Interview with Bill Ryan (Laha) About Bloody Sunday22 Aug 2017
In 1993 Tipperary qualified for the Munster senior football final in which they played Cork but unfortunately lost 1-16 to 1-8. In the match programme for that game there was a superb interview, carried out by Paddy Doherty, with the late Bill Ryan of Laha and Loughmore Castleiney. Bill was a member of the Bloody Sunday team and he recalled the events of that awful day in this insightful interview.
We wish to thank Paddy Doherty for kindly allowing us to publish this interview in full below.
Back in the early eighties I had started collecting stories and ballads on tape of hurlers and various other people who might have a story to tell of the past. Someone at the time suggested that I should go out to Bill Ryan, (Laha), as he was the only surviving player of the “Bloody Sunday” game. So in due course it was arranged that I call out and I would be very welcome. On the night of the sixth of February, 1984, I arrived at Bill’s home at 9 p.m. I was immediately struck by his gentle and quiet manner as he came out to meet and welcome me inside. The following is an account of his story:
Q. Bill would you relate the events as you remember them?
Bill: On Saturday night, we stopped at Barry’s Hotel there near Findlater’s Church on the way to Croke Park. We slept there that night. We didn’t know anything happened at all that morning. There were a lot of secret service men out there — they were living throughout the city and Collins had tracked them down, anyway, they were all shot that morning — about twelve of them — that’s what the reprisals were about.
Q: You were playing Dublin?
Bill: Yes, but I can remember the match was only on ten or twelve minutes when they came in the Canal Gate and fired few shots.
Q. Who fired?
Bill: The Black and Tans, but the soldiers had it surrounded at the time. The first thing happened was a plane came and circled over the pitch — came down very low and went away — ’twas they gave the signal that the match was on of course, so they came in the Canal Gate, we were playing into the railway goal. I was playing on the half back line, out about on the fifty yards mark, when the shooting started. I looked back and Mick Hogan, who was playing behind me in right corner back and he was coming running towards where I was, himself and a Dublin player, and I turned and ran the same way down the field towards the railway end, there was a Dublin player in front of me and I followed him, and when we went down near the railway end, he went out of the playing pitch — he went out over the wire on top of the fence, three or four rows of thorny wire on the top sloped out against the spectators, ’twas hard to get over it, but eventually I got over it anyway and when I got over it I could see no sign of the Dublin player, he had disappeared, so I went on, on my own then on what you call Hill Sixteen.
Q. Where did you go then?
Bill: I went out of the ground altogether, the crowd had the outside wall levelled to the ground, it was only galvanised sheeting you know.
Q. I’m sure many were injured on that?
Bill: Oh there were — but they had it surrounded now. We were all held up about two hundred of us, of course all the rest of the crowd had escaped at the time.
Q. Were you still in togs?
Bill: Oh I was still in togs, but we were all brought back in and all lined up.
Q. They caught you outside?
Bill: They did and we all had to come back in and all lined up here and there, there were searches going on, there were a lot of detectives in civvy clothes, they were viewing the lads and asking questions and all this. But where I was I could see two Tipperary players lying flat on the field, now it would be about the far end of the Cusack Stand, about in that position out near the sideline, I could see these two Tipperary players lying flat on the ground, of course I thought they were lying for safety. So there was a lad with fixed bayonet up and down, and if you let down your hands or anything, he was over to you and I was a kind of sideways to this and I had to wait for an opportunity in order to have a look, but eventually I heard a shout, like a command, that’s when I got the opportunity, I looked, I saw one of the Tipperary players going away across the field with two or three Tans with him and his hands over his head and they were all covered with blood — so I knew the other player then was dead.
Q. Did you know who he was at that time?
Bill: I didn’t know who he was — no. But I was searched anyhow and I wasn’t told to go — they were letting some lads go but I wasn’t let go at all, but eventually this young officer came along, he was viewing lads that were in the queue but when he came to where I was, he came over to me and I was sure I was going to be for it, but he asked how long we were playing and who was winning. Ah ’twas only a matter of saying something then, I’d say he wasn’t satisfied with what was after happening, evenutually he said to me, are you feeling cold? I said I wasn’t – ’twasn’t the cold was troubling me to tell the truth at the time, but he ordered a spectator to take off his overcoat and give it to me, and when I had the overcoat got he told me you can go now, so I went flying out over Hill Sixteen again and there were three or four soldiers there, one of them was a sergeant and he said to me, who ordered to let you go? I said, a young officer in there told me to go, “come back we’ll have to have another word with you” the sergeant said to me. They were bringing me, anyway, and for good luck, the young officer was there, he wasn’t gone away — he shouted at them let off that chap he’s all right, so I was let go.
