Parties joined forces for first president
An Irishman’s Diary: A fanfare of trumpets heralded Douglas Hyde’s inauguration 75 years ago
‘No member of the government accompanied Hyde to St Patrick’s Cathedral on the day of his inauguration. Government members attended a Votive Mass in the Pro-Cathedral instead. Presbyterian, Methodist and Jewish services were also held to mark the occasion.’ Above, Douglas Hyde (in back of car holding top hat), leaving Dublin Castle with a cavalry escort following his inauguration as president on June 25th, 1938. Photograph: National Library of Ireland
Seventy-five years ago tomorrow, Dublin was the scene of a truly historic occasion. Dr Douglas Hyde was inaugurated as Ireland’s first president under the new Constitution of 1937, Bunreacht na hÉireann, in Dublin Castle on that date.
The new office of president had led to fierce debate before the ratification of the Constitution in July 1937, with many wrongly seeing it as a vehicle for the establishment of a dictatorship; totalitarian regimes being a real fear for people living in European countries in the 1930s. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael met together for the first time in their histories in April 1938 to agree on a unified candidate. It didn’t take long for both parties to agree on Douglas Hyde, founding member and first president of the Gaelic League, as their choice for president. Hyde accepted the nomination although he admitted to reservations due to his advanced age (78) and his wife, Lucy’s ill-health. Lucy would die on December 31st the same year. As the only nominee, Hyde was formally elected president at a short meeting at the Department of Agriculture on May 4th, 1938.
Hyde’s election was warmly lauded across the country and the globe. The choosing of a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic country was seen as a very tolerant gesture in an increasingly intolerant world.
On the day of the inauguration itself, June 25th, Dublin held a series of events to commemorate the day. There were religious services held in the morning. Hyde attended a service in St Patrick’s Cathedral. Reflecting an embarrassing episode in the same location 11 years later on, when Irish politicians waited outside instead of entering for Hyde’s funeral, no member of the government accompanied Hyde to St Patrick’s Cathedral on the day of his inauguration. Government members attended a Votive Mass in the Pro-Cathedral instead. Presbyterian, Methodist and Jewish services were also held to mark the occasion.
The inauguration ceremony was held in Dublin Castle, with more than 1,000 people attending the event in St Patrick’s Hall. In attendance, The Irish Times reported, were “members of the judiciary, the bright-gowned university dons, members of the Diplomatic Corps in glittering uniforms, high officers of the Army and the Civic Guard, the Lord Mayors of Dublin and Cork with the Mayors of other Boroughs, and the majority of the Senate and the new Dail . . .and leaders of the Churches”.
A fanfare of trumpets heralded the arrival of Hyde. He then gave an oath promising to uphold the Constitution before the chief justice, Timothy Sullivan handed over the presidential seal. The whole ceremony was conducted in Irish.
De Valera made a speech, addressing Hyde, “You are now our president, our head freely chosen under our own laws, inheriting the authority and entitled to the respect which the Gaels ever gave to those whom they recognised to be their rightful chief, but which for centuries they denied to those whom a foreign law would enforce upon them. In you we greet the successor of our rightful princes, and in your accession to office we hail the closing of the breach that has existed since the undoing of our nation at Kinsale”.
Hyde replied by asking “God for sense, prudence and strength in order that I may fulfil my duties as president”. In 15 minutes the formal ceremony was over and Hyde was president.
The people of Dublin, who came out in their thousands, were then offered an opportunity to greet their president as he travelled on a ceremonial journey to his new home, the vice-regal lodge that had been re-named Áras an Uachtaráin. The presidential cavalcade went from Dame Street, through College Green, onto O’Connell Street, where it halted at the General Post Office for two minutes to salute the 1916 Easter Rising participants before continuing on to Parnell Square and North Circular Road and finally entering the Phoenix Park to Hyde’s new home. Along the route, the sidewalks were thronged with people. Amid fluttering flags and bunting, doorways and windows were packed with people, while lines of green-clad military tried to contain the soaring crowds .
Back at Dublin Castle, de Valera and his wife, Sinead hosted a reception for the president and other distinguished guests, rounding off a day full of pageantry demonstrating that Ireland was coming of age and asserting itself as an independent state.
Cormac Moore is author of The GAA V Douglas Hyde: The Removal of Ireland’s First President as GAA Patron.