Delving into Martin Sheen’s History
Martin Sheen’s birth name is Roman Estevez, a name he never changed. “It is my official name,” Martin sheen told us in an interview. It is the name used on all his contracts, drivers’ license, marriage license and all his children were baptized under that name. Emilio, Ramon, Renee and Carlos which is Charlie Sheen’s real name.
When Martin went to New York in 1959 he had a great deal of difficulty projecting a Spanish heritage because of the prejudice that existed against the Puerto Rican community at the time. “Never mind that they were Americans, but they were newly considered immigrants in New York City and there was a great deal of difficulty with that community,” Martin explained.
Now Puerto Ricans are very much an integral part of the city. But when Martin started out it was prejudiced against and he felt a lot of pressure for assumed part of that community. He was more concerned about how it would affect him trying to pursue a life in NYC. So he decided to invent a new character, Martin Sheen.
The name Martin came from Robert Dale Martin, the only guy he knew in the acting industry at the time. “He was very encouraging to me,” Martin shared. Robert Dale Martin was a casting director at CBS who encouraged Martin to audition for him when he first arrived in New York. To honor him and their friendship, Martin took his last name as his first name and took Sheen from Bishop Fulton J Sheen, who was at the time the Auxiliary Bishop of New York, and a famous tele-evangelist. His popular 1950s television show was called “A Life Is Worth Living.” “He was an astonishing character,” Sheen professed. “He was like a Shakespearean actor than a clergyman, so I took his name and put them together and it sounded Irish, and people said I look Irish. Okay fine.”
Martin never changed his name officially. “I never will,” he said. But he advised his children as they entered the acting business to keep their names as so much had changed since he was a boy. Martin’s dad was not pleased with his professional name change, so he encouraged his children not to. However, Emilio got the message and kept his name, “and is happy he did,” Martin said. Charlie decided to go with Sheen and his motivation was to keep his dad’s last name going, because he did not want to be separated in the profession from him. “I was honored equally by him choosing to do that,” Martin said.
After taking this journey of discovering where his roots came from, Martin Sheen felt like a whole individual. His fundamental purpose is to try to identify personally to his foundation. “I think anyone that goes on one of these journeys whether it is in front of a camera or on the Internet, is really looking for a personal identification with the past,” Martin shared.
Searching for his lineage gives him some perspective that he rarely thinks about in historical value, where his great grandparents died just at the onset of the American Revolutionary War.
No one had researched Sheen’s family tree professionally, and the stories were far apart and detached until now. Long before telephone service, and Internet which has opened up the whole world and the past, the only connection that existed was through letters from distant family members. Some would announce the death of close family members. “When the letters would come with a black border, it meant that someone in the family had passed away,” Martin Sheen said.
Sheen has two uncles on both sides of his parents’ family. His Uncle Michael fieland in Ireland was an Irish volunteer who fought in the War of Independence and against the Free State in the Civil War from 1921 to 1923. On his father’s side, his father’s brother Matias fought against Franco at the onset of his coup, and spent an awful lot of time in jail and received a life sentence that was rescinded in 1969; the year Martin met him. “The connections are just amazing, in that they are so deeply personal.” Both of them have risen up against oppression and in one case dictatorship in Spain and have suffered mightily for it. But they stuck to their principles, an unknown quality Martin felt he inherited. “Not to the extent that these gentlemen did, because they were absolutely heroic and risked their lives. But the message is clear that maybe this is part of my DNA,” Sheen said.
Maryann Fieland’s (Martin’s mother) brother was involved in the Rising in 1916 and also the Civil War that started in 1921. Maryann arrived at Ellis Island in New York City about a week before her 21st birthday in 1921. Martin suspected that she was sent away to protect her from any harm during the civil was because of its intensity in the Northern Tipperary where she was from. It was later confirmed by the ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ team. She was expected to return after the fighting stopped and the Republic was established in 1923. “It was a very satisfying moment for me to know that she too was involved,” he said.
Sheen also learned while in Ireland that the British officers were very reluctant to search young girls under the age of 16 and so they were used as couriers with information supporting the Rising. And they also had to speak Gaelic, that way they could speak right in front of the black and tan or any of the British soldiers there and not be understood, and she spoke Gaelic.