Q. Did you ever get the owner of the coat?
Bill: I’ll tell you now, with the coat, I went off out when I was let go the second time and I had to come back in under a railway bridge and back by the Hogan Stand, and when I got to where the Hogan Stand is now, there was a crowd of sightseers there, after all the shooting do you know, there was a priest among them, and he came over to me to ask me how I got on, and he said to me, “do you know one of your comrades is shot dead?” I said I did but I didn’t know which one of them it was, and he said to me, ”it was Mick Hogan”. So I got away then and got back to Barry’s Hotel. When we got back to Barry’s there was some Secret Service crowd, the I.R.A., I think it was, they told me not to stop there that night, so none of us stopped there that night, we stopped out through the city everywhere. But they cancelled all the trains out of Dublin, then we didn’t get home until I think the following Thursday.
Q. Were your clothes in Barry’s?
Bill: Yes. We togged out there and I left the overcoat there, and I was sorry that I didn’t bring it —it would be worth a lot now said Bill with a laugh. Bill reflected back again to the scene on the field.
Before he (officer) came to me that day, there was seven or eight Tipperary, players held at the Hogan Stand, they ran to that side and they were held then and like me, they were not told to go. They were holding them up and he (officer) came along and he let the whole lot away and he came on to where I was and he let me go. And I often heard Jerry Shelly, he was a Grangemockler man, saying ‘we should never say our prayers, but we should say one for that chap (officer)’.
Q. It was a frightening experience?
Bill: Well like, you were in the middle of it before you knew anything — ’twas like a battle while it lasted, nothing only shooting everywhere around.
Q. Was there any score in the match?
Bill: There were no scores.
Q. Call you recall the referee?
Bill: I do, he was a Kildare footballer at the time, Mick Salmon.
Q. How about the team, do you still remember them?
Bill: I do. In goal, Frank Butler; right corner back, Mick Hogan; full back, Ned Shea; left corner back, Jerry Shelly; right half back, myself; centre back, Jim Egan; left half back, Tommy Powell; the two centre fields, Jim Ryan and Tommy Ryan; right half forward, Billy Barrett; centre forward, Jimmy McNamara; left half forward, Jimmy Doran; right corner forward, Gus McCarthy; Full forward, Jack Kickham and left corner forward, Jackie Brett.
I wouldn’t ever forget that team said Bill with a certain sadness in his voice.
Q. The match was abandoned of course and played twelve months later in Croke Park?
Bill: Yes, that’s correct.
Q. Who were the victors?
Bill: We won it, won it well, and there was a grand set of medals for it.
Q. How would you compare the football teams of those days with the football teams of say the Dublin/Kerry or Cork teams of today?
Bill: It’s completely different. I imagine it was faster in our time, because this solo running is slowing up the game altogether, sure the ball travelled twice as fast up and down the field, catch and kick, bar the forward line of course.
Q. Did you prefer the old style game?
Bill: Well from a spectators’ point of view, it was a better type of game to watch.
Q. What colours did ye have on ‘ ‘Bloody Sunday”?
Bill: A white jersey with a green body sash. The first inter-county match we played, it was a red jersey with two gold keys across the chest, with gold cuffs and collars, those were the colours up to about 1920 until Bloody Sunday. The word ”Tipperary” was written across the chest of the Bloody Sunday jerseys which was white with green and gold body sash. The blue and gold didn’t come up to the time we finished playing in 1926, as far as I can remember.
Had he lived Bill would have been proud to see the Blue and Gold contesting a Munster Final in senior football here today. Sadly, Bill departed from this life in August 1991. An accomplished footballer, Bill played with the county from 1914 to 1926. During that time he won a senior All-Ireland medal in the 1920 final, a game not decided until 1922
He won a Munster senior medal in 1922 when Tipperary accounted for Limerick. At club level he played with his native Castleiney and also Templemore and Templetuohy winning championships with them. He also played hurling and won championships with Castleiney in 1923, ’25 and ’28.
To quote Bill’s comrade from Grangemockler, Jerry Shelly “We should never say our prayers, but we should say one for Bill, and his team-mates of Bloody Sunday”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam na marbh.
Le gach dea-ghuí dhiobh go leir
Below are four ballads, taken from Tipperary’s G.A.A. Ballads collected and compiled by Seamus J. King, Liam Ó Donnchú and Jimmy Smyth, about Michael Hogan and the events of Bloody Sunday.
By Criostoir O’ Flynn
Source: Centenary, F.N.T. Átha Cliath
One Sunday in the month of Samhain
The spies of England were cut down
In Dublin city by command
Of Michael Collins. That viper’s band,
Shot in their beds, were men of blood
Who suffered the fate their spying brood
Had planned for Ireland patriot’s sons.
When tyrant’s armies feel what guns
Of freedom’s fighters have to say
They let their violent vengeance play
On innocent civilians. Soon
The blood of Irish victims doomed
By cruel fate was spilt by guns
Of England’s scum. The Black-and-Tans
Came to Croke Park on that same day,
Where Tipperary and Dublin were to play
A football challenge. A hail of death
Swept through the crowds, life’s last breath
Sighed from the lips of young and old,
And on the field caught in the cold
Rigidity of death, a young man lay
Who had been active in the play
As one of the Tipperary team.
