Sheridan, Thomas (1687–1738), schoolmaster, poet, essayist, and wit, was born in Co. Cavan. His father, Patrick, may have been a farmer. Nothing certain is known of Sheridan's life before he entered TCD in 1707, aged 20, except that he attended the Dublin school of the famous Dr John Jones. Earlier suppositions that Sheridan was related to the Rev. Denis Sheridan (qv), a native Irish-speaker who had assisted Bishop William Bedell (qv) with his translation of the Old Testament into Irish, or to William Sheridan (qv) the non-juring bishop of Kilmore, or to Thomas Sheridan (qv) 1646–1712), a Jacobite who accompanied James II (qv) into exile in 1688, are impossible to prove.
Sheridan graduated from Trinity College with a BA (1711) and an MA (1714). Later, he was to become BD (1724) and DD (1726). Shortly after receiving his BA degree, Sheridan married Elizabeth MacFadden of Quilca, Co. Cavan. Elizabeth was her father's sole heir, and on her death the small property at Quilca passed into Sheridan's hands. This is the house where Jonathan Swift (qv) wrote some of Gulliver's travels and which he made famous in his Quilca poems. Although Sheridan and his wife had many children – one of whom, Thomas (qv), became a well-known actor, theatre manager, and lexicographer, as well as being the author of a biography of Swift and the father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (qv) – their marriage was an unhappy one. Sheridan wrote to Swift in 1735: ‘Thus have I been linked to the Devil for twenty-four years, with a coal in my heart, which was kindled in the first week I married her.’ To another correspondent he wrote: ‘I was in the mad years of life when I marryed & mad to marry, & almost mad after I had marry[d].’ Yet Sheridan remained a very cheerful companion, though Swift and others implied that he was not entirely faithful to his wife.
Soon after his ordination in 1712, Sheridan set himself up as a schoolmaster in Dublin. He proved himself an excellent teacher, ‘the best instructor of youth in these kingdoms’ in the view of Swift. His school was famed for its performances of plays in Greek and Latin, which were attended by many of the notables of the city. Sheridan also became a central figure in the circle of Irish wits and poets surrounding Swift, and was particularly famed for his love of punning. In 1719, under the pseudonym ‘Tom Pun-Sibi’ – originally a complicated pun on the name Sheridan but later used to mean, simply, ‘a punster’ – Sheridan published Ars Punica . . . The art of punning . . . in seventy-nine rules: for the further improvement of conversation and the help of memory. Much of his verse (see The poems of Thomas Sheridan, ed. Robert Hogan (University of Delaware Press, 1994) and The poetry of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams (2nd ed., Oxford, 1958)) is full of word-play, and during the 1720s Sheridan became Swift's sparring partner in complex poetic exchanges in English, Latin, or execrable Anglo-Latin. He also enjoyed the company of other members of the Swift circle including Richard Helsham (qv), Mary Barber (qv), Constantia Grierson (qv), Elizabeth Sican, Matthew (qv) and Laetitia Pilkington (qv), members of the Rochfort and Grattan families, and, above all, Swift's ‘Stella’, Esther Johnson (qv), with whom Sheridan formed a close friendship.
Sheridan seems to have made about £800 a year from his school, but he decided to seek preferment in the church also. In 1726 he became domestic chaplain to the lord lieutenant, Lord Carteret (qv), and was given a benefice in Co. Cork. However, he foolishly offended the whigs by absentmindedly preaching an inappropriate sermon on the anniversary of the king's accession to the throne and, as a result, lost favour at court; his later attempts to gain favour by dedicating verses to the queen, the earl of Orrery, and others, failed to improve matters. In the 1730s income from the school declined and Sheridan's health began to fail. He died on 10 October 1738 at Rathfarnham of ‘a dropsy and asthma’ according to Swift, of ‘a polypus in the heart’ according to his son Thomas.
Apart from the Ars Punica and his many individually printed poems, Sheridan published translations of Persius, Sophocles, and Guarini, various sermons, a school grammar, An essay upon the immortality of the soul, and some prose works. The most significant of all his publications, however, was The Intelligencer, a weekly paper written partly by Sheridan and partly by Swift, twenty numbers of which were published in Dublin between May 1728 and May 1729. This periodical, which contains some of the best writing of both men and gives an unparalleled insight into the Dublin of its day, has been edited by James Woolley (Oxford, 1992).
Contemporary transcripts of some of Sheridan's poems are in ‘The whimsical medley’ (MS 879) in TCD, and eleven volumes of manuscript translations and apothegms are in the Gilbert Library. The location of other manuscripts is listed in Hogan (p. 22). Many of Sheridan's letters (and letters by Sheridan and Swift) appear in The correspondence of Jonathan Swift D.D., ed. David Wooley, 5 vols (1999–2014).