Douglas Hyde

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Douglas Hyde
Hyde c. 1940
1st President of Ireland
In office
25 June 1938 – 24 June 1945
TaoiseachÉamon de Valera
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded bySeán T. O'Kelly
In office
27 April 1938 – 4 May 1938
ConstituencyNominated by the Taoiseach
In office
4 February 1925 – 17 September 1925
Personal details
Born(1860-01-17)17 January 1860
Castlerea, County Roscommon, Ireland
Died12 July 1949(1949-07-12) (aged 89)
Little Ratra, Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland
Resting placePortahard Church Cemetery, Frenchpark, County Roscommon, Ireland
Political partyIndependent
(m. 1893; died 1938)
Alma materTrinity College Dublin

Douglas Ross Hyde MRIA (Irish: Dubhghlas de hÍde; 17 January 1860 – 12 July 1949), known as An Craoibhín Aoibhinn (lit. transl. the pleasant little branch), was an Irish academic, linguist, scholar of the Irish language, politician, and diplomat who served as the first President of Ireland from June 1938 to June 1945. He was a leading figure in the Gaelic revival, and the first President of the Gaelic League, one of the most influential cultural organisations in Ireland at the time.


Hyde was born at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon,[1] while his mother, Elizabeth Hyde (née Oldfield; 1834–1886), was on a short visit. His father, Arthur Hyde, whose family was originally from Castlehyde near 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.[2] Arthur Hyde and Elizabeth Oldfield married in County Roscommon, in 1852, and had three other children: Arthur Hyde (1853–79 in County Leitrim), John Oldfield Hyde (1854–96 in County Dublin), and Hugh Hyde (1856).[3]

Hyde as a young man

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.[4] 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 Séamus Hart and his friend's wife, Mrs. Connolly. Aged 14, Hyde was devastated when Hart died, and his interest in the Irish language—the first language he began to study in any detail, as his own undertaking—flagged for a while. However, he visited Dublin several 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 as an Anglican clergyman, Hyde instead became an academic. He entered Trinity College Dublin, where he became fluent in French, Latin, German, Greek, and Hebrew, graduating in 1884 as a moderator in modern literature. A medallist of the College Historical Society, he was elected its president in 1931.[5] His passion for the language revival of Irish, which was already in severe decline, led him to help found the Gaelic League, or in Irish, Conradh na Gaeilge, in 1893.

Hyde married German-born but British-raised Lucy Kurtz[6] in 1893. The couple had two daughters, Nuala and Úna.[7]

Conradh na Gaeilge/Gaelic League[edit]

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 (lit. transl. the pleasant little branch).[8]

Portrait of Hyde

Initially derided, the Irish language movement gained a mass following. Hyde helped establish the Gaelic Journal in 1892; in November, he wrote a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation,[8] arguing that Ireland should follow its own traditions in language, literature, and dress.[9]

In 1893, he helped found Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) to encourage the preservation of Irish culture, music, dance and language. A new generation of Irish republicans (including Pádraig Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins and Ernest Blythe), became politicised through their involvement in Conradh na Gaeilge. Hyde filled out the 1911 census form in Irish.[10]

Uncomfortable with the growing politicisation of the movement, Hyde resigned the presidency in 1915. He was succeeded by the League's co-founder Eoin MacNeill.[11][12]


Hyde, circa 1917

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 Hutcheson Poë.[13]

In the 1925 Seanad election, Hyde placed 28th of the 78 candidates, with 19 seats available. The Catholic Truth Society opposed him for his Protestantism and publicised his supposed support for divorce. Historians have suggested that the CTS campaign was ineffective,[14] and that Irish-language advocates performed poorly, with all those endorsed by the Gaelic League losing.[14][15]

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

President of Ireland[edit]

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, Hyde was plucked from retirement by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera and again appointed to Seanad Éireann. Again his tenure proved short, even shorter than before; however, this time it was because Hyde was chosen, after inter-party negotiations—following an initial suggestion by Fine Gael—to be the first President of Ireland, to which office 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 Hyde lost his Senate seat in 1925.
  • Both wanted a President who would prove there was no danger that the holder of the office would become an authoritarian dictator, a widespread fear when the new constitution was being discussed in 1937.
  • Both wanted to pay tribute to Hyde's role in promoting the Irish language.
  • Both wanted to choose a non-Catholic to disprove the assertion that the State was a "confessional state", although on 11 May 1937 Seán MacEntee, the Fianna Fáil Minister of Finance, had described the 1937 Constitution in Dáil Éireann as "the Constitution of a Catholic State".[16]


