The Purchase of Croke Park
Records held by the GAA Museum Archive show that Jones Road Sports Ground was being used by the GAA for football and hurling as early as 1897. It was to be a full sixteen years later (and almost three decades after its formation) that the Association could call the stadium its own.
At the G.A.A.’s 1905 Annual Convention the decision was taken to erect a memorial in honour of Archbishop Thomas William Croke, First Patron of the GAA, who died in 1902.
Between 1905 and 1913 fund-raising for this memorial was sporadic at best, with the only contributions of note being the £100 contributed by the Central Council in 1908, which, ironically, led to Ulster being excluded from the 1909 Croke Cup Competition as the Council could no longer afford to pay Ulster’s travelling expenses; and the £104 raised during the first tour of Ireland by an Irish American team of GAA players in 1910.
In 1913 a ‘Croke Memorial Tournament’ (Hurling and Football) was held which resulted in a profit of £1,872, to be used for the memorial. At the 27th of July 1913 meeting Luke O’Toole, General Secretary, reported that he had met with Father Bannon and Canon Ryan to discuss ideas on what form the memorial should take; the options discussed included a statue of Archbishop Croke, a marble altar, a stained glass window and a grant to help rebuild a burnt out confraternity hall in Thurles.
Central Council decided to erect a statue of Croke in Thurles, to contribute £300 to the rebuilding of the Confraternity Hall, to be renamed the ‘Croke Memorial Hall’ while the remainder of the funds would be devoted to purchasing a ground in Dublin to be called the Croke Memorial Park Grounds. O’Toole was instructed to make enquiries of suitable grounds in Dublin and to report his findings back to the Central Council.
The minutes of the 17th of August 1913 meeting reveal that a delegation had visited several grounds around Dublin but only two were identified as suitable; Jones Road and Elm Park in Mount Merrion. Jones Road consisted of 9¼ acres and was being offered to the Council for £4,000 while Elm Park, consisting of 15 acres was being offered for £5,000. It was agreed that the Council would visit Elm Park and the minutes for the next meeting record that Frank Dineen had agreed to sell Jones Road for £3,500.
At a special meeting, held on the 4th of October 1913, it was proposed that Council make an offer of £3,500 to Dineen for the grounds; an amendment was put that the question be postponed until the 1914 Convention but the decision to make the offer was carried by 8 votes to 7.
With the purchase complete decisions were made to appoint O’Toole as manager of the re-named Croke Park and Patrick Martin as the caretaker, both of whom were given one of the houses located within the grounds. It was also decided to move the offices of the Association from 68 Upper O’Connell Street to the stadium and to establish a new company ‘Gaelic Athletic Association, Limited’ as the purchase of the grounds had shown that the Association, as constituted, had no power to borrow money.
The stadium quickly became the centrepiece of Association activities, so much so that the Association had to issue an appeal to the media to stop calling it the ‘National Stadium’, and refer to it as Croke Park.