No Gaelic became a mandate when the Republic was finally established which was not strong until the 1930s but still on the agenda as it is for English here in our country and schools. It was mandatory that classes were conducted in Gaelic. “So to have learned it on her own was a very informative bit of information that confirmed that she was involved and that she was sent away for her own protection.” Martin continued, “That was the first one that hit me in the eyes and made me realize she was as committed as her brother, Michael and risked as much.”
On the other side, his father’s side, Martin’s uncle Matias was the very first level of opposition to Franco in Galatea which was pro-Franco at the time the coup actually began and Franco was a Gallego as well as martins dad and uncles. “He stood up to him right in his backyard.” Matias suffered mightily and went to a concentration camp offshore from Tui and was later sent to Pamplona, a major prison in Pamplona for radicals and anyone that opposed the Franco regime. “There he suffered mightily and the only good thing that came out of that was he learned to read and write in that prison in Pamplona.”
There are these fascinating details about these two guys and how closely they were aligned with the same kind of activism and commitment to social justice against oppression. “And they never met each other. Neither my dad never visited Ireland and my mother never visited Spain and this same strain of commitment to social justice and standing up against oppression was very present in both of their families.
Martin has always had a romantic image about going to school and thought if he did so in Ireland he wouldn’t be a marked guy. So for a short time in 2006 after the west wing ended, he went to school there. “They would let me have this fantasy, which they did and it was a wonderful experience,” Martin shared.
In August 2006 until Christmas, Martin attended the National University of Ireland, NUI at Galaway where he was credited with several courses particularly with Shakespeare. His main focus however, was on the environment with interest in earth and ocean science. “I have a lot of concern about the environment and I am involved with several organizations in California trying to protect the environment.”
At Galaway, Martin learned some factual scientific information on what’s happening with the environment. An extraordinary experience for him was learning about the “Celtic Ship”, a modern ship that tracks the waters around the island and gives information about the Ganges of the content of the water, and fish life. “I basically audited many classes, in fact, many I wasn’t even signed up for.” Martin added, “I would just attend because I liked what was being studied there. Those four months were deeply satisfying and brought me much closer to my Irish roots.”
Martin’s family has inheritance there; however he does not feel the need to actually live or own property there. “I don’t feel I have a need to actually live there or own property. I feel I am part of a community that is very satisfying and I feel quite at home in both countries,” he said.
Martin’s search began through Ancestry.com a partner of ‘Do You Know Who You Are?’ It is a family history resource available online. Martin is a big fan of the show, and garnered interest after learning that Lisa Kudrow was the executive producer of the US show. So when he was asked to join the show, he said yea without hesitation. “I don’t own a computer and I am way behind on these new methods of gaining information, but I was fascinated by it,” he said. The show did six months of very thorough research on Martin’s family on both sides in Spain and Ireland.
Martin is not very skilled electronically or with the Internet to conduct such intense research but he is confident now and has intentions to go online on Ancestry.com to do his own search. “My wife knows how to do that, so I’m still looking forward to doing that,” he shared.
When Martin started entertaining the idea of digging into his past and doing so in the public forum, he had some repudiation. He had no incline as to what would be revealed about his ancestors. “That was a concern. Somebody once told me if they discovered that you’re great, great, great grandfather was a slave trader, we are not going to expos you to that if that embarrasses you,” Sheen shared. Sheen acknowledged that it is a part of history that cannot be changed. “It can only be learned of and then deal with it,” he says. Fortunate for the producers, everyone they have invites to explore their past, no one has ever objected no matter what they find. “Going in, I was bit trepidations because I didn’t know.”
While Sheen was in Ireland discovering the involvement of his uncle, Michael Fieland in the Rising and the Civil War, he learned that his uncle took an opposing side to De Valera. He was afraid that he might have been in on the plan to assassinate McCullens. “I was very frightened that could be the case,” sheen shared. As it turned out, he was imprisoned when McCullens was assassinated. “I was deeply relieved, and I found out that he was in four different prisons from 1916 to 1923. So he had a lot of involvement in the creation of an Irish state.”
Martin’s family history on both sides were Celtic. They were united by a peasant heritage leading back to sheep herders. “In love with the land and a deep faith. Both of them shared the catholic faith and family, loyalty and family, community, country. It was just overwhelming and deeply satisfying for me to learn.”
