Margaret Molloy examines the roll played by Martin Sheridan of Bohola, Co. Mayo, in establishing an athletic club for all, regardless of class, creed or colour.
The past few months have seen an unprecedented way of life, where all is utterly changed and where things may never be as they once were. The Covid 19 pandemic is the catalyst for this change. We are also aware of the unrest in the United States where the ‘Black Lives Matter’ mantra hits us from the television screens and the newspapers.
However, America is no stranger to these phenomena; it witnessed the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and has seen racial unrest many times in its history. I think it is fitting at this present time to remember the man closely associated with both of these events. Martin Sheridan the great Olympian and athlete from Bohola of whom I wrote in my book ‘Martin Sheridan: Mayo’s Famous Son 1881-1918’.
Apart from his prowess as an athlete, winning nine Olympic medals and countless other titles in his short life, there was another side to this man, a side that perhaps many may not know. Sheridan was himself an emigrant, and he knew all about how hard it was to break into American society. When many of the athletic clubs in America favoured only the white collared boys, many supremely talented athletes like himself were without a club.
This happened at the New York Athletic Club, when Irish and other nationalities had difficulty in being accepted. Counteracting this they set up their own club, calling it The Greater New York Irish Athletic Association, which received its charter from the city of New York in 1897 and opened the following year.
The members and founders, one of which was P. J. Conway, a Limerick native who was its President for most of its lifetime, renamed it the IAAC – the Irish American Athletic Club in 1904.