A memory game
An Irishman’s Diary: From Hill 60 to Hill 16
‘In 1936, the GAA erected concrete terracing but this didn’t prevent overcrowding especially in the early 1960s and, following some worrying incidents in the 1980s, the GAA decided to re-build it. Later again, in the early 2000s, a new terrace including the site of the old hill and the Nally stand was erected with a capacity of more than 13,000.’ Above, Hill 16 being demolished. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Tour guides have various techniques to engage with tourists. One is the easy but incongruous question. The travellers feel good because they know the answer but they are puzzled and pay attention. On a tour of the military cemeteries of Flanders last year, our guide employed this to good effect. As we approached the town of Ypres, he asked if any of us had heard of Hill 16. We had and we raised our hands. And why was it called Hill 16, he teased us. Something to do with the Rising, one person chanced. Well yes, but did we know that it was originally called Hill 60? We didn’t and he explained.
Flanders, as we could see, was very flat. So in wartime any vantage point was desirable. During the 1850s, earth removed to build a railway track locally was piled in a mound about 5km south east of the town. It was originally called the Lovers’ Hill but when the first World War came it became Hill 60 on British military maps because it reached 60 metres above sea level. It was the centre of many battles between 1915 and 1918. Meanwhile in Dublin, the GAA had built an embankment on the railway end of Croke Park, the “shilling side”, and somebody, perhaps a returning soldier, gave it the name of the Belgian mound. Later, someone else changed the name to Hill 16 to commemorate the Rising. It all sounded doubtful, but the guide may have been correct.
However, it is also possible that the embankment was named after another Hill 60, the one overlooking Suvla Bay in Gallipoli and the site of a major but indecisive battle between the Turks and the allies. Men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers fought in both Flanders and Gallipoli. Either way, it was raised in 1915 and opinion is divided about whether it was expanded using rubble from the city centre following the Rising. It is possible that battle detritus dumped there was removed in the 1930s but, at any rate, none was found in later times.
The annual report of Dublin Corporation for 1916 is silent about the matter. I haven’t pinned down the exact date, if there was one, when the name was changed. It was Hill 60 in 1929 but in September 1931, the chairman of the Munster Council of the GAA, Seán McCarthy, complained to the Central Council that a name signifying a foreign battle rather than the fight for freedom was being given to the “sacred ground” by the newspapers and he asked the general secretary, Pádraig Ó Caoimh, to make representations whenever he came across it.
The Hill has been a subject of sporadic controversy over the years. In 1933, for example, there was a complaint that, because of poor stewarding, three-card- trick merchants and other individuals were annoying the spectators. In 1936, the GAA erected concrete terracing but this didn’t prevent overcrowding especially in the early 1960s and, following some worrying incidents in the 1980s, the GAA decided to re-build it. Later again, in the early 2000s, a new terrace including the site of the old hill and the Nally stand was erected with a capacity of more than13,000. It was opened officially in 2006 and named the Dineen-Hill 16 Terrace in memory of Frank Dineen, a Limerick man who bought the ground in 1908 and sold it to the GAA almost 100 years ago, in October 1913, when the association could afford to buy it following the running of a successful football tournament.
While the Hill is open to all, it has been associated in the public mind with the “Dubs” since the 1970s when their senior football team under the management of Kevin Heffernan won three All Irelands within four years and attracted a large following of supporters who wore and displayed merchandise more usually associated at the time with British soccer clubs. Their debut appearance in 1974 was immortalised in the line in The Memories’ song that “Hill 16 has never seen the likes of Heffo’s army”. Kevin Heffernan sadly died last January. Many of his “army” have, no doubt, retired to their armchairs and plasma television sets but a new generation of “Dubs” has sprung up. And the story goes on. On a bus, recently, I saw an eight or nine year old boy apparently of African descent clutching a hurley. Hill 16 hasn’t seen it all yet!