Sheehy, John Joe (1897–1980), Gaelic footballer and republican, was born 16 October 1897 in 11 Gas Tce, Tralee, Co. Kerry, son of Patrick Sheehy, railway guard, and Deborah Sheehy (née Moriarty). Educated at CBS Edward St., Tralee (where he became a monitor), after the death of his father in a railway accident he went to work as a porter with the Tralee & Dingle Railway. In 1914 he joined the republican boy scouts, Fianna Éireann, later graduating to the Irish Volunteers. In 1916 his brother, Jimmy, was killed in the battle of the Somme while serving with the British army. Assistant commandant of the Tralee battalion, IRA, during the war of independence, he was involved in killing Maj. Mackinnon, the local Auxiliary commander, in Tralee in April 1921, a reprisal for the killing of two Volunteers, Mossy Reidy and John Leen, by Mackinnon at Christmas 1920. Also in 1920 he was elected as Sinn Féin member of Tralee urban council. A leading figure in the anti-treaty IRA in Kerry during the civil war, after the landing of national army troops at Fenit he ordered the burning of Ballymullen barracks, and in an ensuing engagement received a shrapnel wound to his left arm. He evaded capture and remained on the run till 1924. He subsequently entered the insurance industry as an agent for the New Ireland Assurance Co.
A member of the John Mitchel's club, he made his senior football debut for Kerry in 1919 when they defeated Waterford in the Munster semi-final, and in that year won the first of nine Munster championships. When football competitions resumed after the troubles he became one of the most accomplished Gaelic footballers in the country, winning every honour then available to a Gaelic footballer. He first played in an all-Ireland final when Kerry lost to Dublin in the 1923 final (played in April 1924), but went on to win four all-Ireland titles in 1924 (played in April 1925), 1926, 1929, and 1930, captaining Kerry in 1926 and 1930, and was on the losing side again in the 1927 final. In 1928 and 1929 he won the national football league with Kerry, and captained the all-Kerry teams that won the railway cup for Munster in 1927 and 1931. Playing in a number of attacking positions, as centre, wing, and corner forward, he was a good marksman, especially renowned for his accuracy as a place-kicker, and also created scoring opportunities for other forward players. Considered to be equally skilful as a hurler, he was a reserve on the 1927 Munster railway cup hurling team. Kerry dominated football in this period with some of their best ever teams, which included Con Brosnan (qv), Joe Barrett (qv), and John Joe Landers (qv). These teams are credited with doing much to heal civil war divisions in the county, as republicans such as Sheehy, Landers, and Barrett played alongside Brosnan, a Free State veteran of the civil war. In 1927 and 1931 Sheehy toured the USA with Kerry, using the occasions to smuggle Thompson sub-machine guns into Ireland for the IRA, hidden in the players’ kit. In 1931 he retired from football, but remained active in the GAA as an administrator, serving as a member and later president of the Kerry county board and the Munster council, and a delegate to central council. He supported the retention of the GAA's ban on playing foreign games. In 1963 he became the first Gaelic footballer to receive the Texaco hall of fame award.
Throughout his footballing career he remained active in the IRA, as a member of the army council till 1926 and the IRA executive till 1938, when he resigned in opposition to the appointment of Seán Russell (qv) as chief-of-staff. In 1941 he was arrested and interned in the Curragh for two years, and in the 1950s his son Brian was imprisoned in Mountjoy for involvement in the IRA border campaign. In 1959 Sheehy was instrumental in the erection of a monument to the IRA men killed by the national army in Ballyseedy during the civil war. He continued to hold strong republican beliefs and in the 1970s supported the Provisional IRA campaign in Northern Ireland.
He married Nora Murphy (d. 1948) of Kiskean, Co. Cork; they had four sons and two daughters. Three of his sons won all-Ireland football championships with Kerry: Paudie (1955, 1959, 1962), Niall (1959, 1962), and Seán Óg (1962). John Joe Sheehy died 13 January 1980 at Bon Secours Hospital, Tralee, and was given a republican funeral at his own request; during the removal of his body a masked gunman dressed in paramilitary uniform fired a number of shots into the air, and the funeral oration was given by Daithí Ó Conaill (qv), vice-president of Sinn Féin.