Douglas Hyde (Irish: Dubhghlas de hÍde; 17 January 1860 – 12 July 1949), known as An Craoibhín Aoibhinn ("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 founded the Gaelic League, one of the most influential cultural organisations in Ireland at the time.
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 Irish language movement, initially seen as eccentric, gained a mass following throughout the island. Hyde helped establish the Gaelic Journal in 1892, and the same year he published a pamphlet called The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland, 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 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 Gaedhilge or (Gaelic League). His use of Irish to fill in the 1911 census form, provides a primary source confirming his commitment to this language (Census 1911 - de hÍde).
Interestingly, his position, entered on the census form as (Ollamh) or professor at the National University of Ireland, (and its later constituent college University College Dublin), has been (intentionally?) mistranslated by the enumerator as "teacher".
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.
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 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 achieving Irish independence.
- Both wanted to choose a non-Catholic to disprove the assertion that the State was a "confessional state".
Hyde was inaugurated as the first President of Ireland in June 1938 and moved into the long vacant Viceregal Lodge. Hyde's recitation of the Presidential Declaration of Office 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 users.
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. (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. 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.
Because of Article 34.3.3° of the Constitution, the constitutional validity of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1940 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.