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Davenport man has started a journey back to his Irish roots
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Daniel Sheridan is the director of the Davenport Junior Theater -- a career move he did not initially expect to make but one he has embraced for the past five years.
As director of the Davenport Junior Theatre, Daniel Sheridan knows a good story when he reads one.

One such story is that of his great-great-grandfather, Philip Sheridan, a famous Civil War general. It is through this ancestor that Mr. Sheridan can trace his roots to Ireland.

The general is the subject of a book by author William F. Drake called "Little Phil: The Story of General Philip Henry Sheridan."

The son of Irish immigrants, Gen. Sheridan quickly rose to become commanding general of the U.S. Army -- a rank achieved byUlysses S. Grant and William Sherman.

"Being linked to such a substantial person allows you to access their history easier," said Mr. Sheridan.

Through the book, Mr. Sheridan discovered his ancestors came from the town of Killinkere in County Cavan. They left Ireland in 1831, about 15 years before the Great Potato Famine that forced mass emigration.

According to the book, Gen. Sheridan was the son of John and Mary Sheridan, a Catholic family living in a Protestant area of Ireland. Mary Sheridan was "a feisty little Irish Catholic" who allegedly assaulted a Protestant. The family was forced to flee overnight as a result of the conflict.

Despite having Irish ancestors on both sides of his family, Mr. Sheridan said he didn't grow up with a sense of Irish identity. Instead, he found his identity in theater.

As a student of Davenport Junior Theatre from 1993 to 2001, he took classes that helped him overcome shyness and a speech impediment, he said. After begging his parents to enroll him in the Junior Theatre program, he won a reading contest at Hayes Elementary School. The prize was a free Junior Theatre class.

"I'm very conscious of every opportunity I give, because you never know what that opportunity will be like for a child," said Mr. Sheridan.

He went on to graduate from Davenport'sSt. Ambrose University with a bachelor's degree in theater. Then he attended graduate school at the University of Connecticut, earning a master's degree in acting.

"I think I understand now, as an adult looking back, how Junior Theatre shaped me, because I see it happening to the kids -- they want to be there," he said. "They have focus and determination."

As director of the Junior Theatre, Mr. Sheridan oversees dance and theater programs with 1,700 students. Enrollment has increased from 400 students four years ago.

"It's helping develop kids as communicators; it helps with leadership skills," he said. "I let them develop their passion for theater on their own."

Davenport Junior Theatre is based at the Annie Wittenmyer campus in Davenport, which used to be a Civil War camp. Mr. Sheridan finds that interesting, considering his background.

Mr. Sheridan said his parents have never been to Ireland, and it was a journey he had been wanting to take.

"I think there's great value in understanding where you come from," he said.

He made the pilgrimage to Ireland last May with his wife, Jessica. Tthe trip included England, France and Italy, and they were the least excited about Ireland -- at least until they got there.

"It was the last place we wanted to go, and the first place we want to go back to," said Mr. Sheridan. "It's hard to explain. I definitely felt a connection there."

He said the friendliness of the people and how easy they were to talk to made an impression on him.

He didn't conduct genealogical research during his visit, he said, but would like to do some the next time he visits Ireland. He feels it would help guide his next trip and give him focus on what to do.

"This is the beginning of a journey, something I'll continue to explore," he said. "It helps me understand the person I am today."

Despite many opportunities that could have taken him elsewhere, Mr. Sheridan stayed in Iowa. With a large family and six siblings, the decision was easy.

Also, the challenges of rebuilding the Junior Theatre program was tempting, and the overall Quad-Cities theater scene was growing.

"The more I travel, the more attached I feel to Iowa," said Mr. Sheridan. "I haven't found anywhere else I would rather live. I feel home -- in my bones and in my blood."

Ireland
-- Location: Western Europe, occupying five-sixths of the island of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Great Britain.

-- Population: 4,722,028 (July 2012 estimate). No. 119 in the world.

-- Languages: English (official, the language generally used); Irish (Gaelic or Gaeilge, spoken mainly in areas along the western coast).

Source: CIA World Factbbook.


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