Published: 10:17 | 6/4/20

Documentary: Hill 16

Allegedly constructed from rubble collected from O’Connell St following the 1916 rising, a myth that has since been debunked, the Hill is now most famous as the spiritual home of diehard Dublin supporters. eir sport 1, Wed, April 8th, 11am

It is probably the most iconic structure in any Irish sporting arena and has become an integral part of GAA mythology down through the years. Compared to the rest of Croke Park though, Hill 16 looks somewhat unimposing. Situated at the Railway End beside the Nally Stand (the only structure at headquarters named for someone with no connection to the GAA), it remains uncovered and looks, you might be forgiven for thinking, almost unfinished. 

However, fill it with fans on matchday and it becomes the beating heart of the entire stadium, a touchstone for the emotions of the most dedicated supporters.

The original Hill 16 was actually constructed just before the Easter Rising, which should have put paid to some of the myths that later grew up around it. It was the first attempt to modernise Croke Park which had been used for sports events since the early 1880s before the foundation of the GAA and had even once been home to Bohemian FC.

The new construction, which comprised little more than a mound of infill with mud and grass on top,  was named ‘Hill 60’ after a bloody battle which took place in late 1915 during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign which lasted for over a year. Tens of thousands of allied soldiers were killed as they tried to land in the face of heavy bombardment from the Turkish troops dug in on the hills above. They were like lambs to the slaughter.

Most Irish casualties

The Gallipoli campaign stands as a major blot on the CV of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, who had advocated the landings as a means of opening a second front with Germany. The tragedy of Gallipoli has since become most closely associated with Australia and New Zealand, although a little-reported fact is that the country that actually suffered most casualties was Ireland.

The name ‘Hill 60’ survived until the early 1930s when it was decided that it would be inappropriate to have an area in the newly-independent country’s leading Gaelic sports stadium that was named after a battle in which the British Army had taken part. A decision was made to rechristen the area ‘Hill 16’ with immediate effect. The area was redeveloped again in 1936 with the mud and rubble replaced with a proper concrete structure.

The O’Rahilly

What is unclear is when the rubble from the GPO and O’Connell St stories first surfaced. It is most likely around that time. It was even said that the burnt-out car of the Kerry-born republican The O’Rahilly’, a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, which had been used to ferry guns and supplies to and from the GPO was part of the infill. ‘The O’Rahilly’ had died of gunshot wounds in Sackville Lane in the final hours of the rebellion after charging a British Army machine gun post.

The tales all added to the mythology. Unfortunately, despite continued assertions by some members of the GAA hierarchy to this day, it simply isn’t true. Still, regardless of the veracity of its alleged connections to 1916, the Hill has written itself into Irish sporting legend over the years as a supporter stronghold, particularly for the Dublin football team. Many commentators have even referred to the ‘16’ as an extra man for the Dubs due to the huge lift that the team gets from the noise emanating from that area of the ground during matches.  

It was redeveloped in the mid-1980s following an overcrowding incident which saw several spectators sustaining minor injuries and again in the 1990s as part of the Croke Park masterplan. It was renamed Dineen/Hill 16 in 2006 in honour of Frank Dineen who originally purchased the grounds for the GAA in 1908.

Images: INPHO

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