Douglas Hyde bigraphy, stories - Irish scholar and 1st President of Ireland

Douglas Hyde : biography

17 January 1860 - 12 July 1949

Douglas Hyde ( 17 January 1860 – 12 July 1949), known as An Craoibhín Aoibhinn, was an Irish scholar of the Irish language who served as the first President of Ireland from 1938 to 1945. He was a leading figure in the Gaelic revival, and first president of the Gaelic League, one of the most influential cultural organisations in Ireland at the time.

Senator

Hyde had no association with Sinn Féin and the Independence movement. He was elected to Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Free State's Oireachtas (parliament), at a by-election on 4 February 1925, replacing Sir William Hutcheson Poë.

However, his tenure ended at the November 1925 Seanad election. With 19 seats available in one state-wide constituency, Hyde finished 28th of the 78 candidates. The Catholic Truth Society opposed him based on his supposed support for divorce (in fact he was anti-divorce) and his Protestantism; however, Donal O'Sullivan felt the CTS campaign was ineffective, and both he and John Coakley note that Irish-language advocates did especially badly at the election, with all those endorsed by the Gaelic League losing.

He returned to academia, as Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, where one of his students was future Attorney General and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

Retirement and death

Hyde left office on 25 June 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. Due to his ill-health he did not return to his Roscommon home Ratra, which had lain empty since the death of his wife early in his term. Instead he was moved into the former Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant's residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, which he renamed Little Ratra and where he lived out the remaining four years of his life. He died at 10pm on 12 July 1949, aged 89.

State funeral

As a former President of Ireland he was accorded a state funeral. A problem arose; as a member of the Church of Ireland his funeral service took place in Dublin's Church of Ireland St. Patrick's Cathedral. However, contemporary rules of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland prohibited Roman Catholics from attending services in non-Catholic churches. As a result all but one member of the Catholic cabinet, Noël Browne, remained outside the cathedral grounds while Hyde's funeral took place. They then joined the cortège when his coffin left the cathedral. Éamon de Valera, by now Leader of the Opposition also did not attend, being represented by a senior Fianna Fáil figure who was a member of the Church of Ireland, Erskine H. Childers, a future President of Ireland himself. Hyde was buried in Frenchpark, County Roscommon at Portahard Church, (where he had spent most of his childhood life) beside his wife Lucy, his daughter Nuala, his sister Annette, mother Elizabeth and father Arthur.

President of Ireland

Nomination

In April 1938, by now retired from academia, Douglas was plucked from retirement by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera and again appointed to Seanad Éireann. Again his tenure proved short, even shorter than before. But this time it was because, on the suggestion of Fine Gael, Hyde was chosen after inter-party negotiations as the first President of Ireland, to which he was elected unopposed. He was selected for a number of reasons:

  • Both the Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, and the Leader of the Opposition, W. T. Cosgrave, admired him;
  • Both wanted a president with universal prestige to lend credibility to the new office, especially since the new 1937 Constitution made it unclear whether the president or the British monarch was the official head of state;
  • Both wanted to purge the humiliation that had occurred when he had lost his Senate seat in 1925;
  • Both wanted a president who would prove that there was no danger that the new president would become an authoritarian dictator in Ireland, a widespread fear when the new constitution was being discussed in 1937;
  • Both wanted to pay tribute to Hyde's Conradh na Gaeilge role in promoting the Irish language.
  • Both wanted to choose a non-Catholic to disprove the assertion that the State was a "confessional state".
Living octopus

Living octopus

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