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November 1920 was a bleak and bloody time in Irish history. Kevin Barry was hanged in Mountjoy, Tom Barry led his West Cork flying column at the Kilmichael Ambush, the town of Tralee was sacked by auxiliaries and the playing field at Croke Park became the scene of horror when a massacre popularly known as Bloody Sunday occurred there.
On the 21st of November British Auxiliaries smashed their way into Croke Park in the middle of a challenge match between the footballers of Dublin and Tipperary. They shot 14 people dead.
The meeting of Tipp and the Dubs was billed as ‘a great challenge match’ with the proceeds destined for the Republican prisoners fund. The War of Independence was in full flow and GAA fixtures were far and few between so, the match between Dublin and Tipperary was greatly appreciated by GAA fans. Yet as we all know now, the much anticipated fixture was violently interrupted and among those killed was Tipperary player Michael Hogan who only the day before was involved with his teammates in a skirmish with British soldiers.
23 year old Michael Hogan was company commander of the Grangemockler Volunteers and the day before he left for Croke Park he was visited by Sean Hogan who gave him dispatches to bring to HQ in Dublin. The following day on the way up to the capital, Hogan had the dispatches tucked inside the pigskin of a football.
Early on Saturday afternoon, the Tipp team set off for Dublin. All but four players were on the train – Jerry Shelly, Jack Brett, Michael Hogan and substitute Dick Lanigan. They were on the Kilkenny train that joined the rest of the team at Ballybrophy station. As well as the four players joining the Tipp train to Dublin, there were also a number of soldiers from the Lincolnshire Regiment and they were spoiling for a fight.
The four players who boarded the train at Ballybrophy found seats in the carriage next to the one carrying the rest of their team mates. Brett sat next to Kilkenny priest Fr. Delahunty and before the train had time to pull out from the station, the British soldiers began throwing insults at the priest. Brett was not the kind to let this sort of behaviour go without contest so he promptly stood up and took a swing for the soldiers.
Brett’s other team mates, Hogan, Lanigan and Shelly, jumped in to help while Fr. Delahunty made his way in to the next carriage to get back up from the rest of the team. The other team members had been oblivious to the commotion in the next carriage as they were busy occupying themselves with a game of cards.
Upon hearing the news from Fr. Delahunty, the rest of the team quickly bounded into the next carriage and a great ructions broke out between the Tipperary football team and the British soldiers.
In the middle of the melee Bill Ryan’s boots were taken from his bag by a soldier and flung out the window. Other items from other players bags were also taken by the soldiers but, the Tipp boys got the better of the Lincolnshire’s when two of the soldiers were forced out a carriage window while the rest of them were pushed out the door.
A great cheer rose up and the train chugged onwards to Dublin with the Tipperary team victorious from their battle with the British forces.
The team had been booked in to Barry’s Hotel on Gardiner Street but, when the train arrived at Kingsbridge station, now known as Hueston, the team decided it would be best to split up in case the authorities had received news of the events that took place at Ballybrophy station.
Tom Ryan and Michael Hogan, who still had the dispatches safely hidden in a football, headed for Phil Shanahan’s pub. Shanahan was a member of the Irish Volunteers who hailed from the premier county and his premises on Foley Street was a popular haunt for fellow volunteers and Tipp men. Shanahan’s public house is sadly no more but a plaque now marks where it once stood.
The next day the Tipp team re-assembled at Barry’s hotel from where they walked the short distance to Croke Park. It was a breezy day and although there was rain in the morning, it had dried up by late afternoon and conditions were perfect for a game of football. The Tipperary footballers looked forward to taking on the Dubs and had great hope of beating them but, as the day unfolded such hopes turned to terror as November 21st 1920 would be cast into history as the darkest day in GAA history.
Tipperary team November 21st 1920:
1. Frank Scout Butler (Fethard)
2. Michael Hogan (Grangemockler)
3. Ned O’Shea (Fethard)
4. Jerry Shelly (Grangemockler)
5. Bill Ryan (Grangemockler)
6. Jim Egan (Mullinahone)
7. Tommy Powell (Clonmel)
8. Tommy Ryan (Castlegrace)
9. Jim Ryan (Loughmore-Castleiney)
10. Bill Barret (Mullinahone)
11. Jimmy McNamara (Cahir)
12. Jimmy Doran (Mullinahone)
13. Gus McCarthy (Fethard)
14. Jack Kickham (Mullinahone)
15. Jackie Brett (Mullinahone)