The Leinster Leader report … Bloody Sunday 1920
Less than twelve months after he had partnered with the great Larry Stanley at midfield for Kildare when the Lilywhites won the All-Ireland senior final of 1919, Mick Sammon was dodging bullets at Croke Park. This time he was refereeing a challenge match between Dublin and Tipperary. Earlier that morning, 21 November 1920, the Dublin Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA), had shot dead fourteen members of the crown forces, many of them part of a British intelligence group sent to Ireland to find and kill Michael Collins and other leaders of the revolution.
Mick Sammon was a well-known footballer in both Kildare and Dublin. He had worked as a grocer’s assistant and played for the Dublin teams, Hibernian Knights and Kickhams, before moving back to Kildare. (Both his parents had died young of tuberculosis: his mother, Bridget, aged thirty-six in November 1901, and Thomas, his father, aged forty-four in October 1903. The name is spelled Salman in the 1901 census and Salmon in the 1911 census.) Mick was arrested at his home in Kilcullen on 17 August 1918 after reading the Sinn Féin manifesto to a crowd emerging from Sunday Mass at Kilcullen on 15 August; he was brought to Naas, and then the Curragh Camp, and was subsequently sentenced at Maryborough (Portlaoise), to one-year’s imprisonment, later commuted to one-month.
On that fateful morning Mick was to referee the game between two of the top football sides in the country. Playing for Dublin was Kildare native, Frank Burke, from Carbury. He had been a pupil at St. Enda’s, or Scoil Éanna, Rathfarnham, Dublin, which was established by P. H. Pearse in 1908. Frank became the headmaster after Pearse’s execution in 1916. Burke had fought in the GPO garrison, Dublin, in Easter 1916 and was interned in Frongoch. He was briefly a member of Michael Collins’s ‘Squad,’ when it was originally formed and could have been on the assassination squads that morning. Frank was one of the most outstanding all-rounders in GAA history, winning two All-Ireland hurling medals and three All-Ireland football medals, all with Dublin. On 21 November 1920 he was marking Mick Hogan when the Tipperary captain was fatally shot through the head. Hogan threw himself on the pitch beside Frank Burke, who shouted in horror: “They’re shooting at the crowd.” The two players crawled towards the sideline, getting closer to the cinder track and the picket fence that separated the pitch from the bank now occupied by the Cusack Stand when another volley of shots rang out. Mick Hogan was hit in the head. “I’m shot,” he groaned. A spectator, Tom Ryan, who attempted to whisper an Act of Contrition into the dying Hogan’s ear was fatally shot in the back. Ryan was from Glenbrien, near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, and was living and working in the capital when he joined the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. The Leinster Leader reporter stated that Mick Sammon had earlier talked to Mick Hogan and had crawled along the sideline to safety when the gunfire started.
In the subsequent rounding up of people to be searched Frank Burke was struck on the head with a revolver by a policeman, who told him to go to the dressing room. He and the other Dublin players were corralled in the dressing room, where they were searched and their watches, money and cigarettes taken. They were then allowed to leave. Burke made his way back to St. Enda’s to make sure all his students were safe as he had given permission for some of them to go to the game. Apart from one minor injury, all the students had returned safely. Frank was later arrested on 21 March 1921 and detained in Dublin Castle, and Arbour Hill Prison, before being transferred to the Rath Camp, on the Curragh plains, where he had plenty of time to play and perfect his football skill.
The official British line on the killings at Croke Park and published in the Irish Times, that IRA ‘pickets not only raised the alarm but also fired on the approaching troops’, was a lie. They claimed that ‘firing was returned and a number of casualties was sustained by people who were watching the match’. Under the headline: ‘Terrorism and tragedy,’ the Leinster Leader, 27 November 1920, reported on both the morning’s killings and the afternoon shootings:
Fourteen army officers employed, it is believed, in one capacity or another as agents of the British Government in this country, were shot dead on Sunday morning. The shootings took place in eight different houses or hotels. Some of them were employed at courtmartial on men belonging to the I.R.A. The names of those shot were Capt. Fitzgerald, who was known in Co. Clare, a Mr. Mahon, Thomas Herbert Smith, Captain Maclean, Capt. Newbury, Major Dowling, Capt. Price, Mr. Ames, Lieut. Bennett, Capt. Baggallay, Mr. L. Wilde, Capt. P. McCormack, and two auxiliary officers named Garrin and Morris.
In the afternoon when seven thousand people had assembled at Croke Park to witness the football match between Dublin and Tipperary a large mixed force of military and R.I.C. arrived, to search (according to the Castle report) amongst these thousands for suspects in connection with the shootings that morning. Fire was opened on the crowd and 12 persons shot dead, 24 wounded and taken to hospital. It is believed many others were wounded. The casualties include men, boys and girls. One little boy of fourteen was bayoneted to death.
Bill Scott, fourteen, was so severely injured in the chest by a ricochet bullet that it was thought he had been bayoneted. The editor of the Leinster Leader at the time was Michael O’Kelly, at one stage Officer Commanding Naas Company, Irish Volunteers and President of the local branch of Sinn Féin. He would have known exactly why the British forces were targeted that morning and would have had little sympathy for these agents of the Crown.
On the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in November 1922, Mick Sammon was again the referee at a football game in Croke Park between Tipperary and Dublin. In 1926 the stand at Croke Park was named the ‘Hogan Stand’ in Mick Hogan’s honour. Mick Sammon later operated a public house, the Railway Hotel, in Celbridge. He died on 24 April 1947, aged fifty-three, in Peamount Sanitorium, Dublin, after a short illness, and was buried in the Abbey Cemetery, Clane. For many years the whistle he had used on Bloody Sunday was a family treasure until it was donated to the Croke Park Museum. Frank Burke remained as headmaster at St. Enda’s until the school closed in 1935. He died in the Meath Hospital, Dublin, on 28 December 1987, aged ninety-two and was buried at Cruagh Cemetery, Rathfarnham.