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. The Irish Times reported it as follows:

In the morning [Dr Hyde] attended a service in St. Patrick's Cathedral presided over by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Gregg. Mr. de Valera and his Ministerial colleagues attended a solemn Votive Mass in the Pro-Cathedral, and there were services in the principal Presbyterian and Methodist churches, as well as in the synagogue. Dr. Hyde was installed formally in Dublin Castle, where the seals of office were handed over by the Chief Justice. Some 200 persons were present, including the heads of the Judiciary and the chief dignitaries of the Churches. After the ceremony, President Hyde drove in procession through the beflagged streets. The procession halted for two minutes outside the General Post Office to pay homage to the memory of the men who fell in the Easter Week rebellion of 1916. Large crowds lined the streets from the Castle to the Vice-Regal Lodge and the President was welcomed with bursts of cheering. He wore morning dress, but Mr. de Valera and Mr. Sean T. O'Kelly, who followed Dr. Hyde in the next motor-car, wore black clothes with felt hats. In the evening there was a ceremony in Dublin Castle which was without precedent in Irish history. Mr. and Mrs. de Valera received about 1,500 guests at a reception in honour of the President. The reception was held in St. Patrick's Hall, where the banners of the Knights of St. Patrick are still hung. The attendance included all the members of the Dail and Senate with their ladies, members of the Judiciary and the chiefs of the Civil Service, Dr. Paschal Robinson, the Papal Nuncio at the head of the Diplomatic Corps, several Roman Catholic Bishops, the Primate of All Ireland, the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Killaloe, the heads of the Presbyterian and Methodist congregations, the Provost and Vice Provost of Trinity College, and the President of the National University. It was the most colourful event that has been held in Dublin since the inauguration of the new order in Ireland, and the gathering, representing as it did every shade of political, religious, and social opinion in Eire [Ireland], might be regarded as a microcosm of the new Ireland.[17]

Hyde set a precedent by reciting the Presidential Declaration of Office in Irish. His recitation, in Roscommon Irish, is one of a few recordings of a dialect of which Hyde 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.

Hyde's selection and inauguration received worldwide media attention and was covered by newspapers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and even Egypt.[18] Hitler "ordered" the Berlin newspapers "to splash" on the Irish presidential installation ceremony.[18] However, the British government ignored the event.[18] The Northern Ireland Finance Minister, J. M. Andrews, described Hyde's inauguration as a "slight on the King" and "a deplorable tragedy".[18]


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 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.[19]

After a massive stroke in April 1940, plans were made for his lying-in-state and a state funeral. However, Hyde survived, albeit paralysed and having to use a wheelchair.[20]

Although the role of the President of Ireland is largely ceremonial, the president has the authority under the Constitution of Ireland to refuse to grant a dissolution of the Dáil where the Taoiseach has ceased to retain the support of a majority of the Dáil. The president is also the guardian of the constitution and may refer legislation to the Supreme Court before signing it into law.

Hyde was confronted with a crisis in 1944 when de Valera's government unexpectedly collapsed in a vote on the Transport Bill. De Valera asked Hyde for a dissolution of the Dáil. If a dissolution is granted, a general election is proclaimed to fill the seats thereby vacated. This means that for four to six weeks until the new Dáil assembled, there is no Dáil. Fearing this gap might facilitate an invasion during World War II, during which no parliament could be called upon to act, the Oireachtas enacted the General Elections (Emergency Powers) Act 1943, legislation under the emergency provisions of Article 28.3.3°), which allowed an election to be called separate from a dissolution, with the Dáil only being dissolved just before new Dáil would assemble. This ensured the gap between Dála (plural of Dáil) would be too short to cause a vacuum in major decision-making. 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 granted the dissolution.[citation needed]

Hyde twice used his prerogative 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).[citation needed] On the first occasion, the court held that the Bill referred – Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill 1940 – was not repugnant to the Constitution.[21] In response to the second reference, the Court decided that the particular provision referred to – section 4 of the School Attendance Bill 1942 – was repugnant to the Constitution.[22] Because of Article 34.3.3° of the Constitution, the constitutional validity of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1940[23] 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.[clarification needed]

One of Hyde's last presidential acts was a visit to the German Ambassador Eduard Hempel, on 3 May 1945, to offer his formal condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler. The visit remained a secret until 2005.[24]

Retirement and death[edit]

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

State funeral[edit]

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

As a former President of Ireland, Hyde was accorded a state funeral. As he was 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 its members 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 the funeral service 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. He was represented instead 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, his mother Elizabeth, and his father Arthur.

