Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Dublin in Detail: Croke Park and Gaelic Sports


Hurling and Gaelic football date back to ancient times among the Irish Gaels, and they are always the biggest athletic events in Ireland—bigger than soccer and rugby. Hurling and Camogie (women’s hurling) is played something like field hockey or lacrosse. Players use ash sticks and their hands to propel a small ball, a sliotar, around the field. Players can score a three-point goal by putting the ball in a soccer-sized net guarded by a goalkeeper or score one point by sailing the ball between two goal posts that extend up from the lower goal. Because teams have multiple ways to score, these games are fast paced and high scoring. Hurling is officially the fastest team field sport in the world. Gaelic football is played like a mix of soccer and basketball. Players can carry the soccer-sized ball for a limited number of steps before bouncing it on their foot or the ground. Scoring is just like that in hurling. For more about how you can get a hands-on experience with the games, check out Experience Gaelic Games.

The View from Hill 16

The View from Hill 16

Part of the lore and legend of Croke Park is the violence of Bloody Sunday in 1920, at the height of the Irish Revolution. The night before, Irish rebel leader Michael Collins ordered the assassination of fourteen British intelligence operatives. In retaliation, British forces marched into the stadium in the middle of a Gaelic football match and opened fire into the players and the stands. Fourteen Irish civilians, including one player, were killed and dozens more were injured. The standing-only terrace seating area in the stadium is nicknamed “Hill 16” in honor everyone who died throughout the Irish War of Independence from 1916–1921.

The playing of British or other international sports in “Croker” is still met with resistance by a vocal minority who still haven’t forgiven this British invasion on the sacred Gaelic sports. In 2007, when Dublin’s other large stadium was under renovation, Ireland was slated to host England in an international rugby match. The game was controversially moved to Croke Park, and many feared violent actions by anti-English protesters. Thankfully, the match was played peacefully (Ireland securing a convincing 43–13 victory), and the moment when “God Save the Queen” was played to a polite and peaceful audience is still considered a major step in the Anglo-Irish peace process.

The stadium, like other sports venues of its age, sits right in the middle of a residential neighborhood—think Boston’s Fenway Park or Chicago’s Wrigley Field. This causes complications and friction as it hosts more and more non-sporting events. This was bought to the fore in 2014, when American country singer Garth Brooks was scheduled to perform five sold-out gigs at the stadium. Earlier in the year, boyband sensations One Direction had played three concerts there—maxing out the yearly allowance for special events in this residential venue. After much hand-wringing, Dublin City Council issued licenses for only three of the five shows, and Garth cancelled all five as a result. More than 400,000 tickets had to be refunded, enough for about 11% of the population of Ireland at the time.

Dublin in Detail: Croke Park and Gaelic Sports is an excerpt from The Frugal Guide: Dublin, a totally free eBook guide to the great Irish capital by Cory Hanson. Find out more about the book, and download your free copy in your choice of multiple formats, on the Frugal Guide page here on Five Suitcases.

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