1920-1939 | Civilians slaughtered

14 shot dead in revenge for IRA attack – sympathetic MP attacked in parliament

Soldiers in a lorry and friends and family of the Croke Park shooting victims outside Dublin’s Jervis Street Hospital. National Library of Ireland via Flickr.

21 November 1920

On the afternoon of Sunday 21 November 1920, armed police officers under British command surrounded Croke Park Football Ground in Dublin.  They rushed in from either end of the stadium and fired directly into the stampeding crowd, killing eleven civilians and seriously injuring at least sixty, of whom three died the following week. Among the injuries was a boy who was bayoneted and a Tipperary football player shot in the mouth. ‘Volley after volley rang out in quick succession,’ reported one witness, ‘Women and children were trampled on: apple sellers were pushed off their feet. The cries of the weak and the shrieks of the womenfolk, mingling with the sound of rifle fire, struck terror into the hearts of the people.’1

A few hours earlier, thirteen British army and police officers had been brutally killed in a series of IRA assassinations. The attack on the crowded football ground was a cold blooded retaliation.  The press did denounce the ‘dastardly Dublin crime,’2  ‘murder most foul’3 and ‘the worst massacre… since the Indian mutiny,’4 but referring exclusively to the ‘most appalling murders of officers and ex-officers,’ while the massacre at Croke Park were described as a ‘tragedy’ where a ‘number’ of spectators had been killed and wounded, when officers ‘returned fire.’ No evidence was found to support this latter claim that the officers themselves had been fire on.5

The next day in parliament, the prime minister, David Lloyd George, denounced the ‘cold blooded murder of British officers,’ and praised the ‘gallant efforts to break up the gang of assassins,’ until Joseph Devlin MP, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party,  suddenly stood up, despite ‘a roar of indignation from almost every corner of the House,’ and asked ‘why it is necessary to recite all the horrible crimes that had taken place in Dublin on Sunday while they had heard nothing of the shooting by the military forces at a football match ?’ Moments later, as Devlin persisted in continuing, Major John Molson MP ‘stood up and seized the Irish MP around the neck as cries of ‘Kill him ! Kill him !’ were raised from different parts of the House,’  until his victim was able to struggle free. Delvin remarked coolly: ‘This is a fine specimen of your English courage to attack one man among six hundred.’6

Joseph Devlin (via Wikimedia) and a British armoured car in Dublin c. April 1920 (National Library of Ireland via Flickr.)


  1. ‘Football Ground Stormed,’ The Edinburgh Evening News, 22 November 1920, p. 5 and “A Terrifying Scene,” The Edinburgh Evening News, 22 November 1920, p. 5.
  2. ‘Dastardly Dublin Crime,’ The Scotsman, 22 November 1920, p. 7.
  3. ‘Murder most foul in Dublin,’ The Graphic, 27 November 1920, p. 798.
  4. ‘Dublin Horrors,’ The Edinburgh Evening News, 22 November 1920, p, 5.
  5. ‘Dastardly Dublin Crime,’ op. cit.
  6. ‘A Wild Scene,’ The Leeds Mercury, 23 November 1920, p. 1.

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