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Douglas Hyde

Douglas Hyde
Douglas Hyde, circa 1902
1st President of Ireland
In office
25 June 1938 – 24 June 1945
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Seán T. O'Kelly
Personal details
Born Douglas Hyde
(1860-01-17)17 January 1860
Castlerea, Ireland
Died 12 July 1949(1949-07-12) (aged 89)
Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party All-party nomination
Spouse(s) Lucy Kurtz (1893–1937)
Children Nuala
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
Profession Academic
Irish language activist
Religion Anglican

Douglas Hyde (Irish: Dubhghlas de hÍde; 17 January 1860 – 12 July 1949), known as An Craoibhín Aoibhinn (lit. "The Pleasant Little Branch"), 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.


  • Background 1
  • Conradh na Gaeilge / Gaelic League 2
  • Senator 3
  • President of Ireland 4
    • Nomination 4.1
    • Inauguration 4.2
    • Presidency 4.3
  • Retirement and death 5
  • State funeral 6
  • In Memoriam 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Hyde was born at Longford House in Castlerea in County Roscommon, while his mother, Elizabeth née Oldfield (1834–1886) was on a short visit there. His father, Arthur Hyde, whose family were originally from Castlehyde, Fermoy, County Cork, was Church of Ireland rector of Kilmactranny, County Sligo from 1852 to 1867, and it was here that Hyde spent his early years. Arthur Hyde and Elizabeth Oldfield married in County Roscommon in 1852 and had three other children, Arthur (1853–79 in County Leitrim), John Oldfield (1854–96 in County Dublin), and Hugh (1856) Hyde.[1] In 1867, his father was appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moved to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He was home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness.[2] While a young man, he became fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language. He was influenced in particular by the gamekeeper Seamus Hart and the wife of his friend, Mrs. Connolly. He was crushed when Hart died (Douglas was 14) and his interest in the Irish language, which was the first language he began to study in any detail, as his own undertaking, flagged for a while. However, he visited Dublin a number of times and realised that there were groups of people, just like him, interested in Irish, a language looked down on at the time by many and seen as backward and old-fashioned.

Rejecting family pressure that, like past generations of Hydes, he would follow a career in the Church, Hyde instead became an academic. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he became fluent in French, Latin, German, Greek and Hebrew. A medallist of the College Historical Society, he was elected its president in 1931.[3] His passion for Irish, already a language in severe decline, led him to help found the Gaelic League, or in Irish, Conradh na Gaeilge, in the hope of saving it from extinction.

Hyde married Lucy Kurtz, an Englishwoman, in 1893 and had two daughters, Nuala and Úna.

Conradh na Gaeilge / Gaelic League

Hyde joined the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language around 1880, and between 1879 and 1884 he published more than a hundred pieces of Irish verse under the pen name "An Craoibhín Aoibhinn" ("The Pleasant Little Branch").[4] The Irish language movement, initially seen as eccentric, gained a mass following throughout the island. Hyde helped establish the Gaelic Journal in 1892, and in November of the same year wrote a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation,[4] arguing that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature and even in dress.

In 1893 he helped found the Gaelic League. It was set up to encourage the preservation of Irish culture, its music, dances, and language. Many of the new generation of Irish leaders who played a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century, including Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera (who married his Irish teacher Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin), Michael Collins, and Ernest Blythe first became politicised and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement in Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League). He filled out the 1911 census form in Irish.[5]

Hyde himself, however, felt uncomfortable at the growing politicisation of his movement (which had been infiltrated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, just like the Irish Volunteers and the Gaelic Athletic Association) and resigned the presidency in 1915; he was replaced reluctantly by co-founder Eoin MacNeill.[6]


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, at a by-election on 4 February 1925, replacing Sir William Hutcheson Poë.[7]

However, his tenure ended at the 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,[8] 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.[8][9]

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.

