Many stadiums can lay claim to have a special place in the heart of a community, but few are as inextricably linked with the history, culture and identity of an entire nation as Dublin’s Croke Park.
As the headquarters of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), the stadium is invisibly yet umbilicaly connected to the GAA clubs to be found in every town and village and hardwired into Irish life.
Since 1884, Croke Park has been the stage for sporting drama which has enthralled and inspired the entire country and provided the backdrop for the development of the country itself. Croke Park is an integral part of the nation’s history. It belongs to All Ireland, sports and all.
Both the history of the GAA and Croke Park’s location and elevation are used to ensure that even on non-event days it remains the centre of attention for visitors to the city.
Since 1998, the Croke Park Museum has been a magnet for visitors, while the venue’s attraction as a tourist attraction was enhanced in 2012 when the Etihad Croke Park Skyline opened for business, offering birds-eye views not only of the stadium but of Dublin itself. At the time of its launch it was remarked that while London had The Eye and Paris the Eiffel Tower, Dublin now had the Skyline and the feature has certainly proved to be a crowdpleaser.
That comes as no surprise to Naimh McCoy, director of the GAA Museum at Croke Park who is delighted by the popularity of the museum and Skyline experiences.
“The GAA is integral to Irish life,” she told SportBusiness International. “It has played such an important part in the development of modern Ireland and the museum showcases that social role as well as the great players, clubs and matches that mark the history of the sports themselves.”
Since it opened, the museum has undergone two refurbishments and, says McCoy, looking to the future remains the best way of making the most of the past. As an officially accredited national museum it has to keep on top of its game or risk losing government recognition, and the story of the museum has been one of continued investment in enhancing the visitor experience through new and innovative exhibitions displayed to greatest effect through use of interactive technology.
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“Our aim is always to keep the content fresh,” she said. “That means keeping the AV (audio visual) elements updated and introducing new features, such as an interactive games area where visitors can try to learn unique skills and games.
A new exhibition celebrating some of the great GAA dynasties – different generation of the same family who have starred in Gaelic sports – is set to prove popular not only with visitors from around Ireland but those from overseas who represent up to 40 per cent of traffic through the museum and Etihad Skyline.
“What pleases me as much as anything is that the museum works on many levels. I often hear from people who say how much they enjoy being here even though they don’t know anything about the sport,” said McCoy. The museum is closed only seven days of the year and, says McCoy, “makes a modest profit which is unusual for a museum”.
While the world famous Guinness brewery may remain Dublin’s most visited attraction, Croke Park’s investment in its museum and Skyline walk are giving it a run for its money and McCoy says she is delighted not only to have won official awards but with the flood of overwhelmingly positive reviews which have appeared online.
The Skyline has itself won two Trip advisor Awards for Excellence and the flow of visitors helps keep the stadium and Gaelic sports front of mind way beyond game days.
The 0.6kilometre long Skyline walk takes visitors 44 metres – officially described as 17 stories – above the stadium to five viewing platforms, each equipped with audio stations to provide a commentary of the views that include two Cathedrals, Glasevin Cemetery, Trinity College, Dun Laoghaire harbour, Dublin mountains and, of course, the Guinness brewery.
Built at a cost of e1.4 million and using 100 tonnes of painted galvanised steel, the Skyline looks to be an investment which is paying dividends and has added a new dimension to the business.
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