Thomas Croke was born in Castlecor (parish of Kilbrin), Co Cork, in 1824. He became the second Catholic Bishop of Auckland New Zealand before returning to Ireland as Archbishop of Cashel and Emly.
He was a strong and public supporter of Irish nationalism aligning himself with the Irish National Land League during the Land War, and with the chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Charles Stewart Parnell, although he distanced himself from disgraced Parnell after the politician’s liaison with Kitty O’Shea became public.
The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia states that on his return to Ireland from New Zealand “He at once resumed his former active interest in political affairs and became a strong supporter of the Home Rule movement under the leadership of Isaac Butt. In the more advanced agrarian projects of the Land League days he was side by side with Charles Stewart Parnell in popular leadership, and was the main restraining influence when the ultra-radical element, infuriated by the new coercion laws of British officialism, broke out with the “No Rent” and other revolutionary manifestos. He made several visits to Rome in defence of the popular cause and to oppose the attempts of British diplomacy to enlist the direct intervention of the influence of the Vatican against the Irish Nationalists, the justice of whose efforts he vigorously championed. After the fall of Parnell and the confusion and factional strife that followed he withdrew in a measure from active participation in politics, but never lost his enthusiasm for the cause of Irish national regeneration.
He died at the Archbishop’s Palace in Thurles on 22 July 1902, aged 78. In honour of Croke, his successors as Archbishop of Cashel and Emly traditionally are asked to throw in the ball at the minor Gaelic football and All-Ireland hurling finals.
The main GAA stadium in Dublin, Croke Park, is named in his honour.
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