A snapshot of the Irish Sporting Lives book cover.

Mayo Olympian features in new book on Irish sport

FAVOURITE son of Mayo, Olympic athlete Martin Sheridan is among the 60 figures brought to life in the newly published Irish Sporting Lives (Royal Irish Academy, 2022).

A new collection of biographical essays drawn from the Dictionary of Irish Biography, Irish Lives in America spans 200 years of history and seeks to illustrate the drama and diversity of the Irish sporting experience. The book is edited by Dictionary of Irish Biography researchers Terry Clavin and Turlough O’Riordan, and it also includes an introductory essay by Professor Paul Rouse of UCD.

Born and raised in Bohola, Martin Sheridan (1884 - 1945) emigrated to New York where he became a champion weight thrower with the Irish-American Athletics Club. He is credited with 16 world records, mainly in the discus, and won 11 US national titles in various disciplines.

Representing the US at the Olympic games in St Louis (1904) and London (1908) and also at the Intercalated Games held in Athens in 1906, he won a total of nine medals at these events, including five golds, making him Ireland’s most successful Olympian.

As a fervent Irish nationalist, he clashed with his British rivals at the 1908 London Olympics; then on his triumphal tour of Ireland following those games, he associated openly with Sinn Féin and the GAA.

The volume also features the hugely popular Irish soccer manager Jack Charlton (1935 - 2020), who for many years kept a holiday home in Ballina.

Irish Sporting Lives brings to life 60 figures who, in their individual ways, illustrate the drama and diversity of Irish sporting history.

The biographies in Irish Sporting Lives encompass serial winners and glorious losers, heroes and villains, role models and rogues, enduring legends and forgotten or overlooked greats.

Trailblazing women feature prominently, and their stories highlight the adversity they had to overcome in pursuing their sporting ambitions.

As well as those physically engaged in sport, the book also includes sporting founders, promoters, coaches, trainers and organisers. The main disciplines - Gaelic games, soccer, rugby, athletics, horse racing and boxing - are well represented, but so too are minority sports such as croquet, cricket, tennis and hockey.

Others featured include:

Dave Gallaher (1873 - 1916), New Zealand’s most revered rugby captain, he led the ‘Invincibles’ tour of Britain and Ireland in 1905/06 that established his country as rugby’s superpower.

Lady Mary Heath (1896 - 1939), a pioneer of woman’s athletics, she moved into aviation and became a media sensation with her high-flying publicity stunts.

Fay Taylour (1904 - 1983), a daredevil speedway racer, eventually banned from competing against men in motorcycle races; she achieved notoriety for her uncompromising support for Germany’s Nazi regime.

Dan Donnelly (1788 - 1820), this hard-living, bareknuckle brawler became Ireland’s first sporting celebrity by conquering English opponents in well-hyped prize fights.

May Hezlett (1882 - 1978), the best woman golfer of her generation; she wrote an influential book encouraging other women to take up the sport.

Terry Mullen (1938 - 89), who won a Paralympic gold medal in bowls in heroic circumstances.

Vere Goold (1853 - 1909), the first notable lawn tennis player to emerge from Ireland; he is also the only Wimbledon finalist to be convicted of murder - so far.

Mabel Cahill (1863 - 1905), this determined competitor, criticised for her ‘masculine’ playing style, dominated women’s tennis in the US from 1890 to 1893.

George Best (1946 - 2005), soccer’s first pop celebrity, his attacking virtuosity delivered European glory for Manchester United before his talent succumbed prematurely to fame and addiction.

Six new biographies were specially commissioned for the book, including:

• Brede Arkless (1939 - 2006), a mountaineer and rock climber of extraordinary longevity, she was the first woman to become an internationally recognised mountain guide.

• Jack Charlton (1935 - 2020), this hugely popular Republic of Ireland soccer manager led his team to the world cups of 1990 and 1994, sparking mass outbreaks of national celebration.

• Clara ‘Ma’ Copley (1865 - 1949), a doyenne of Belfast boxing who, aged seventy, became the first woman boxing promoter in either Ireland or Britain.

Irish Sporting Lives is published by the Royal Irish Academy and will be available to buy from mid-November.