DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Muslims performed prayers to mark the festival of Eid al-Adha on Friday in Dublin's Croke Park Gaelic sports stadium, a site of historic importance for Irish nationalists who always had a deep connection with the once dominant Catholic Church.
Around 200 Muslims laid out prayer mats on the pitch usually used for the national sports of Gaelic football and hurling and where in 1920 British troops opened fire on a crowd, killing 14 people during Ireland's War of Independence.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins described it as an important moment in Ireland's narrative. Leaders of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths attended and spoke at the event, which was broadcast live on television for the first time.
With Muslims unable to hold large gatherings in mosques due to Covid-19 social distancing rules, Shaykh Umar al-Qadri, chair of Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council, approached the management of Croke Park, who he said did not hesitate to offer the venue.
He got the idea after an Ikea store in Germany allowed Muslims to use one of its car parks for Ramadan prayers.
"Today this Eid prayer is sending a very strong message out to the whole world, that Ireland is indeed a country of céad míle fáilte," he told the gathering, using the Irish language greeting translated as '100,000 welcomes'.
"No matter how different you are, once you come and you live here and become part of the society, this island of Ireland has this great, unique ability to adopt you."
A series of sexual abuse scandals shattered the credibility of the Catholic Church which dominated Irish society for decades after its independence from Britain. Ireland has since experienced sweeping social change, including the introduction of abortion and gay marriage in recent years.
The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, told celebrants that there was something special about recognising publicly the Muslim community's place "as an integral part of the family of the Irish" in Croke Park.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)