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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 11:23 GMT
Rugby match with historic backdrop
By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin Correspondent

Politics and sport often make unhappy bedfellows but when you throw-in Anglo-Irish history it can become, if you pardon the pun and mixed metaphors, a whole new ball game.

This week has seen much media coverage in Ireland about the significance of the British national anthem, God Save the Queen, being played at the Ireland-England rugby international in Dublin on Saturday.

"Why?" you may well ask given that England teams have been coming to Dublin for years.

Croke Park
Croke Park will host the Ireland v England Six Nations match

The answer has to do with the venue, Croke Park. It's where the international Irish soccer and rugby teams will play their home internationals while Lansdowne Road is being re-developed.

Croke Park, apart from being a magnificent stadium for over 80,000, is also home to the Gaelic Athletic Association, a hugely popular and democratic sporting organisation.

The GAA was founded in 1884 to promote uniquely Irish games such as Gaelic Football and Hurling. As an organisation, it has, historically, been unapologetically nationalist.

Until 1971, members were prohibited from playing "foreign" (mainly British) sports or even attending those sports events as spectators.

And it wasn't until 2001 - partly as a consequence of the peace process - that members of the British security forces were officially allowed to play Gaelic sport.

Two years ago the GAA voted to allow Croke Park to be used for soccer and rugby while Lansdowne Road was unavailable.

There are, of course, reasons for this historic anti-British sentiment.


In November 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, British forces, known as the Black and Tans, fired into a crowd at Croke Park during a Tipperary - Dublin challenge match.

They killed 14 civilians including Michael Hogan, the Tipperary captain and three young Dublin boys.

They are remembered as the victims of Dublin's "Bloody Sunday".

The Hogan Stand in the stadium is named after the dead footballer.

The British action was in retaliation for the killing by Michael Collins' IRA of 14 of their suspected agents shortly before hand.

Those killings still cast a shadow over this weekend's international.


Conor O'Shea, a former Irish international, who now works with the RFU in England, has given a talk to the English team on the significance of Croke Park and its history.

His father, Jerome, won three all-Ireland medals with Kerry.

The week has also seen another son, JJ Barrett, seek to withdraw his father's six all-Ireland medals from the Croke Park Museum in protest at what he calls the "arrogant, war-mongering words" of God Save the Queen being played at Croke Park.

So much for some of those who say it's only a game.

All of this appears to suggest there might be some truth in the notion that the Irish never forget their history while the British never remember theirs.

Still, most people here hope the game passes off peacefully but, of course, with an Irish victory.



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