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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Douglas Hyde Inaugurated First President of Ireland

douglas-hydeDr. Douglas Hyde, Gaelic scholar from County Roscommon, is inaugurated as the first President of Ireland on June 25, 1938.

Hyde is born at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon, on January 17, 1860. In 1867, his father is appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moves to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He is home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness. While a young man, he becomes fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language.

Rejecting family pressure to follow previous generations with a career in the Church, Hyde instead becomes an academic. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains a great facility for languages, learning Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and German, but his great passion in life is the preservation of the Irish language.

After spending a year teaching modern languages in Canada, Hyde returns to Ireland. For much of the rest of his life he writes and collects hundreds of stories, poems, and folktales in Irish, and translates others. His work in Irish helps to inspire many other literary writers, such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.

In 1892, Hyde helps establish the Gaelic Journal and in November of that year writes a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation, arguing that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature, and even in dress.

In 1893, Hyde founds the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) along with Eoin MacNeill and Fr. Eugene O’Growney and serves as its first president. Many of the new generation of Irish leaders who play a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century, including Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Ernest Blythe first become politicised and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement in the Gaelic League. Hyde does not want the Gaelic League to be a political entity, so when the surge of Irish nationalism that the Gaelic League helps to foster begins to take control of many in the League and politicize it in 1915, Hyde resigns as president.

Hyde takes no active part in the armed upheaval of the 1910s and 1920s, but does serve in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Free State‘s Oireachtas, as a Free State senator in 1925-26. He then returns to academia, as Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, where one of his students is future Attorney General and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In 1938, Hyde is unanimously elected to the newly created position of President of Ireland, a post he holds until 1945. He is inaugurated on June 26, 1938, in the first inaugural ceremony in the nation’s history. He sets 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 is one of the last speakers. Upon inauguration, he moves into the long vacant Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, since known as Áras an Uachtaráin.

Hyde’s selection and inauguration receive worldwide media attention and is covered by newspapers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Egypt. Adolf Hitler “orders” the Berlin newspapers “to splash” on the Irish presidential installation ceremony. However, the British government ignores the event. The Northern Ireland Finance Minister, John Miller Andrews, described Hyde’s inauguration as a “slight on the King” and “a deplorable tragedy.”

Despite being placed in a position to shape the office of the presidency via precedent, Hyde by and large opts for a quiet, conservative interpretation of the office.

In April 1940 Hyde suffers a massive stroke and plans are made for his lying-in-state and state funeral, but to the surprise of everyone he survives, albeit paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. One of Hyde’s last presidential acts is a visit to the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on May 3, 1945 to offer his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler, a visit which remains a secret until 2005.

Hyde leaves office on June 25, 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. He opts not return to his Roscommon home due to his ill-health, but rather moves into the former Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant’s residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, where he lived out the remaining four years of his life.

Hyde dies in Dublin on July 12, 1949 at age 89. As a former President of Ireland he is accorded a state funeral which, as a member of the Church of Ireland, takes place in Dublin’s Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since contemporary rules of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time prohibit Roman Catholics from attending services in non-Catholic churches, all but one member of the Catholic cabinet remain outside the cathedral grounds while Hyde’s funeral takes place. Hyde is buried in Frenchpark, County Roscommon at Portahard Church.


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)


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Founding of the Royal University of Ireland

The Royal University of Ireland is founded by Royal Charter on April 27, 1880 in accordance with the University Education (Ireland) Act 1879 as an examining and degree-awarding university based on the model of the University of London. The first chancellor is the Irish chemist Robert Kane.

The university becomes the first university in Ireland that can grant degrees to women on a par with those granted to men, granting its first degree to a woman on October 22, 1882. In 1888 Letitia Alice Walkington has the distinction of becoming the first woman in Great Britain or Ireland to receive a degree of Bachelor of Laws. Among the honorary degree recipients of the university is Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and later President of Ireland, who is awarded a DLitt in 1906.

The Royal University of Ireland is the successor to the Queen’s University of Ireland, dissolved in 1882, and the graduates, professors, students and colleges of that predecessor are transferred to the new university. In addition to the Queen’s Colleges, Magee College, University College Dublin, Cecillia St. Medical School, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and Blackrock College present students for examinations as well, and no special status is accorded to the colleges of the former Queen’s University. After the 1880 reforms Catholic Colleges such as St. Patrick’s, Carlow College, Holy Cross College and Blackrock College come under the Catholic University, and with a number of other seminaries present students for examination by the RUI.

External students not of approved colleges can sit examinations of the Royal University although they are seen as being at a disadvantage to those of designated colleges whose professors are part of the university. In fact, many schools, including convent schools prepare students for the examinations of the Royal University.

Like the Queen’s University, the Royal University is entitled to grant any degree, similar to that of any other university in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, except in theology. The colleges themselves award degrees in theology and divinity.

