Miriam Lord: Croke Park gives way to wolfhounds and warriors

GAA fields its most colourful and musical team in the ‘Laochra’ performance at HQ

For a little while during the second half, before Dublin pulled away, it seemed the day might deliver a magical score line to complement the mystical chorus line to come. One hundred years to the day since the Easter rebellion and 19-16 was on the cards.

It was on the cards held up across the Hogan Stand with commendable precision by the crowd – green, white and orange, with the black ones spelling out 2016-1916 on the swaying cardboard flag. But that dream tally was too much to ask for in the Allianz Football League final, when Dublin recorded an emphatic 11-point win over their old rivals and bagged their fourth title in a row.

The football wasn’t the only entertainment on offer in Croke Park yesterday (Tyrone beat Cavan in the Division Two Final in the opening match) as the GAA provided a spectacular end to the State’s programme of 1916 commemorations.

We're getting very good at the pageantry. And, at the moment, we're going a historical milestone a minute in the commemoration department. Brave Michael D Higgins – not to mention his heroic wife Sabina – must be absolutely exhausted.

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He’ll have to be cut out of that Donegal tweed suit once the remembrance circuit has run its course.

Dancing swans

Happily, the end is in sight. And there couldn’t have been a more uplifting and happier ending than

Laochra

– a show billed as an exuberant “celebration of our national identity” and an acknowledgment of “the great wealth of Irish culture through the ages”. With added fireworks, dancing swans and Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh.

Over 3,000 performers took to the field in a 30-minute show devised by Tyrone Productions. They packed an awful lot of history into a short amount of time – eight scenes in all, beginning with “The Myths and Dreams of an Ancient Gaelic Land” and on to the Gaelic Revival, the 1916 Rising, the first World War, the mighty mightiness of the GAA and “A New Ireland Rises”.

The tone of the entire piece was one of inclusivity and tolerance. “The Gaelic league was founded, not upon the hate of England, but as a love for Ireland” ran the soundtrack, just before newsreel footage of Irish soldiers in the trenches.

Before the performance began, an announcer sounding very much like RTÉ’s Dáithí Ó Sé, informed the capacity crowd that what they were about to witness was “going to be fierce stáiruil”. So there was a great sense of anticipation that something historic was about to begin.

Spears and shields

It was a bit baffling at the beginning, when the cast appeared to be trying to interpret the bloodlust of a county hurling final through the medium of dance. There were drummers and warrior-types with spears and shields and wonderful prancing Irish wolfhounds throwing shapes around the dancing swans while a large bull roamed the plains.

There was acrobatic hurling before Cúchulainn was murdered by a band of vicious hurlers. He had a marvellous death scene in the centre of the park whereupon singer Liam Ó Maonlaí burst into a sort of warrior yodel from a platform built into the stand. The drummers were fierce, fearsome-looking lads with Celtic white legs and black kilts.

Ó Maonlaí, who sang with The Hothouse Flowers, was channelling the Hagrid look, displaying more hair on his face than all the dancing wolfhounds.

The GAA correspondents, unable to get down to the dressingrooms to do their post-match interviews until the show was over, watched the pageant unfold beneath them. Some of them looked a little confused.

Banners were unfurled and the floodlights came on. The flag of the Irish Republic was marched out and Irish Volunteers marched on. Where they got their uniforms is anybody’s guess because Sinn Féin cornered that particular fancy dress months ago.

Images from Irish history flashed up on the big screen. Around the ground, tiny pinpricks of lights hopped from camera phones.

The biggest cheer of the evening when Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh stepped up to the microphone and the GAA supporters, recognising his voice, gave him a stirring ovation. GAA clubs from all over the country were represented. Players and supporters of all ages marched proudly with their colours. Various community and civic groups took their places too, along with men and women from the emergency services.

The Dublin Fire Brigade marched proudly with their colleagues from the New York Fire Department. The music stirred the soul and everyone sang along to the Foggy Dew. Even U2 got a look in.

Hill 16

The Irish flag was the centrepiece of the celebration. A joyous, dancing depiction of the green, white and orange – on the field and in the stands. Eight canons stood guard at the canal end. They weren’t fired, which is just as good, because Hill 16 has already been demolished once. No point in doing it to Hill 2016.

And into the cast of thousands belted the Irish dancers. Over a hundred of them, battering the sward in thrilling Riverdance fashion. They provided the grand finale. The crowd roared. And the fireworks exploded again. And everyone went home glowing with national fervour.

A nice sort of fervour, with dancing wolfhounds, one the children will remember for a long time. Was it for this? It’d be nice to think so.