Tag Archives: matthew mcgrath

Dipping the American Flag

I read this short article that was sent to me by a retired Marine friend of mine:

The 1908 Summer Olympics were held in London, England were extremely controversial. 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. Ian McGowan, Archivist for CUNY’s Institute for Irish-American Studies 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.”

During the “Parade of Nations,” it was a customary for teams to dip their nation’s flags as a show of respect for the ruling monarch of t he host country. Martin J. Sheridan, a Discus thrower, born in 1881 in County Mayo, Ireland was part of the American Olympic team. Sheridan immigrated to New York in 1901 and joined the NYPD in 1906. Patrolman Sheridan held a grudge against the English because he believed that they helped make the Irish potato famine so bad. Members of the Olympic committee knowing his dislike for the English replaced Sheridan – who was scheduled to carry the American flag – with Ralph Rose as bearer of the flag.

Irish-Americans had a strong sense of patriotic pride to their new found country. NYPD Patrolman Mathew McGrath at 6’2″, 245 pounds was a hammer thrower and native of County Tipperary, born in 1878. As the Americans approached the Royal Box, McGrath broke ranks and stepped up to the American flag bearer – Rose – and said, “Dip our flag and you will be in a hospital tonight.”

The flag was not dipped which caused an international incident. During a news conference, Sheridan spoke for the entire Olympic team; he pointed to the American flag and said, “This flag dips to no earthly king.” That precedent was set which is still followed today during the Olympic Games. The American Flag has never been dipped to anyone since that day in 1908. In fact, the United States Flag Code was officially changed to read, “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.” (See Title 4, United States Code, Chapter 1 ยง 8) In 1924 Olympics McGrath earned the silver medal…at the age of 45. During his police career McGrath attained the rank of Inspector, and was awarded the NYPD’s Medal of Valor twice. Inspector McGrath died in January of 1941.

Martin Sheridan attained first place on the eligibility list for the NYPD and was appointed to the ‘finest’ in 1906. He helped organize the Police Carnival and Games for the benefit of the welfare fund of the Department which, for many years, was an outstanding athletic event in New York.

To perpetuate his name for the future generations the Martin J. Sheridan Award for Valor was established and given each year to a member of the Police Department for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. Sheridan, a First Grade Detective died of pneumonia in 1918 while while working a double shift for a sick NYPD colleague on March 25 at the age of thirty-seven and is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, Queens.

And now the 2012 Olympics and this issue.