By Dr Siobhán Doyle (TU Dublin & The GAA Museum)
November 21st 1920 was a day quite like no other. 10,000 spectators travelled from around the country to watch the Tipperary footballers play Dublin in Croke Park. Little did they know as they made their way to that challenge match that they would become part of one of the most violent and dramatic days in modern Irish history. A few minutes after the ball was thrown in, Crown forces entered the stadium and opened fire. Chaos ensued, 14 people lost their lives, hundreds were injured and many more would suffer the consequences for years that followed.
Thomas Ryan from Munroe, Glenbrien worked as a Laborer for a Gas Company after moving to Dublin. He was married to Mary Ryan (nee Boland) and they lived at 56 Viking Road, Arbour Hill in Dublin with their two daughters. Thomas joined the Irish Volunteers in 1917 and rose through the ranks as Section Commander the A Company in 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Old IRA. Before attending the match which was to begin at 2.45pm, Thomas was on duty with a party of men from his unit and raided a house at Marlborough Road [North Circular Road], in search of a British Intelligence Officer. Their target was not there, the operation was abandoned, and Thomas proceeded to Croke Park.
There are conflicting accounts over the context of Thomas’s death. Many reports detail how Thomas was shot dead while kneeling and whispering an act of contrition into the ear of a dying Michael Hogan near Hill 16. Other accounts state how Thomas escaped over the wall at the Canal End of the field and was fired at as he was moving along the canal. Regardless of the particulars, Thomas went to a GAA match and in a dreadful turn of events, never came home. He died in Jervis St Hospital that night with his heartbroken wife at his side.
Thomas received a posthumous service medal from the Minister of Defense in 1943. His death, like many of the other victims that day, is overshadowed by that of Michael Hogan, the only player to die on Bloody Sunday. Hogan’s name was memorialized by the renaming of a stand in Croke Park and the GAA erected a substantial monument at his graveside in Grangemockler, Co. Tipperary shortly after his death. Until recent years, many of the victims lay in unmarked graves amongst the millions of souls resting beneath the clay of Glasnevin Cemetery. Thomas is buried in the St Paul’s section of the cemetery with his wife Mary and their daughters Breda and Frances.