Sheridan, John Desmond (1903–80), journalist and writer, was born 7 July 1903 at 29 Park Road, Glasgow, the eldest of nine children of Thomas Sheridan, a spirit merchant, and Ellen-Maria Sheridan (née Deeney); both parents were from Rathmullen, Co. Donegal. They returned to Ireland soon after John's birth and he grew up in Hollybank Road, Drumcondra, on what was then the northern fringe of Dublin city, where his mother was a local teacher: ‘I was the eldest of nine, so that I had reared eight children before I started in business on my own’ (Joking apart, 1964, 119). Summer holidays were often spent in Rathmullen and two of Sheridan's novels, The rest is silence (1953) and God made little apples (1962), centre on elderly Donegal exiles reflecting on their lives; the Dublin slum teacher who is the central character of Paradise Alley (1945) is also a native of Donegal.
Sheridan was educated at O'Connell Christian Brothers' School (CBS), Dublin, St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, and University College Dublin (UCD), where he studied education under Father Timothy Corcoran (qv), receiving a Master of Arts degree. After teaching at East Wall national school, Sheridan became ‘a teacher who got away in time’ (Funnily enough, 1956, 154), spending twenty-five years as full-time editor of the Irish Schools Weekly; he was subsequently director of publications for the Educational Company of Ireland (textbook publishers). He wrote for the catholic press, being a devout catholic and a firm proponent of literary censorship. He indignantly rebutted the advice that Frank O'Connor (qv) gave him, that a good catholic could never be a successful novelist because of his fear of transgression (The hungry sheep, 1974). His first novel, Vanishing spring, appeared in 1934 and a short biography of James Clarence Mangan (qv) in 1937; in 1941 he published Here's their memory, a novel about the war of independence as seen from Clontarf by an adolescent disturbed at the resort to violence.
Sheridan's 1944 publication of a collection of humorous sketches, I can't help laughing, heralded the literary form for which he is best known. From 1946 until the early 1970s he published a weekly column in the Saturday edition of the Irish Independent. His ‘comedy of everyday life’ approach, influenced by the English catholic essayist G. K. Chesterton, draws on three levels of memory: the rural Donegal of his parents' memories and his own childhood visits, the Dublin of his upbringing, and his observations of his own family life and of contemporary Dublin, which grow more wistful and nostalgic as he gets older. Dublin is also the setting for his novels Here's their memory, Paradise Alley, and The magnificent McDarney (1949), a sentimental account of the damage which a charming alcoholic inflicts on his family. His surface observations of changes in the city's life may have interest for social historians, and he is occasionally cited as exemplifying the ideals of post-war Irish middle-class familism.
His evocations of suburban life (his family lived in Terenure) were immensely popular; ten collections from the Independent column were published in book form by the Talbot Press. By 1956 Eason's bookshop in Dublin had sold 200,000 copies of his books and his total sales were estimated by his Irish Times obituarist at 500,000 copies. His novels were also serialised by popular publications such as Ireland's Own. He contributed a chapter to The vanishing Irish by John A. O'Brien; characteristically entitled ‘We're not dead yet!’, it maintained that other contributors took too gloomy a view of contemporary (1950s) Ireland. Sheridan wrote the scripts for several documentary films, including A nation once again (1946), which explored how far Ireland had lived up to the ideals of Thomas Davis (qv); The life of O'Reilly (1954) on how to avoid household accidents (Sheridan is also listed as director); and The art of reception (1954), a Bord Fáilte training film for hotel staff. He also produced a collection of verse, Joe's no saint (1949 – the title monologue, spoken by one Dublin working man about another, became a standard recitation), a book of children's verse (Stirabout Lane, 1955), and a tourist handbook on Ireland.
A touch of glamour was added to Sheridan's ‘little man’ persona by references to foreign holidays and plane journeys. His relatively exalted social status was also reflected in his membership of a golf club; he described himself as ‘the world's worst golfer’ and wrote a humorous book on the game, It stance to reason (1947; expanded 1963). The high-point of his popularity came in the 1940s and 1950s. On average Sheridan published a book of sketches every two years between 1944 and 1958, but only two appeared thereafter (in 1964 and 1967), though he remained a regular contributor to the Irish Independent until his death. An essay selection, I have been busy with words, appeared in 1979 with a laudatory preface by the broadcaster Gay Byrne.
Sheridan disliked the questioning and social upheavals that followed the second Vatican council; his last book, The hungry sheep (1974), was a work of middlebrow apologetics, reasserting fundamentals and denouncing the permissive society. Sheridan's last years were spent at Our Lady's Manor, a nursing home for the elderly in Dalkey, Co. Dublin; he died there suddenly on 30 April 1980 while typing the script of a forthcoming radio interview about his life. His wife, Hilary (Aileen), had died in 1968; they had three sons and a daughter.
Despite his immense contemporary popularity, Sheridan attracted little critical attention in the decades after his death. His writings, with their tinge of anti-intellectualism and anti-modernism, are widely dismissed as bland and complacent; he has been overshadowed by the anarchic humour of his newspaper contemporary ‘Myles na gCopaleen’ (Brian O'Nolan (qv)). Sheridan's emphasis on the great adventure of domestic life is best seen in the context of the 1950s, when humorous domestic sketches were a popular genre in Britain and America as well as Ireland; memories and fears of war and the Irish experience of post-war economic stagnation gave powerful resonance to the dream of a suburban family home.