RUSSELL STREET BRIDGE CROSSES THE ROYAL CANAL
The area now known as Croke Park was owned in the 1880s by Maurice Butterly and known as the City and Suburban Racecourse, or Jones’ Road sports ground. From 1890 it was also used by the Bohemian Football Club. In 1901 Jones’ Road hosted the IFA Irish Cup football final when Cliftonville defeated Freebooters.
Recognising the potential of the Jones’ Road sports ground a journalist and GAA member, Frank Dineen, borrowed much of the £3,250 asking price and bought the ground in 1908. In 1913 the GAA came into exclusive ownership of the plot when they purchased it from Dineen for £3,500. The ground was then renamed Croke Park in honour of Archbishop Thomas Croke, one of the GAA’s first patrons.
In 1913, Croke Park had only two stands on what is now known as the Hogan stand side and grassy banks all round. In 1917, a grassy hill was constructed on the railway end of Croke Park to afford patrons a better view of the pitch. This terrace was originally known as Hill 60, after the Battle of Hill 60 during the Great War. Some decades later, it was later renamed Hill 16 and a myth allowed to develop that it was built from the ruins of the Easter Rising.
In the 1920s, the GAA set out to create a high capacity stadium at Croke Park. Following the Hogan Stand, the Cusack Stand, named after Michael Cusack from Clare (who founded the GAA and served as its first secretary), was built in 1927. 1936 saw the first double-deck Cusack Stand open with 5,000 seats, and concrete terracing being constructed on Hill 16. In 1952 the Nally Stand was built in memorial of Pat Nally, another of the GAA founders. Seven years later, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the GAA, the first cantilevered “New Hogan Stand” was opened.
The highest attendance ever recorded at an All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final was 90,556 for Offaly v Down in 1961. Since the introduction of seating to the Cusack stand in 1966, the largest crowd recorded has been 84,516.
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-Tipperary Gaelic football match. The dead included 13 spectators and Tipperary’s captain, Michael Hogan. Posthumously, the Hogan stand built in 1924 was named in his honour. These shootings, on the day which became known as Bloody Sunday, were a reprisal for the assassination of 15 people associated with the Cairo Gang, a group of British Intelligence officers, by Michael Collins’s ‘squad’ earlier that day.
Russell Street is a short street in the north inner city of Dublin, Ireland. According to Brendan Behan when describing Russell Street, where he grew up, young girls ashamed of their homes would walk miles out of their way so as not to let others know where they lived.
Behan was born in the inner city of Dublin at Holles Street Hospital [where I was born] on 9 February 1923 into an educated working-class family. He lived in a house on Russell Street near Mountjoy Square owned by his grandmother, Christine English, who owned a number of properties in the area. Brendan’s father Stephen Behan, a house painter who had been active in the Irish War of Independence, read classic literature to the children at bedtime from sources including Zola, Galsworthy, and Maupassant; his mother, Kathleen, took them on literary tours of the city.
If Behan’s interest in literature came from his father, his political beliefs came from his mother. She remained politically active all her life and was a personal friend of the Irish republican Michael Collins. Brendan Behan wrote a lament to Collins, “The Laughing Boy”, at the age of thirteen. The title was from the affectionate nickname Mrs. Behan gave to Collins. Kathleen published her autobiography, “Mother of All The Behans”, a collaboration with her son Brian, in 1984.
Behan’s uncle Peadar Kearney wrote the Irish national anthem “The Soldier’s Song”. His brother, Dominic Behan, was also a renowned songwriter best known for the song “The Patriot Game”; another sibling, Brian Behan, was a prominent radical political activist and public speaker, actor, author, and playwright. Following Brendan’s death, his widow had a child with Cathal Goulding called Paudge Behan; the two men were described as “good friends”.
A biographer, Ulick O’Connor, recounts that one day, at age eight, Brendan was returning home with his granny and a crony from a drinking session. A passer-by remarked, “Oh, my! Isn’t it terrible ma’am to see such a beautiful child deformed?” “How dare you,” said his granny. “He’s not deformed, he’s just drunk!”
Construction work on the Royal Canal Greenway Phase 3 project is ongoing on the following sections of towpath, which are now closed to the public:
Cross Guns Bridge (Phibsborough) to Binns Bridge (Drumcondra) – closed since 17th April 2023
Binns Bridge (Drumcondra) to Russell Street Bridge (Croke Park) – closed since 7th June 2023
Russell Street Bridge (Croke Park) to Clarke’s Bridge (Ballybough) – closed since 19th April 2023
Portland Place Park is also closed to the public and is being used as a secondary construction compound and access point to the towpath.