GAA commemorate Croke Park in Frongoch, Wales
By Cian Murphy
Uachtarán CLG Larry McCarthy has unveiled a plaque which commemorates the existence of a field called ‘Croke Park’ on the site of the 1916 Easter Rising internment camp in Frongoch in Wales.
After the Rising of April 1916 there were Irish men sent to internment camps in Britain, and the largest contingent of 1,800 were sent to Frongoch in rural North Wales.
While there, the Irish organised athletics meetings and Gaelic football matches and the field used for these activities they christened Croke Park. It was also the setting for the final of the Wolfe Tone Cup in football in July 1916 which saw a Kerry team defeat Louth, a match known as the All-Ireland behind barbed wire.
There was also a Frongoch Leinster Football Championship played with Dublin beating Wexford in August 1916 in the camp.
The fact that the Kerry team in Frongoch included 12 inter-county players and the Louth side had nine inter-county players illustrates the strength of the GAA interest among those in the camp.
To this day, that field in Frongoch remains known locally as Croke Park.
The Kerry team in Frongoch was captained by the legendary Dick Fitzgerald, after whom Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney is named. Louth were captained by their star player Tom Burke, a man who also was immersed in GAA activity following his return to Ireland and was, among other things,the referee in 1928 when Kildare were the first ever recipients of the Sam Maguire cup as All-Ireland champions.
This Sunday, Uachtarán CLG Larry McCarthy will lead a delegation of GAA officials from for an unveiling of a plaque that commemorates the GAA link to the area.
The specially commissioned stone carries Welsh, Irish and English dedications to the Croke Park field and is part of a wider initiative by the local historical society to preserve the significance of the area which was once a whiskey distillery, then a German POW camp in 1914 before housing the Easter Rising internees between June and December of 1916.
GAA President Larry McCarthy said: “The Association has been involved in marking sites of historical significance to the GAA for the last number of years. In 2016 there was an event led by Iar-Uachtarán Aogán Ó Fearghail which included the playing of a ceremonial football match which revived our link to Frongoch and brought the story to a new generation.
“Commemorating this GAA link to Frongoch is something that has been driven by the GAA Provincial Council of Britain and in particular its chairperson, Noel O’Sullivan. We are very grateful to Alwyn Jones and the local history committee for the interest and care they have taken in preserving the Frongoch story and are delighted that they have included the ‘Croke Park’ field in this work.
“The Wolfe Tone Cup final captains, Dick Fitzgerald and Tom Burke, were great players who had a major impact on the GAA on their return to Ireland.
“Visitors to Frongoch who learn about the history of the camp will also be able to learn about Gaelic games.”
Historians now refer to the Frongoch camp as the University of the Revolution as it brought key revolutionary figures like Terence McSwiney and Michael Collins together with others and was a fertile ground to plan for the later War of Independence campaign.
Also, among those in Frongoch was Alderman James Nowlan, the GAA’s longest serving President who held the office for 20 years and was a hugely influential figure in social andpolitical life and was Uachtarán between 1901 and 1921 steering the Association through numerous upheavals in Irish life and has Nowlan Park in Kilkenny named in his honour.
Noel O’Sullivan, Chair of the GAA’s Provincial Council of Britain said: “We are delighted to be able to commemorate this site of GAA activity and are indebted to Alwyn Jones and John Davis and the local community in Frongoch for their support and for helping us to preserve our connection to this story.
“The GAA has a proud history in Britain. We have in recent times seen the GAA in London and in Scotland both reach their 125-year anniversaries. Our games are popular throughout Britain and numbers in Wales are growing.
“It is fantastic that as the Frongoch story is told that the Gaelic games element will be a part of that and that just like the iconic field in Dublin the significance of this Croke Park field will also be remembered for future generations.”
Local resident and member of the Frongoch historical society Alwyn Jones has assembled a museum near the site of the old camp and was instrumental in facilitating the GAA’s interestin the commemoration.
He said: “We are very proud of our history in Frongoch. This commemoration means there will be something official and permanent to remember the events of what happened here and that the GAA link to Frongoch will be remembered for future generations.”
The unveiling was also attended by Liz Saville Roberts MP, Mabon ap Gwynfor from the Welsh Senedd and Denise Hanrahan, Consult General of Ireland in Wales.