Queen to visit Croke Park

A sporting venue that has deep symbolic importance for the people of Ireland will be visited by the Queen during her tour of the country.

Croke Park – an 82,000-seater stadium and the scene of a massacre of 14 civilians by British soldiers in 1920 – will be toured by the monarch later this week.

It is the home of Ireland’s Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) which has pledged to give the monarch a warm greeting when she arrives.

The GAA, an amateur organisation set up in 1884 to promote Irish culture, language and sports, has said ahead of the visit it wants to showcase the world renowned arena.

“We believe that this request reflects and acknowledges the special place of the GAA in the life and history of the nation,” the organisation said.

“We are confident that this historic visit to Croke Park will be welcomed by those who play, administer and support our games, at home and abroad, including of course throughout Britain.”

The GAA also said it hoped the visit would foster greater interest in its ancient games from Unionists.

The landmark stadium on Dublin’s northside is a world renowned symbol of the strength of an amateur organisation with a presence in every village and townland in Ireland.

Its famous terrace, Hill 16, is also rumoured to have been built with the rubble from the 1916 Easter Rising – an armed insurrection in Dublin against British rule.

History was made at Croke Park four years ago when the stadium opened its turnstiles to tens of thousands of Irish and English rugby fans for a Six Nations clash.

Gaelic grounds had been closed to so-called “foreign sports” for decades.

While the host team thrashed the visitors, the rendition of God Save the Queen by the Garda band in the home of gaelic games was respectfully observed.

There were weeks of public debate over whether the British national anthem should be played at the game and concerns the match would be disrupted by hardline republicans but there was no trouble.

GAA members were also barred from serving with the British army or police in the North under the controversial Rule 21 which was rescinded in 2001.

The GAA said that for over 100 years it has embodied and taken its stand with the mood of the Irish people, culturally, socially and politically.

This was highlighted last month as officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland and GAA players and members stood shoulder to shoulder in the Co Tyrone village of Beragh to pay their respects to Constable Ronan Kerr – a gaelic footballer and Catholic policeman murdered in a dissident republican booby trap bomb.

“In the best traditions of our Association, we will extend a warm welcome to Croke Park – a Cead Mile Failte – to Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by the President and Dr (Martin) McAleese,” it said.

The Association said the visit would give its President, Christy Cooney, the opportunity to convey to the Queen and Duke a sense of its history and values and its unique and leading place in Irish society.

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