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The ties that bind: how Thomas Meagher's legacy lives on in GAA

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A Croke Park Classic for US College football

A Croke Park Classic for US College football

Respect: standing to face the flag

Respect: standing to face the flag

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A Croke Park Classic for US College football

Visit any GAA venue in Ireland or abroad and you'll find the National Flag flying in the corner of the ground. In recent years as our emigrants have established GAA clubs from Barcelona to Chicago and Korea, and from Melbourne to Qatar the green, white and orange has adopted a much more international dimension.

Standing to respectful attention at the beginning of inter-county games players and supporters alike face the National Flag, with hands by their side, and join in Amhrán Na bhFiann.

As competitors march behind the National Flag and the Artane Band on All-Ireland final day the Tri-colour as well as provincial and county flags play a major part in the enormity of the occasion.

I've attended All-Ireland Senior Football Championship games in both New York and London and the sight of the National Flag transforms foreign lands into Irish territory for the duration of battle.

The inextricable links between the Gaelic Athletic Association, formed in Thurles on November 1st, 1884, and the struggle for national independence are well known.

Indeed the roots of the Association are inter-linked with nationalist ideals.

So when the National Flag first flew at Croke Park for the All-Ireland football final on December 17th, 1916, when Wexford defeated Mayo by 3-4 to 1-2, the significance to the masses, nor the British authorities, was not lost.

During the Irish War of Independence on 21 November 1920 Croke Park was the scene of a massacre by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). The Police, supported by the British Auxiliary Division entered the ground, shooting indiscriminately into the crowd killing or fatally wounding 14 during a Dublin versus Tipperary Gaelic football match. The dead included 13 spectators and Tipperary's captain, Michael Hogan after whom a stadium in Croke Park is now named.

The use of hurleys by drilling volunteers who did not possess rifles, was a common sight from the foundation of the Volunteers right through to 1917-1918.

The GAA's first effort at modernisation of Croke Park was the construction of a terrace area at the northern end of the ground, in what is now Dineen-Hill 16. This was created in 1917 using the rubble from O'Connell Street in Dublin, which had been destroyed in the 1916 Rising.

As the years progressed many GAA clubs were named after those who were responsible for the creation of our National Flag.

The Young Ireland GAA clubs in Kilkenny, Dundalk, Sydney and Philadelphia for example are named after the Young Irelanders' group of which Thomas Francis Meagher was a member.

Indeed some historians claim that Meagher organised hurling matches (pre-dating the G.A.A.) in Waterford and used this as a means of recruiting and drilling.

In 1947 the All-Ireland football final between Cavan and Kerry was held in the Polo Grounds in Manhatten, New York. It was the first and only time that an All-Ireland contest has been staged outside of Ireland.

The New York final was intended to observe the centenary of the Great Famine that triggered mass Irish emigration to the United States. Around 30,000 people were in the ground for the final as Amhrán Na bhFiann was played and the National Flag flew proudly.

The emergence of the International or Compromise Rules games between GAA and Australian Rules footballers in 1967 also saw the National Flag prominently displayed on another continent.

In its own way over the decades the GAA has played a crucial part in showcasing the Tricolour abroad and emphasizing respect to it at grounds far and wide. With dreams in their minds and determination in their hearts our GAA players face the green, white and orange silently hoping that today is their day.

Irish Independent