Mick Hogan is possibly the first name that comes to people’s minds when they talk about Bloody Sunday. For us, he was a member of our family killed in the flower of youth.
My grand-uncle Mick has become iconic, with the Hogan Stand in Croke Park named after him following the day when many lives were lost.
When an incident is embraced by a nation as historic, it often takes away from the person, that each individual loss is in itself a tragedy.
The event seemed to me very distant, part of a national history, yet the discovery of a small paper box while clearing out the family homestead in August of this year brought home to me that it was part of my family history.
Neatly wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, the small box of envelopes and letters took me back across the century and reconnected me with the heartbreak that touched my family and many other families after Bloody Sunday.
It was like a time capsule stored for the future. The beautiful penmanship, the empathy and the eloquence shone out across the century from the now browned and yellowed writing paper.
The small bundle of papers had lain undisturbed in a cardboard box in the farmhouse throughout the decades since shortly after that fateful day, November 21, 1920, when blood was spilled on Croke Park when my grand-uncle was among the 14 who lost their lives as a much-anticipated football clash between Tipperary and Dublin took place.
I often wonder what life Mick would have led if he had not travelled to Dublin for the football match that crisp November day.
There has been much written about the day in the history of the national struggle, but the letters, notes and memorial cards kept by my great grandmother Margaret captured the personal heartache of a family left bereft and the fraught emotions of the time.
In the days after the Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan was shot dead at the age of 24, the letters made their way to our farmhouse nestled in the shadows of Slievenamon outside the village of Grangemockler.
I stumbled across them while clearing out an old chest that had stood for decades in the hall of the modest farmhouse where Mick and his six siblings, including my grandfather, Paddy, had grown-up. They lay neatly stacked and sandwiched between some well-thumbed old Western novels that were the Netflix of the time.
That day Mick, his fellow footballers and thousands of fans headed to Croke Park for an afternoon of escapism, unaware of the danger as deadly retaliation was planned after Michael Collins’ Squad had set out to execute British intelligence agents in Ireland in the early morning light, resulting in 14 deaths on the day. The afternoon clash started late due to crowd congestion at the gates.
The usual bout of pre-match nerves struck as the teams walked out on to the pitch. Mick was jittery about marking his opponent. His friend and neighbour Bill Ryan had lost his football boots in a skirmish with soldiers on the train to Dublin and was now wearing a pair that were too big. Mick was able to help him as he gave him an extra lace to tighten them as they headed for the pitch. Bill kept the lace for the rest of his life.
The game was under way and Mick Hogan and Dublin’s Frank Burke were going for the ball when the Black and Tans suddenly appeared and began firing. There was panic as bullets thudded and whistled everywhere in the packed grounds; on the pitch, the players ran for their lives but two lay on the ground. They both wore the colours of Tipperary.
Mick’s friend and teammate Jim Egan, who had hit the ground beside him stood up, covered in his friend’s blood. He called to a priest he recognised, Fr Patrick Crotty, who happened to be from a nearby village of Mullinahone. Another man also lay nearby. Thomas Ryan, from Co Wexford, is believed to have gone to comfort Mick when he was also shot. The priest tended to both men.
The poignant letters depict the final minutes as the young man in the prime of his life lay dying on the pitch.
One of Mick’s brothers, Tom, wrote home to his mother to tell her he had spoken to Fr Crotty.
“His last words were a prayer, as you know. When Fr Crotty reached Mick as he lay on the field, a nurse was bending over him and said to Mick, ‘They have murdered you but they cannot kill your soul’,” wrote Tom.
Tom, a Christian Brother, would go on to become well-known in GAA circles and to this day the All-Ireland Colleges Gaelic Football Championship is played in his honour.
Fr Edward (Ned) O’Brien, who also hailed from Cloneen near our homestead, wrote to Mick’s mother Margaret Hogan to tell her, along with Fr Crotty, he had administered the last rites to Mick “on the very spot where he fell”. “I got no small shock when I realised that the young man whom I had anointed was practically a neighbour of mine,” he wrote.
One of the more poignant letters came from Margaret ‘Baby’ Browne, who later married the politician Seán MacEntee and went on to become a university lecturer. The Brownes, who included Monsignor Maurice (Moss) Browne and Cardinal Michael Browne among its ranks, were close friends of the Hogan family.
OUTPOURING OF SYMPATHY
The letter recalled how Margaret’s brother “Moss stayed by him where he lay on the field until the ambulance came”. “Poor Mick’s death, while playing a game, has created terrible horror and all Ireland are in sympathy with you today,” she wrote. “I am sending you some of poor Mick’s hair. I cut it off in the hospital and thought you would like to have it.”
Another of the Browne family, Fr Patrick Browne, better known in later life as the poet and academic Monsignor Pádraig de Brún, wrote how he had identified Mick Hogan at the military inquiry to spare his brother Tom the ordeal. The friend of the family recalled how he travelled to Kingsbridge (now Heuston Station), alongside the team, to see the funeral cortège leave.
“I think it was lucky they all went away by the eight o’clock train, instead of the 9.15 as announced, as the 9.15 and all the other Tipperary bound trains were searched by the Black and Tans during that day,” wrote Fr Patrick Browne from his base in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, on November 26, 1920.
“I can’t keep from crying myself even still; I remember like yesterday the first day he came to school, when he was only barely able to talk.”
The letters and cards contained an outpouring of sympathy and captured the turbulence of the times. WB Power, a Christian Brother from Drogheda, wrote that Mick had not died in vain, as “it is from the blood of such martyrs that patriots spring”.
In a letter of sympathy, the secretary of the nearby Sinn Féin Club wrote of Mick: “Physically a giant, he was as simple as a child. Earnest and sincere, he was amiable, jolly and cheery.
“A good sportsman, a great Gael, a sterling lover of the Motherland, a loving son. What more could he be. Long, long shall we miss him.”
Others wrote simply to wish Mick’s mother strength to bear the “heavy cross”.
News of the tragedy reached County Tipperary relatively quickly, yet his mother was still unaware of what had unfolded until the priests were wired and requested to travel to the house to break the news. The loss of Mick was felt deeply as he was the one working the farm after the death of his father only two years earlier.
With a heavy heart, the eldest in the family, Dan, an active member of the IRA, travelled home for the funeral. Hiding his gun under a blanket, he was picked up from the station by their neighbour with his horse and trap. After the loss, he recommitted himself to playing a prominent role in the Volunteer movement and subsequently the Free State.
After Mick’s body was released, thousands are reported to have joined the funeral procession, with Clonmel train station surrounded by members of the RIC and Black and Tans. Family have often said over the years that the coffin was fitted with a glass lid to allow his mother, family and friends a last glimpse of the player who was laid out in one of his team-mate’s jerseys.
That afternoon in Croke Park was a symbolic day in the War of Independence but ensured our family’s history, that of the country and the GAA, were forever intertwined.
* This article written by Louise Hogan first appeared in the Irish Independent last Saturday. The Nationalist would like to thank Louise and the Irish Independent for permission to publish the article.
The letters are now on exhibition in the Croke Park museum and Louise Hogan has also written another article that appears in a local GAA history book ‘Grangemockler&Ballyneale 1885-2020’