In memoriam[edit]

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 over 900 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 25,000. It hosts many championship matches due to Roscommon's geographical positioning.
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. ^ "Longford House, Longford, Castlerea, Roscommon". National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Retrieved 11 March 2023.
  2. ^ Maume, Patrick. "Hyde, Douglas (de hÍde, Dubhghlas)". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Retrieved 26 December 2023.
  3. ^ McTernan, John C. (1994). Worthies of Sligo, Profiles of Eminent Sligonians of Other Days. Sligo: Avena Publications. ISBN 0-85342-503-5.
  4. ^ "Multitext Project in Irish History – Douglas Hyde". Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2010.
  5. ^ Dunleavy, Janet & Gareth (1991). Douglas Hyde – A Maker of Modern Ireland. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06684-7.
  6. ^ "Douglas Hyde - Douglas Hyde Biography". Poem Hunter. Archived from the original on 1 March 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  7. ^ The Trustees of FreeBMD (2005). FreeBMD Archived 3 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 12 November 2005.
  8. ^ a b Ó Corráin, Donnchadh. "Douglas Hyde". University College Cork, Multitext Project in Irish History. Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  9. ^ Hyde, Douglas. "The necessity for de-anglicizing the Irish nation". Archived from the original on 6 August 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  10. ^ "Census of Ireland 1911 - de hÍde". National Archives of Ireland. Archived from the original on 12 May 2009. Retrieved 8 December 2007.
  11. ^ Ryan, John (December 1945). "Eoin Mac Neill 1867–1945". Irish Province of the Society of Jesus. 34 (136): 433–448. JSTOR 30100064., pp. 439–40
  12. ^ Grote, Georg (1994). Torn Between Politics and Culture: the Gaelic League, 1893–1993. Münster: Waxman. p. 120. ISBN 3-89325-243-6.
  13. ^ "Douglas Hyde". Oireachtas Members Database. Archived from the original on 7 November 2018. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  14. ^ a b O'Sullivan, Donal (1940). The Irish Free State and its Senate: A Study in Contemporary Politics. London: Faber & Faber.
  15. ^ Coakley, John (September 2005). "Ireland's Unique Electoral Experiment: The Senate Election of 1925". Irish Political Studies. 20 (3): 231–269. doi:10.1080/07907180500359327. S2CID 145175747.
  16. ^ Oireachtas, Houses of the (11 May 1937). "Bunreacht na hEireann (Dréacht)—Dara Céim. – Dáil Éireann (8th Dáil) – Tuesday, 11 May 1937 – Houses of the Oireachtas". Archived from the original on 17 May 2021. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  17. ^ The Irish Times, 27 June 1938.
  18. ^ a b c d Brian Murphy in the Irish Independent; 1 October 2016 Hyde, Hitler and why our first president fascinated press around the world
  19. ^ Cormac Moore. "The GAA v Douglas Hyde". Collins Press. Archived from the original on 10 October 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  20. ^ "Douglas Hyde: The Unlikely First President of Ireland". Retrieved 6 May 2023.
  21. ^ Re Article 26 of the Constitution and the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, 1940 [1940] I.R. 470.
  22. ^ Re Article 26 of the Constitution and the School Attendance Bill, 1942 [1943] I.R. 334.
  23. ^ "Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1940". Irish Statute Book. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  24. ^ "Hyde (and de Valera) offered condolences on Hitler's death". Irish Independent. 31 December 2005. Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
  25. ^ Announcement of death, The Irish Times, 13 July 1949

External links[edit]

Political offices
New office President of Ireland
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the Trinity College Historical Society
Succeeded by
Sir Robert W. Tate