President of Ireland

Hyde is notable in that he was the only leader of independent Ireland to be featured on its banknotes, here on a Series C Banknote of IR£50.


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".


Douglas Hyde (in back of car holding top hat), leaving Dublin Castle with a cavalry escort following his inauguration.

Hyde was inaugurated as the first President of Ireland on 26 June 1938, in the first inaugural ceremony in the nation's history.

Hyde set a precedent of reciting the Presidential Declaration of Office in Irish (though the president is technically permitted to choose English). His recitation, in his native Roscommon Irish dialect, remains one of the few recordings of a dialect that has long disappeared and of which Hyde himself was one of the last speakers.

Upon inauguration, he moved into the long vacant Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, since known as Áras an Uachtaráin.


Despite being placed in a position to shape the office of the presidency via precedent, Hyde by and large opted for a quiet, conservative interpretation of the office. His age and (after a paralysing stroke in April 1940) deteriorating health obligated him to schedule periods of rest throughout his days, and his lack of political experience caused him to defer to his advisers on questions of policy and discretionary powers, especially to his Secretary, Michael McDunphy.

On 13 November 1938, just months after Hyde's inauguration, Hyde attended an international soccer match between Ireland and Poland at Dalymount Park in Dublin. This was seen as breaching the GAA's ban on 'foreign games' and he was subsequently removed as patron of the GAA, an honour he had held since 1902.[11]

Hyde, with his handlebar mustache and warm personality, was a popular president. United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt called President Hyde a "fine and scholarly old gentleman", while President Hyde and King George V corresponded about stamp collecting.

However in April 1940 he suffered a massive stroke. Plans were made for his lying-in-state and state funeral, but to the surprise of everyone he survived, albeit paralysed and having to use a wheelchair.

Although the role of President of Ireland was, and is, largely ceremonial, Hyde did have a small number of important decisions to make during his presidency. He was confronted with a crisis in 1944 when de Valera's government unexpectedly collapsed in a vote on the Transport Bill and the President had to decide whether or not to grant an election to de Valera.[12] (He granted the election.) President Hyde also twice used his power under Article 26 of the Constitution, having consulted the Council of State, to refer a Bill or part of a Bill to the Supreme Court, for the court's decision on whether the Bill or part referred is repugnant to the Constitution (so that the Bill in question cannot be signed into law). On the first occasion, the court held that the Bill referred – Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, 1940 – was not repugnant to the Constitution.[13] In response to the second reference, the Court decided that the particular provision referred – section 4 of the School Attendance Bill, 1942 – was repugnant to the Constitution.[14] Because of Article 34.3.3° of the Constitution, the constitutional validity of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1940[15] cannot be challenged in any court, since the Bill which became that Act was found by the Supreme Court not to be repugnant in the context of an Article 26 reference.

One of Hyde's last presidential acts was a visit to the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on 3 May 1945 to offer his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler. The visit remained a secret until 2005.[16]

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

Memorial to Douglas Hyde in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

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.

In Memoriam

Name Location Notes
Gaelscoil de hÍde Roscommon In 2000 Gaelscoil de hÍde was set up in Roscommon town. Currently 120 students attend the school.
Gaelscoil de hÍde Oranmore, County Galway The Irish speaking primary school was founded in 1994 in Oranmore, County Galway.
Gaelscoil de hÍde Fermoy, County Cork Gaelscoil de hÍde is the only Gaelscoil in Fermoy, County Cork and currently accommodates 332 pupils.
Coláiste an Chraoibhín Fermoy, County Cork Founded in 1987, this secondary school takes its name from Hyde's pseudonym. The school overlooks the Hyde family's ancestral estate of Castlehyde. There are 610 students in the school.
Hyde Museum Frenchpark, County Roscommon His father's old church is now a museum dedicated to showing memorabilia about Douglas Hyde.
Coláiste de hÍde Tallaght, Dublin Coláiste de hÍde, a Gaelcholáiste (all-Irish second level school) was founded in 1993 in Tallaght, South Dublin in his honour.
Dr. Hyde Park Roscommon Dr. Hyde Park is the home of Roscommon GAA. Opened in 1969 it has a capacity of 30,000. It hosts many championship matches due to Roscommon's geographical positioning.
The Douglas Hyde Gallery Dublin The Douglas Hyde Gallery is located in Trinity College, Dublin. It was opened in 1978 and it is home to many contemporary art exhibitions.


