1856 – Birth of athlete, Patrick Nally, in Balla, Co Mayo.

The stadium stands at Croke Park commemorated a proud and famous trio of Irishmen, Michael Cusack of Co Clare, Michael Hogan of Co Tipperary and Pat Nally of Co Mayo.

Patrick (Pat) William Nally was a member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and well-known Connacht athlete from Balla, Co Mayo. It was Nally who suggested to Michael Cusack the idea for what would become the Gaelic Athletic Association. In 1881, he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in Mountjoy Jail, Dublin, for what became known as the ‘Crossmolina Conspiracy’ where he was subjected to harsh treatment. Nally died in prison in November 1891, and the resultant Nally GAA Club in Dublin would be closely associated with working class Fenians in the 1890s.

Nally was the eldest son and one of six brothers, of a prosperous farmer of ‘advanced’ nationalist views. Nally from an early age had been a Fenian, and by the late 1870s was a leading organiser of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was also present at the founding meeting in August 1879, of the Land League of Mayo, later becoming the Land League. Nally was elected a joint secretary. By 1880, Nally had become a member of the IRB’s Supreme Council.

Nally became well-known in Ireland for organising athletics meetings which were open to all members of the public, where previously athletics meetings had been limited to entrants from the Protestant Ascendancy (the ruling classes).

In 1879, Michael Cusack met Nally, who had in 1877 attempted to start a nationalist athletics association but it never got off the ground. Cusack found that Nally’s views on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics were the same as his. Cusack would recall how both Nally and himself while walking through the Phoenix Park in Dublin seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depressed them that they agreed it was time to ‘make an effort to preserve the physical strength of our race.’ Nally organised a National Athletics Sports meeting in Co Mayo in September 1879 which was a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which was open to ‘artisans’ in Dublin the following April.

Nally as a member of the Irish Fenian movement, was rumoured to have ultimately been the cause of the end of his athletics career, as he was believed to have gone on the run to avoid arrest by the British authorities.

Nally was captured by the British in 1882, and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for plotting the murder of land agents.

Pat Nally died in Mountjoy Prison on 9 November 1891. His funeral was organised by James Boland, with whom he had conspired in Manchester.

One of the stands in Croke Park is named after Nally, and is unique for being the only stand in the stadium named after a person who had no connection to the Gaelic Athletic Association.

In January 2003 the Nally stand was dismantled and found a new home at the grounds of the famous Tyrone club, Carrickmore.

Image: Monument for Patrick Nally in Balla, Co Mayo

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