Martin Sheridan was without doubt one of Co. Mayo’s most famous sons. Described as the best all round athlete of his time, he was honoured and feted in many different countries throughout his short, but remarkable, life, writes Margaret Molloy.
Martin Sheridan was born in Bohola, Co Mayo, on March 28, 1881, to Jane and Martin Sheridan. He was the youngest of seven children, in a family of four boys and three girls.
Born into a very active political family, Martin Sheridan was steeped in the politics of the day from a very young age, and this political perspective shaped his formative years and influenced his decisions in later years.
His grandfather, grandmother, father and were heavily involved in the land war, and his uncle P. J. Sheridan, who fled to America in the wake of the Phoenix Park murders, was actively involved with Parnell. According to historian, Paul Bew, it was Sheridan who was instrumental in having Parnell take the Fenian oath, admitting him into the IRB.
Martin Sheridan’s father came under the eye of the law on many occasions and had his house searched for arms by the military. Joseph Sheridan, Martin’s brother, was married to Kitty Collins, sister of General Michael Collins, whose life was cut short in the Civil War in 1922. Michael Collins was a regular visitor to Bohola, where his sister taught in the National School there.
Martin attended school in Bohola and worked on his f ather’s farm where all the family helped out. He enjoyed the wide open space of countryside and it was here that he perfected his athletic skills which would serve him so well in later years.
Martin’s athletic skills were evident as a young boy. In a field adjacent to the local police station in Bohola, local children congregated on a Sunday, and with the assistance of the policemen, who advised them on throwing techniques, Martin perfected and developed his throwing skills.
In the weight throwing game, a stone was used and the boys competed to see how far they could throw it. Martin Sheridan was capable of out-throwing any of the others. They played games such as pitch and toss, banging buttons, throwing weights, tug of war and running. Suffice to say that when he took to the world stage of athletic competition, the foundation was well laid in his home in Bohola.
Having completed his national school education and with little or no employment available locallym Martin knew that emigration was his only option. Like many places in the west of Ireland, Bohola had suffered dreadfully, from the Famine of 1847 and at the hand of the landlords in the Land War, with high rents commonplace and failure to pay the rent, eviction was inevitable. Emigration was rife after the Famine, which was to be the only avenue open to Martin Sheridan himself.