  1. ^ McTernan, John C. (1994). Worthies of Sligo, Profiles of Eminent Sligonians of Other Days. Sligo: Avena Publications.  
  2. ^ "Multitext Project in Irish History--Douglas Hyde". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  3. ^ Dunleavy, Janet & Gareth (1991). Douglas Hyde - A Maker of Modern Ireland. Berkeley, California:  
  4. ^ a b Ó Corráin, Donnchadh. "Douglas Hyde". University College Cork, Multitext Project in Irish History. Retrieved 10 April 2010. 
  5. ^ "Census of Ireland 1911 - de hÍde". National Archives of Ireland. 
  6. ^ Grote, Georg (1994). Torn Between Politics and Culture: the Gaelic League, 1893–1993. Münster: Waxman. p. 120.  
  7. ^ "Dr. Douglas Hyde". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  8. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Donal (1940). The Irish Free State and its Senate: A Study in Contemporary Politics. London:  
  9. ^ Coakley, John (September 2005). "Ireland's Unique Electoral Experiment: The Senate Election of 1925". Irish Political Studies 20 (3): 231–269.  
  10. ^ The Irish Times, 27 June 1938.
  11. ^ Cormac Moore. "The GAA v Douglas Hyde". Collins Press. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  12. ^ Under the Constitution the President of Ireland may grant or refuse a dissolution to a Taoiseach who has "ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann". If a dissolution is granted, a general election is proclaimed to fill the seats now vacated by the dissolution. However, this means that for four to six weeks, until the new Dáil assembles, there is no Dáil to speak of. Fearing that this gap might facilitate a German invasion during World War II (called The Emergency in Ireland), as they would have known that no parliament could be called to deal with the invasion, the Oireachtas enacted emergency legislation (under Article 28.3.3°) - the General Elections (Emergency Powers) Act 1943 [2] - which allowed an election to be called separate from a dissolution, with the Dáil only being dissolved just before new Dáil would assemble, so ensuring the gap between Dála (plural of Dáil) would be too short to facilitate an invasion. Under the Act the President could "refuse to proclaim a general election on the advice of a Taoiseach who had ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann". Hyde had that option, but after considering it with his senior advisor, Michael McDunphy, he opted to grant de Valera his election request.
  13. ^ Re Article 26 of the Constitution and the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, 1940 [1940] IR 470.
  14. ^ Re Article 26 of the Constitution and the School Attendance Bill, 1942 [1943] IR 334.
  15. ^ "Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1940".  
  16. ^ "Hyde (and de Valera) offered condolences on Hitler's death".  

External links

  • Biography at Áras an Uachtaráin website
  • Oireachtas Members Database – Profile
  • Dunleavy, Janet Egleson and Gareth W. Dunleavy. Douglas Hyde: A Maker of Modern Ireland. Berkeley et al.: Univ. of California Press, 1991. Available from eScholarship.
  • Hyde, Douglas. The Love Songs of Connacht: Being the Fourth Chapter of the Songs of Connacht. Dundrum, Ireland: Dun Emer Press, 1904. Available from Google Books.
  • Works by Douglas Hyde at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Douglas Hyde at Internet Archive
Political offices
Preceded by
Presidential Commission
President of Ireland
Succeeded by
Seán T. O'Kelly
Preceded by
Lord Glenavy
President of the Trinity College Historical Society
Succeeded by
Sir Robert W. Tate
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