“As our language wanes and dies, the golden legends of the far-off centuries fade and pass away. No one sees their influence upon culture; no one sees their educational power.” –Douglas Hyde
Douglas Hyde is born at Longford House in Castlerea, Co Roscommon. He was an ardent supporter of the Irish language and was one of the founders of the Gaelic League in 1893, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of Irish culture and language, something which had been decimated during the previous two hundred years of British rule.
In 1938, Hyde was elected unopposed as first President of Ireland. The presidency is primarily an honorary role carrying little executive authority.
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, 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.
While the removal of Hyde did cause some discontent at grassroots level, it caused uproar within the media. The Irish Times was particularly scathing. In its issue of 19 December 1938, the newspaper commented on the ban itself saying that ‘the notion that the game by which a round ball is kicked only, and not punched as well as kicked, is detrimental to the national culture, is of course, the most utterly childish form of humbug’ adding that ‘the loss will be to the GAA…Their little victory over President Hyde will be Pyrrhic, because the head of the State will continue to be the representative of all the people, and not of any clique, however large it may be.’
Hyde, with his handlebar mustache and warm personality, was a popular president.
Photo: Douglas Hyde, circa 1940 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)