Past Features

April 21, 2008 (Vol. 7, No. 7)

CUNY-Institute for Irish-American Studies Celebrates the Centennial of the Irish American Athletic Club and the 1908 Olympics

Artwork of John Flanagan
Ian McGowan, Archivist for CUNY's Institute for Irish-American Studies (IIAS), presented a paper on the Irish-American Athletic Club and the 1908 Olympics at the American Conference of Irish Studies in Davenport, Iowa. McGowan has been researching the contributions of Irish-American athletes to the 1908 games, and the role of the Irish-American Athletic Club in promoting Irish-American athletes. In this centennial year (concurrent with the 2008 Beijing Games), the IIAS seeks to bring the history and accomplishments of those 1908 champions to a wider public.

The 1908 Olympic Games were extremely controversial, and many of the medals were won by Irish and Irish-American athletes who were not only members of the Irish American Athletic Club of Celtic Park in Sunnyside, Queens, but also members of the New York City Police Department. McGowan is currently creating an exhibit of the Club's trophies, photographs, and other ephemera, including vintage trading cards celebrating the feats of athletes such as John Flanagan, Johnny Hayes, Pat McDonald, Martin Sheridan and Matt McGrath, collectively known as "The Irish Whales."

The tradition of the American Olympic Team not dipping the flag at the opening ceremony of the Olympics dates back to the 1908 Games. Martin Sheridan, a New York Police Department Detective and widely regarded as one of the most talented athletes of his day, is on record as having proclaimed "this flag dips to no earthly king." In its intersection of politics and sportsmanship, the Irish-American Athletic Club's involvement in the 1908 Olympic Games foreshadows some of the concerns and controversies that swirl around the Olympics down to the present day.