In September 2003 the redevelopment of Croke Park led to the demolition of the old Nally Stand and the creation of the Nally Terrace, adjacent to Hill 16. While people would be well aware that the stadium’s Hogan stand was called after the best known victim of the Black and Tans’ unwelcome visit to Croke Park in November 1920 on Bloody Sunday, and that the Cusack Stand was named in honour of one of the GAA founders, how many people would know the story behind the man for whom the old Nally Stand was dedicated in 1952?
Patrick W.Nally, as you might expect, was one of the motive forces behind the creation of the GAA in 1884, though for reasons that will become clear, he was not present at the pivotal meeting in Thurles that established the new body. He was, himself, a well-known athlete who began discussions with Michael Cusack in the 1870s about forming an organisation devoted to the promotion of Gaelic Games.
However, his motives were not entirely sporting in nature. Nally was, at the time, a member of the Supreme Council of the revolutionary nationalist organisation the Irish Republican Brotherhood which he had joined in his early twenties. He managed to keep his republican activities – his job was to import firearms into Connaught – secret from the local Mayo RIC by condemning agrarian outrages. This was, somewhat surprisingly, perfectly consistent with IRB policy. So much so that when he applied for a gun licence the local RIC Inspector advised his superiors that it was safe to grant the request, asserting that Nally ‘would lead a useful and loyal life’. Indeed he did, but not quite in the way the senior policeman anticipated.
With the Land War raging in 1880, Nally’s IRB activities came to the attention of spymasters in Dublin Castle and London. To avoid arrest he left the country for two years, returning in 1882. He was arrested on conspiracy to murder charges the following year – this was a favoured Dublin Castle ploy for jailing people it didn’t much approve of. He was implicated by an informer, another common procedure at the time. Nally was convicted, and sentenced to ten years penal servitude.
Half way through his sentence his father, W.R.Nally, sought assistance from an apparently unlikely source, Captain William O’Shea, husband of Katharine and later Parnell’s nemesis. However, O’Shea, though a conservative nationalist and a bona fide charlatan was a political opportunist with a history of murky associations with the IRB. O’Shea’s self-serving efforts to secure Nally’s early release came to nothing.
Nally did not, in the end, actually serve his full term. But that was only because he died, aged 36, in Mountjoy Prison, days before he was due to be released in November 1891. Efforts had been made by Dublin Castle, with a promise of clemency and other rewards, to get him to implicate Charles Stewart Parnell in the organisation and encouragement of agrarian crime at a Special Commission of Inquiry tasked with investigating such allegations. He is said to have responded to these blandishments “not all the gold or honours that the Queen could bestow would induce Patrick Nally to become a traitor.”
The official cause of Nally’s death was typhoid fever – some, however, suspected foul play. A Dublin coroner’s jury held that his ‘naturally strong constitution’ had been broken by ‘the harsh and cruel treatment to which he was subjected … for refusing to give evidence … at the Special Commission.’
He was pre-deceased by four weeks by the man he had refused to betray to secure his release. At his funeral the same green flag was draped over Nally’s coffin as had enveloped that of Parnell himself a month before.
Patrick W.Nally, revolutionary nationalist and sportsman, was born 159 years ago, on this day.
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