Not just a national stadium

Do they get it now? Do they see what Croke Park means? It’s very difficult to demonstrate abstract ideas like identity but Saturday week’s Ireland v England rugby match might well have done the trick.

Croke Park is not just a stadium – it’s a home. Part of the very success of the GAA is based on that idea. Many of the failures in our society are because we miss out on that idea of identity.

Take, for example, local government in Dublin. The Greens have just declared that they want to scrap the four local authorities in the city. Nobody much cared and nobody would miss them much.

That is because they don’t have the identity thing. They don’t represent any community. They might do, in a hundred years, but not now. They don’t have any meaning for people and therefore they have failed to engage people, part of the fundamental purpose of local democracy.

It’s the difference between living in a hotel room and living in your own home. It’s about ownership and control.

GAA grounds are not just about places where people play games. They occupy a far more important place in the head and the heart than that. They are anchors. They are shared purpose and shared history. Where will we build the stand? Where will we build the dressing rooms? How will we raise the money? Who will mark the lines?

Whoever wrote the line about it being better to travel than to arrive had this thing sussed out. It is the shared experience that binds communities together and makes them stronger and owning a football ground does that for a club, a county, a community and a nation.

The building blocks of a functioning community are often laid in the struggle to build a community hall, a park, a creche or a school. The importance of this can’t be overstated. 

The state usually asks a community to come up with some funding before it will release the rest of the cash. This is an acknowledgement that the process of a community binding together is as important as the mortar between the blocks.

So when people stood for the anthems at Croke Park the emotion of the occasion was laid on top of the reality that this place was someone’s home with  that family’s history and traditions. And that’s why it mattered.

If this is a lesson learned then we will be better at building communities and we will have better communities. The government insistence that facilities be shared jars with this reality. For sure, we need the fields, and the halls, and the playing courts. But more than that we need the clubs, the associations and the civil society which gives it all meaning and purpose.

So people must understand that Croke Park can’t be a national stadium because it’s not just a building, it’s a home. Certainly, it can be hired out especially when a bigger attendance needs to be catered for. 

But the other sporting codes need their own home and the GAA getting them over a hump is not going to do that for them. That’s really the point – they have to do it for themselves.