Bloody Sunday: November 21 1920

Originally published at the Crawley Irish Festival August 2004

Amid the War of Independence / Anglo-Irish War, 1919-1921; the political situation in Ireland was volatile following Sinn Fein’s decision to set-up an alternative parliament from London. The Westminster government responded by sending auxiliary forces to Dublin, referred to as the Black and Tans.

Dublin was scheduled to play Tipperary at Croke Park on November 21st, 1920. Despite the unease in the city some 10,000 spectators attended. On the night before the match the leader of the Irish revolutionary forces Michael Collins had ordered the assassination of the “Cairo Gang”, 14 British intelligence officers sent to infiltrate his organisation under the guise of commercial travellers.

The match began at 2.45pm. Shortly afterwards an aircraft flew over the ground and a red flare was shot from the cockpit. Auxiliary troops then raided the ground whilst an officer on top of the wall fired a revolver shot. The crowd did little at first but then machine gun-fire began: the crowd stampeded away from the gunfire.

Two of the players, Michael Hogan and Jim Egan, failed to make it off the pitch. A young Wexford man was shot dead whilst attending to Hogan. Casualties included Jeannie Boyle, who had gone to the match with her fiancée and was due to be married five days later, and 14-year-old John Scott, so mutilated that they thought he had been bayoneted to death. Two more were aged 10 and 11, respectively.

Crown authorities released the following statement to the newspapers:

A number of men came to Dublin on Saturday under the guise of asking to attend a football match between Tipperary and Dublin. But their real intention was to take part in the series of murderous outrages that took place in Dublin that morning. Learning on Saturday that a number of these gunmen were present in Croke Park, the crown forces went to raid the field. It was the original intention that an officer would go to the centre of the field and speaking from a megaphone and invite the assassins to come forward. But on their approach, armed pickets gave warning. Shots were fired to warn the wanted men, who caused a stampede and escaped in the confusion.

The Crown statement has been almost universally rejected by historians.

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