The professorships and Senate of the Royal University are shared equally between Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, colleges of the university maintain full independence except in the awarding of degrees, and the compilation and enforcement of academic regulations and standards.

The members of the senate of the Royal University included Gerald Molloy, William Joseph Walsh, John Healy, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, George Arthur Hastings Forbes, 7th Earl of Granard, Daniel Mannix, George Johnston Allman.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the Royal University of Ireland)


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Founding of the Gaelic League

conradh-na-gaeilge-logoThe Gaelic League (Irish: Conradh na Gaeilge), a social and cultural organisation which promotes the Irish language in Ireland and worldwide is founded in Dublin on July 31, 1893.

Conradh na Gaeilge is founded by Douglas Hyde, the son of a Church of Ireland rector from Frenchpark, County Roscommon, with the aid of Eugene O’Growney, Eoin MacNeill, Thomas O’Neill Russell, and others. The organisation develops from Ulick Bourke‘s earlier Gaelic Union and becomes the leading institution promoting the Gaelic Revival, carrying on efforts like the publishing of the Gaelic Journal. The League’s first newspaper is An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light) and its most noted editor is Patrick Pearse. The motto of the League is Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin amháin (Ourselves, Ourselves alone).

The League encourages female participation from the start and a number of women play a prominent role. They are not restricted to subordinate roles, but play an active part in leadership, although males are in the overwhelming majority. Local notables, such as Lady Gregory in Galway, Lady Esmonde in County Wexford, and Mary Spring Rice in County Limerick, and others such as Norma Borthwick, found and lead branches in their communities. At the annual national convention in 1906 women are elected to seven of the forty-five positions on the Gaelic League executive. Executive members include Máire Ní Chinnéide, Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh (who writes pamphlets on behalf of the League), Bean an Doc Uí Choisdealbha, Máire Ní hAodáin, Máire de Buitléir, Nellie O’Brien, Eibhlín Ní Dhonnabháin, and Eibhlín Nic Néill.

Though apolitical, the organisation attracts many Irish nationalists of different persuasions, much like the Gaelic Athletic Association. It is through the League that many future political leaders and rebels first meet, laying the foundation for groups such as the Irish Volunteers. However, Conradh na Gaeilge does not commit itself entirely to the national movement until 1915, causing the resignation of Douglas Hyde, who feels that the culture of language should be above politics. Most of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation are members. It still continues to attract many Irish Republicans. Seán Mac Stíofáin, the first chief of staff of the Provisional IRA was a prominent member in his later life.

After the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the organisation has a less prominent role in public life as Irish is made a compulsory subject in state-funded schools. It does unexpectedly bad in the Irish Seanad election of 1925, when all the candidates it endorses are defeated, including Hyde.


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Enactment of the Constitution of Ireland

constitution-of-irelandThe current Constitution of Ireland is enacted by a national plebiscite of voters on July 1, 1937 in what is then the Irish Free State. The Constitution comes into effect on December 29, 1937. The Constitution is closely associated with Éamon de Valera, the President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State at the time, who is personally eager to replace the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

There are two main motivations for replacing the constitution in 1937. Firstly, the Irish Free State constitution of 1922 is, in the eyes of many, associated with the controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty. The second motive for replacing the original constitution is primarily symbolic. De Valera wants to put an Irish stamp on the institutions of government, and chooses to do this in particular through the use of Irish nomenclature.

De Valera, as President of the Executive Council, personally supervises the writing of the Constitution. It is drafted initially by John Hearne, legal adviser to the Department of External Affairs. De Valera serves as his own External Affairs Minister, hence the use of the Department’s Legal Advisor, with whom he has previously worked closely, as opposed to the Attorney General or someone from the Department of the President of the Executive Council. He also receives significant input from John Charles McQuaid, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, on religious, educational, family, and social welfare issues. The text is translated into Irish over a number of drafts by a group headed by Micheál Ó Gríobhtha who works in the Department of Education.

The framers of the 1937 Constitution decide that it will be enacted not by an elected body but by the people themselves by means of a plebiscite. The preamble to the 1937 Constitution is thus written in the name not of the legislature but of “We, the people of Éire.” On June 2, 1937, the Oireachtas passes the Plebiscite (Draft Constitution) Act 1937, which mandates the holding of a plebiscite on the draft constitution on the same date as the next general election. The Dáil is dissolved on June 14, 1937, as soon as it has approved the draft constitution. The ensuing general election is held on July 1, 1937, and the plebiscite is held in parallel. The question put to voters is simply “Do you approve of the Draft Constitution which is the subject of this plebiscite?” It is passed by a plurality – 56% of voters are in favour, comprising 38.6% of the entire electorate.

