireland and abroad (I saw several crests representing the Boston GAA clubs, which was the first of many artifacts of the games in the US that you see in the stadium).
The museum is small, but very well done, with the GAA’s championship cups on display, several exhibits honoring the prehistoric roots of the games all the way up to the modern game. The “Hall of Fame”, is a very nicely done room with the roll of honor. The 2019 inductees are honored with individual displays on a board as well as artifact cases with their jersey, cleats and their medals representing their career’s worth of championship honors.
Other artifacts on display include over a dozen original jerseys, balls and programs representing All-Ireland Finals going back nearly 100 years. The museum also hosts a slew of artifacts for the 1947 All-Ireland Finals which was the only edition of the championship played outside of Ireland. The ’47 edition was played at the Polo Grounds in New York.
From the museum (which also hosts a small cafe and souvenir shop) departs the tour. The tour proper starts in a meeting room with a short video on the games. From there we are issued small PDA devices which play short video and audio clips triggered by the tour guide throughout the tour. There are some very pedestrian stops early in the tour. The good stuff starts with a stop in one of the venue’s four locker rooms. Since the stadium is a neutral site for the All-Irelands, all four locker rooms are identical. Jerseys from all 34 teams that compete for the All-Ireland championships are on display, 1 for each of the 32 counties in Ireland and 1 each for the London Irish and the American New York GAA side. Four jerseys have places of honor, representing the four reigning champions of the GAA (hurling, football, ladies’ football and camogie – ladies’ hurling).
We then make the walk up the tunnel and onto the pitch. Having a massive stadium unveiled at ground level is impressive and a bit overwhelming. From there we walk up into the VIP seats where replicas of the hurling and football championship cups are on display. The rest of the tour is pretty rote. We see the media center for press, and one of the many corporate luxury boxes.
The tour ran for nearly two hours, and our guide, a gentleman named Thomas who was a hurler in his youth, was pleasant and very knowledgeable. All the staff was amazingly helpful.
Ireland is a beautiful country that is passionate about it’s sports. Particularly the GAA. I wish I understood the games better, but Croke is hosting a hurling/football double header on Saturday, #euro;15 single admission. So I hope to get to that this weekend.
Friday we will be at Tallaght Stadium, home of Shamrock Rovers FC, for a round 2 match-up against Cork City. Can’t wait to report on that game.