WATCH: The remarkable story of Christopher 'Yarra' Duffy
By John Harrington
As the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on November 21 draws closer, more and more human stories about that day are emerging.
Few, though, are as remarkable as that of a then 15-year-old Christopher ‘Yarra’ Duffy, who attended the fateful Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Tipperary that day with his brother Dan.
When the British Forces entered the stadium and began shooting into the crowd indiscriminately, Duffy was struck in the neck and seriously wounded.
For a time it was thought he would die, but he not only made a full recovery but would go on to play himself for Dublin, winning two Leinster Championships.
His Grandson, David Carroll, spoke to GAA.ie to relay his Grandfather’s incredible story.
“I suppose the story starts with Christopher who was born in Sheriff Place in Sheriff Street in the north inner city,” says Carroll. “He got the nickname 'Yarra' because he used to play on a boat off the docks and his mother called him 'Yarra' because the boat was called 'Yarra' and the Yarra is a river, I think, flowing through Melbourne in Australia.
“So the story begins I suppose as a 15 year old coming here on Bloody Sunday to watch Dublin and Tipperary with his brother Dan and from what we know he was in the Railway End.
"He was obsessed with football. I think as a person he would admit himself he didn't have too much time for school but was completely obsessed with his football and led to him, I suppose, becoming such a significant player later on. He was there on the day watching the match and I think we all know the circumstances around the British Forces coming into Croke Park.
“He was actually shot in the back of the neck at the base of his head just above his spine. We think it was a 0.22 millimetre bullet. We're not absolutely sure of what happened on the day that led to his survival, but one of the stories that we do know is that a neighbour of ours, Mr McCullough, pulled my Grandfather out of the crowd that day and brought him to safety even though he was so seriously injured.
“That's a great kind of legacy I think as well for for the McCullough family that played such a big part in, I suppose, the survival of my Grandfather.”
Duffy was brought to Jervis Street Hospital where he was fortunate his condition wasn’t worsened by the actions of a newspaper photographer who was trying to get the perfect shot.
“He told a story around lying in the hospital bed and a photographer coming in to the hospital and asking could he take his photograph and raising his head with a number of pillows and you can imagine, you know, with a near-spinal injury how serious that was in terms of the possible damage that could have been done to him,” says Carroll.
“The story went that in came the Professor who was looking after his care, grabbed the camera and grabbed the journalist, and threw him out the front door with his camera.
“We always thought, well, this is just a story, and the family started to look into the whole history looking into Bloody Sunday after he had passed away and I was going through the cuttings or the archives in in the National Library and what did I come across but the photograph of him lying in the bed and looking up as a 15 year old into the camera.
“Thankfully for all of us and, when I say all of us, I mean the nine children and the 28 grandchildren and the 48 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren, he survived.”
‘Yarra’ didn’t just survive, he thrived, going on to become one of the best Dublin footballers of his era.
He was the main man for St. Joseph’s went they won their only ever Dublin SFC title in 1930, and also won two Leinster Senior Championships with Dublin in 1932 and 1933.
“I suppose we never really commemorated him and he was never fully recognised for the legacy that he had and the football career that he had,” says Carroll.
“He was in two All-Ireland semi-finals, he was in a League Final, but never quite got across the line of that huge prize of an All-Ireland medal I think for us the fact that we're keeping his memory alive as part of this whole significant event for the whole country because we know how much Bloody Sunday means to the whole country and we know how significant it is for the GAA and the victims and the survivors.
“To have this opportunity to be able to commemorate him on this event is huge for us to keep his memory alive.”