The blood that poured in that vital stream
From Michael Hogan’s heart has made
That green Croke Park a holy glade
Where Ireland’s children, born free,
Can learn the price of liberty,
For Hogan and all who died
On Bloody Sunday our nation’s pride
Has raised a mighty stand to bear
His name where gathered thousands hear
The Artane Boy’s Band proudly play
Received from Liam O Donnchå, Ballymoreen, Littleton.
Beneath the shadow of the chapel
At the foot of Slievenamon,
Lies Mick Hogan in his early grave,
Now fifty years have gone,
Since that Sunday in November,
When he donned the white and green,
And he strolled out on that Gaelic field,
With Tipperary’s football team.
The match had scarcely started;
How the people sang and cheered,
Until John Bull’s sons with their vengeful guns,
Brought death down on that field.
Mick Hogan fell in a hail of lead,
That swept across Croke Park—
He dyed the yass a crimson red,
With the young blood of his heart.
His comrade Egan saw him fall,
Upon that field of play—
Undaunted he rushed to his side,
The final prayers to say.
The Saxon had his vengeance,
For his spies who died that day,
By shooting down Mick Hogan,
In this cowardly brutal way.
His mother! Oh God help her,
How those bullets pierced her breast,
And burning tears ran down her cheeks,
As they laid her boy to rest.
Now fifty years have passed away.
Since they laid her martyred son,
In Grangemockler’s hallowed graveyard,
At the foot of Slievenamon.
Source: Tommy Barrett, lar Runai, Tipp. GAA, Thurles.
In Croke Park one Sunday evening
Drunken forces of the Crown
Turned their guns upon the Irish
And like dogs they slayed them down.
A gallant Gael from Tipperary
As he played his native game
Was laid low by British bullets,
Michael Hogan was his name.
Take him home to Tipperary,
To his silent lonely grave,
Take him home to Tipperary,
There to rest among the brave.
Men like Hogan loved their country,
It was proved that fatal day,
When the mighty British Empire
Tried to smash the GAA.
Little known that Sunday evening
When the teams came out to play
That the murder gang from England
To Croke Park were on their way.
‘Till an aeroplane it hovered,
O’er that quiet yet tranquil scene
And sent down a shower of bullets
On the crowd on Hill ’16.
Then the Tans jumped from their lorries,
Scruff and scum of London town,
With their rifles at the ready,
Our young hero was gunned down.
Every year the Gaels assemble
At the site of that sad scene.
When the rosary was recited
For our one and only Queen.
While her martyrs gather round her
In that holy place above
There to rest with her forever,
Those young Gaels we Irish love.
And in memory of our martyr
Is the mighty Hogan Stand—
Where underneath they play the anthem,
Those grand boys of the Artane Band
Now you Gaels from all o’er Ireland
When Croke Park you will attend
Give a thought to Bloody Sunday
And let this little prayer ascend
It’s not much that I am asking
Just one Pater and Ave,
For all those the British murdered
On that bleak November day.
Take him home to Tipperary,
To his silent lonely grave
Take him home to Old Grangemockler
There to rest among the brave.
Men like Hogan loved their country
It was proved that fatal day,
When the mighty British Empire
Tried to smash the GAA
The Gael from Slievenamon
source: Ms Áine Hogan Breanormore, Ninemilehouse, Carrick On Suir and Tommy Barrett, lar-Runai GAA, Thurles.
‘Twas not within his home he died nor ‘mid the battle grim,
But when playing a grand Old Irish game British guns killed him.
When Croke Park grounds were crowded and leaden hail swept
Upon the sod he loved so well ’twas there Mick Hogan died.
His lifeblood trickled o’er the sward; his soul had flown on high—
Machine guns swept the playing pitch no comrade dares draw nigh.
But when the ‘Amritsar’ was o’er his comrades gazed upon
The still and lifeless form of their Gael from Slievenamon.
It was not thus he’d wish to die a soldier of his land,
For he had answered duty’s call when freedom’s flame was fann’d
But on that Bloody Sunday when England’s work was done,
Another rebel heart lay still in the Gael from Slievenamon.
When Grangemockler will muster on the green sward once again
And the blood of Ireland’s brave and best has not been shed in vain.
The memory of our martyred dead will in our hearts live on,
Ah, we won’t forget Mick Hogan then who sleeps ‘neath Slievenamon.
When the flag of Irish freedom waves throughout the land we love,
The souls of those who died to save will guard it from above.
For they that bore their cross for Him have heard the words ‘well done’ ,
And amongst the host of Ireland’s best is a Gael from Slievenamon.
This song was kept alive by Ned Hanrahan, a singer from Mick Hogan’s own parish.
Click here for a video interview with Bill Ryan who played for Tipperary that day.
If you would like to learn more about Bloody Sunday we recommend that you read Michael Foley’s brilliant book on the subject, The Bloodied Field. This can be purchased here.
For a brilliant essay on Bloody Sunday survivor Tommy Ryan by Wexford’s Roisin Cooney please click here.