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Martin Sheridan: Mayo’s Famous Son by Margaret Molloy

Article by Margaret Molloy ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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My reason for writing the book was to ensure that Martin Sheridan would be remembered for his outstanding achievements as an Olympic champion, as a gifted athlete, as a policeman and as an avid and staunch Irishman and Nationalist.

Nothing substantial had ever been written about Sheridan, who was born in the village of Bohola, Co. Mayo in 1881. Sheridan emigrated to America in 1897 and after a few years joined the NYPD rising through the ranks to become a first-grade detective and winning many accolades along the way in the execution of his duties.

Sheridan’s forte was as a discus thrower, but he participated in many track and field events. He was hailed as the all-round champion of the world in 1909 by The New York Times in these events.  He won the all-round championships in 1905, 1907 and again in 1909.  He took part in the Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, in Athens Greece in 1906 and the London Games in 1908 and excelled at all three Games winning a total of nine gold, three silver and one bronze. Over the course of his athletic career which spanned approximately 12 years, he took part in   metropolitan and regional championships as well as numerous games to for the purpose of raising funds supporting the cause of Irish freedom. Most of these games were held at his beloved Celtic Park in New York which was his training ground for many of his awe-inspiring games.

Martin Sheridan’s life was tragically cut short in March 1918 when he succumbed to pneumonia contracted through the Spanish Flu pandemic which claimed the life of twenty to fifty million. It was such a loss to the athletic world being as he had so much to offer of his talent.  It was a huge loss also  to the police department and to  his colleagues who  were deprived of his courage and integrity. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York near his beloved Celtic Park where he gave so much pleasure to so many on the athletic field.

This book marks the culmination of two years research, with interviews carried out with local residents regarding the family history.  The people interviewed remembered their ancestors talking about the Sheridan family which was a good source of information. The other great source of information were the American newspapers; they were rich in terms of sporting news such as the type  of sporting competitions, the venue, the participants,  and the compilation of the results was quite comprehensive.  The newspapers covered crimes committed and other offences against the law and very often Martin Sheridan’s name was mentioned in the case. The reports gave an insight into Sheridan’s character his courage and integrity and his commitment to his work. His empathy in dealing with people, his fair mindedness and his generosity of spirit is exemplified in all this information.

Sheridan was also an avid nationalist. He came from a hugely political family; his brother Joe was married to Kitty Collins a sister of General Michael Collins. His Uncle P.J. Sheridan was a founder member of the Land League and he was instrumental in having Parnell take the Oath of Allegiance into the I.R.B.  P. J. Sheridan was indirectly linked with the murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish Chief Secretary for Ireland and his Under-Secretary Thomas Henry Burke in the Phoenix Park in May 1882, subsequently he fled to New York and later he went to Colorado and set up as a wool rancher. He died in 1917.

Martin Sheridan’s father held the position of a District Councillor and he was very involved in the political climate of the day. The Sheridan household was a target for many raids by the military during the War of Independence and the Civil War. Mary Sheridan Martin’s grandmother attended the funeral of P.W. Nally from Balla, Co. Mayo. He was arrested on a charge of conspiracy to murder; 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. He died while in prison at the age of 36.

While in America Martin Sheridan participated in many games to raise funds for the cause of Irish freedom.  Celtic Park in New York was the venue for so many of these fundraisers. It saw thousands assemble to aid the cause of Ireland’s freedom from Britain. Celtic Park played a critical role as the meeting place for Irish fraternal, social and political organizations.

From as early as 1905 until 1921 Clan -Na -Gael held fundraising events at the Park. Clan-Na-Gael publicly advocated armed resistance to British rule in Ireland well over a decade before the Easter Rising. ‘The ‘Gaelic American’ newspaper published by John Devoy and owned by Daniel F. Cohalan was the unofficial newspaper of Clan-Na-Gael it covered Celtic Park events with great enthusiasm. The historian B. L. Reid said of Cohalan and Devoy that there was little doubt that they were the American sponsors of the Dublin Rising, and that Roger Casement was in effect their agent.

On the world’s stage Martin Sheridan showed his character as an ingenious human being, a truly gifted sports man and a true and loyal Irishman. His memory has been honoured in so many ways worldwide, that it would be impossible to forget the indelible mark he made on the many people’s lives he touched.  The publication of this book means that Martin Sheridan’s life is documented for future generations. Researchers, students, and anybody who has an interest in him and what he achieved will be able to browse through the book and learn for themselves about the times he lived through, the political, social, cultural, religious, and economic ethos of the time.  It would be a shame not to have documented all of the information sourced.  Hopefully, it will stand as a testament to all this man achieved.  In doing so   Mayo’s Famous Son will never be forgotten.

(c) Margaret Molloy

About Martin Sheridan: Mayo’s Famous Son:

In the aftermath of the Great Famine and the Land War which had decimated the West of Ireland, employment and a way of life had to be sought in foreign lands. Martin Sheridan from Bohola, Co. Mayo, aged just 16, emigrated to New York in 1897, and found work as a trolley-car driver.

So began Sheridan’s journey to sporting greatness. Martin Sheridan: Mayo’s Famous Son tells the story of his incredible life which saw Sheridan become an Olympic Champion while serving for the New York Police Department before his life was cut short in 1918 at the young age of 37 having contracted the Spanish Flu.

Sheridan’s incredible record speaks for itself. He excelled at track and field events and over the course of 12 years, he had nine Olympic medals to his credit – five gold, three silver and a bronze. He won the All-round Championship of the World in track and field events in 1905, 1907 and again in 1909. He is credited with winning 12 national championships, and more than 30 American metropolitan and regional championships.

Martin Sheridan: Mayo’s Famous Son also looks at Sheridan’s life as an avid nationalist who came from a family immersed in politics. His uncle, P.J. Sheridan, was a founding member of the Land League in Mayo and was acquainted with Davitt and Parnell, while his brother Joe was married to Kitty Collins, a sister of Michael Collins. Sheridan himself regularly took part in numerous games held at Celtic Park, New York, to raise funds for nationalist causes.

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Margaret Molloy is the author of Agnes Morrogh-Bernard: Foundress of Foxford Woollen Mills, published in 2014. She is the co-author with Professor Peter Reid, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, of Church and State: Censorship and Political Interference in the Libraries of County Mayo in theJournal of Library and Information History. She was also part of the editorial committee for the following publications: Bohola – Its History and Its People (1992) and The Martin Sheridan Story (1998). Her work is mainly historical, with a special interest in local history and her articles have been published in many national magazines and newspapers, including Ireland’s Own, Ireland’s Eye, the Irish Catholic, the Western People, the Mayo News and the Connaught Telegraph. Margaret holds a B.A. in English and History and an M.Sc. in Library and Information Studies. She works in Ballina Library, Co. Mayo and she lives in Bohola, Co. Mayo.