Tuesday 27 September 2016

Heroes just for one day as Croke Park's 1916 attracts a full house

Jane O'Faherty

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Fireworks are set off as part of Laochra at Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Fireworks are set off as part of Laochra at Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Performers during the Laochra show at Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
Lisa Lambe performs 'The Foggy Dew'. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
Performers stage the Táin Bó Cúailnge during the Laochra show at Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran

If the intense rivalry between Dublin and Kerry wasn't enough to guarantee a full house at Croke Park, the promise of one of the biggest spectacles in the 1916 Centenary commemorations certainly was.

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As banners depicting Cú Chulainn, Countess Markievicz and James Connolly unfurled above the stands and flames and fireworks soared above the stadium, it was clear this was no ordinary match day.

Attracting a bigger crowd than any other 1916 commemoration held yesterday, the GAA's post-match spectacular 'Laochra' enraptured fans of all counties and colours.

'Laochra', which means 'heroes', brought together the best of Irish music, dance and theatre and entertained the tens of thousands who gathered for the earlier National Football League finals.

The stunning pageant recalled heroes old and new, nodding to both the association's roots in Celtic culture as well as its community clubs.

Beginning with the epic tales of Cú Chulainn and the Táin Bó Cúailnge, more than 3,500 dancers, drummers and athletes kept fans spellbound.

The booming words of GAA founder Michael Cusack extolled the games that required "strength, skill and staying power".

The quotes of patriots continued to echo all around, continuing with the words of the first Irish President, Douglas Hyde: "The Gaelic League was found not upon hate of England, but upon love of Ireland."

In the crowd, all smiled but few stirred. It was rare to see fans in Croke Park so united in reverence, only breaking their silence to burst into cheers and thundering applause.

Celtic and country singer Lisa Lambe then held those gathered captivated with a rendition of 'The Foggy Dew'.

But legendary battles and nation-building rebellion were not the only themes.

Those who died in the Famine, those lost in fighting in World War I, and those who departed for new lives in America, Britain and Australia, were also deemed heroic. However, it was the GAA's contemporary community both in Ireland and abroad that took centre stage for the grand finale. Flags of many colours flooded the stadium as clubs great and small joined in the fun, while children from every county read out a line of the Proclamation.

The voices of those who couldn't make it were also heard, with video clips from GAA clubs as far afield as Canada and Korea.

One GAA player from Buenos Aires used his video message to say hello to his mum, who was in the stands for the occasion.

Meanwhile, Gaelic games icon Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh joined the heroes of 1916 when he gave his own rousing speech in the final minutes of the display.

"Across the four provinces of Ireland and around the world, people play our national sport that our ancestors created many, many years ago," he bellowed. "Full of pride and passion, fearless men and women have dedicated their lives to magnificent scopes, spilling tears and sweat on hallowed ground.

"We march behind the colours of club and county. The GAA belongs to us all."

The thrills weren't kept until after the football games.

Tribal rhythms of bodhráns and stamping feet were already echoing through the stadium for the Allianz football finals.

Old rivalries were reignited for the Division 1 final when Dublin saw off Kerry in a tense but decisive victory, after Tyrone beat Cavan in the second-tier decider.

Irish Independent

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