Both parents have similar culture rooted in Spanish and Irish heritage. Sheen has relatives both in Ireland and Spain that have remained close for over 30 years. “I’ve never favored one side or the other and this exploration on my heritage strengthened that feeling that I am of equal measure to both sides,” sheen said. “Both cultures confirmed my own sense of humanity and faith.”
At 71 years old, Martin felt the had a responsibility to go back into the past to uncover something meaningful to future generations, his grandchildren and their children. “I am very happy I did. I would be a part of passing that on and that would be very, very satisfying,” he shared. “I don’t know how much longer I am going to be around.”
Martin has embraced the experience of going back into his past to uncover more information about his family tree. “My involvement in this journey was a deeply personal one.” he encourages others to delve into their past to connect broken links whether good or bad. “Just natural born curiosity should inspire one to look from whence we came in order to better prepare for where we are going,” he said. “The measure of curiosity that one naturally feels is the best instinct to go with, embrace and get set for an amazing journey.”
Martin’s children including Charlie were equally astonished about his discovery on his family history. However, his grandchildren were less affected by it. They were more delighted with it for its irony. “They found more humor in it than I did because I was giving them information that I have learned weeks, months earlier.” Sheen added, “They were fascinated with the irony particularly on my Spanish side when we discovered that wretched great great, great, great grandfather, Don Diego Francisco Suarez born in 1713. He was Martin’s fourth removed grandfather. Sheen discovered he was a ‘bit of a dandy’ and a judge in Tui, a large area of the Galatean province who prosecuted a young lady for a moral crime. “That was a knuckleball that we weren’t anticipating and I took it personal. They got a big kick out of the irony. They thought it was a delicious bit of gossip.” The young lady left the community but later returned and questioned his judgment and stayed and built a life for herself. The young lady turned out to be sheens great, great, great, great grandmother who was prosecuted by the other side of the family. “My great, great, great, great grandfather prosecuted my great, great, great, great grandmother. That was the biggest surprise and most intriguing part of the whole journey.” This was an astonishing revelation, and the story grabbed the attention o the family and caused a bit of eyebrow raising. “My grandfather, my dads father and my dads mother went in two directions and they came together at the top of this tree.” Sheen continued, “If you were to write a novel with all these intriguing relationships so long ago, one would be remiss if they didn’t say, no, no, no this is too far-fetched. No one is ever going to believe this, but in fact, it is true.”
Tui is an ancient village on the Portuguese border along the Minho River which separates Spain and Portugal in Galatea, in Northern Spain. It is around 1200 years old; place sheen has been visiting since 1969. A village that held such an important part in his Spanish heritage. During the ‘Who Do You Think You Are? trip, Sheen discovered his great, great, great, great grandfather was buried in the cathedral he visited many times during his visits. “I used to walk over his grave, his burial spot.”
Through the confusion of it all, Martin felt an equal measure of cultural nourishment from both his Spanish and Irish ancestry because he is a first generation from immigrants in America. Reflecting on so many important aspects of his families in Ireland and Spain made him appreciate what they brought to him. A life that was forged in America, being raised with catholic faith to live honest lives, strengthened through work ethic. “We came from a very large family and were strengthened with a work ethic. My father worked in a factory for 47 years. My mother died when we were all very young. I was almost 11, and he carries on and infused in us this great sense of responsibility which I found to be very Old World in both cultures, Spain and Ireland.”
Both patents were great source of inspiration for Sheen. Learning about them first hand, up close and personal, made him extremely proud of where they came from, what they stood for, who they were. As a result, he understands more about how much they had to do or influence hos choices in life. “I am very close to European roots of Spain and Ireland, and very proud, equally proud of both sides and I can’t separate myself from them. I am equally comfortable in both cultures and I am proud to be an American and happy about the way I was brought onto the world and nourished in it.”
The show was a clear reflection of his journey. “This is a wonderful confirmation of this energy that all of us have available to us to explore our heritage and to come to know ourselves,” sheen shared. “I didn’t know what I was in for and yet it is like going on a roller coaster rides. I would recommend it to anybody.”
By: Daedrian McNaughton | Premier Guide Media