Neither the Dáil resolution approving the draft Constitution nor the Plebiscite (Draft Constitution) Act 1937 provide for the plebiscite establish how the Constitution would come into force. It is the Constitution itself which states that this will occur 180 days after its approval, and that the 1922 Constitution will simultaneously be repealed. This happens on December 29, 1937, one hundred eighty days after the July 1 plebiscite.

Consequential acts are passed between July and December to provide for the establishment of, and holding elections for, the new Seanad and the Presidency, as well as for other adaptations. The Presidential Establishment Act, 1938 is passed after the Constitution has come into effect but before the first President, Douglas Hyde, takes office.


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Birth of Constance Georgine Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz)

countess-markieviczConstance Georgine Gore-Booth is born on February 4, 1868 at Buckingham Gate, London, the eldest daughter of Arctic explorer and philanthropist Sir Henry Gore-Booth and Georgina May Hill.

The Gore-Booths are known as model landlords in  County Sligo as they provide free food for the tenants on their estate. Perhaps being raised in this atmosphere of concern for the common man has something to do with the way Constance and her younger sister, Eva, conduct their later lives.

Gore-Booth decides to train as a painter and, in 1892, she enters the Slade School of Art in London because, at the time, only one art school in Dublin accepts female students. While in school in London Gore-Booth first becomes politically active and joins the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

She later moves to Paris and enrolls at the prestigious Académie Julian where she meets her future husband, Count Casimir Markievicz. They are married in London on September 29, 1900 making her Countess Markievicz. The Markieviczes relocate to Dublin in 1903 and move in artistic and literary circles, with Constance being instrumental in founding the United Artists Club.

In 1908, Markievicz becomes actively involved in nationalist politics in Ireland and joins Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland), a revolutionary women’s movement founded by Maud Gonne. In the same year, Markievicz plays a dramatic role in the women’s suffrage campaigners’ tactic of opposing Winston Churchill‘s election to Parliament during the Manchester North West by-election. Churchill ultimately loses the election to Conservative candidate William Joynson-Hicks.

In 1909, Markievicz founds Fianna Éireann, a para-military nationalist scouts organisation that instructs teenage boys and girls in the use of firearms. Patrick Pearse says that the creation of Fianna Éireann is as important as the creation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. She is jailed for the first time in 1911 for speaking at an Irish Republican Brotherhood demonstration organised to protest against George V’s visit to Ireland.

Markievicz joins James Connolly‘s socialist Irish Citizen Army, a small volunteer force formed in response to the lock-out of 1913, to defend the demonstrating workers from the police. During the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914, Irish Citizen Army members led by Markievicz, and including Thomas MacDonagh, Bulmer Hobson, Douglas Hyde and Darrell Figgis, unload arms from Erskine Childers‘ yacht Asgard in Howth harbour with hand carts and wheelbarrows.

As a member of the Irish Citizen Army, Markievicz takes part in the 1916 Easter Rising. Under Michael Mallin and Christopher Poole, she supervises the erection of barricades as the Rising begins and is in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen’s Green. Mallin and Poole and their men and women, including Markievicz, hold out for six days, ending the engagement when the British bring them a copy of Patrick Pearse’s surrender order.

They are taken to Dublin Castle and Markievicz is transported to Kilmainham Gaol, where she is the only one of 70 women prisoners who is put into solitary confinement. At her court martial on May 4, 1916, Markievicz is sentenced to death, but General Maxwell commutes this to life in prison on “account of the prisoner’s sex.” It is widely reported that she tells the court, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” Markievicz is transferred to Mountjoy Prison and then to Aylesbury Prison in England in July 1916. She is released from prison in 1917, along with others involved in the Rising.

In the 1918 general election, Markievicz is elected for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s, making her the first woman elected to the British House of Commons. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she does not take her seat in the House of Commons. She is re-elected to the Second Dáil in the elections of 1921. Markievicz serves as Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922, holding cabinet rank from April to August 1919, becoming both the first Irish female Cabinet Minister and only the second female government minister in Europe.

Markievicz leaves government in January 1922 along with Éamon de Valera and others in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She fights actively for the Republican cause in the Irish Civil War. She is returned in the 1923 general election for the Dublin South constituency but again, in common with other Republican candidates, she does not take her seat.

She joins Fianna Fáil on its foundation in 1926, chairing the inaugural meeting of the new party in La Scala Theatre. In the June 1927 general election, she is re-elected to the 5th Dáil as a candidate for the new Fianna Fáil party, which is pledged to return to Dáil Éireann.

Before she can take up her seat, Markievicz dies at the age of 59 on July 15, 1927, in a public ward “among the poor where she wanted to be” of complications related to appendicitis. One of the doctors attending her is her revolutionary colleague, Kathleen Lynn. Also at her bedside are Casimir and Stanislas Markievicz, Éamon de Valera, and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Refused a state funeral by the Free State government, Markievicz is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, and de Valera gives the funeral oration.