Tributes paid to ‘real architect’ of 1937 Constitution

Book about John Hearn shows public servant of ‘outstanding calibre’ says Chief Justice

Lucas and Olivia Berlinger from Switzerland, great-grandchildren of John J Hearne, ahead of the unveiling of a bust in his honour outside Bishop’s Palace, Waterford. Photograph: Noel Browne

A new book on the "architect-in-chief" of the 1937 Constitution fills a "significant lacuna" in Irish legal history, according to the Chief Justice Susan Denham.

Ms Justice Denham on Friday night launched a biography of John Hearne, barrister and a legal adviser to the Government in the 1930s, whose full role in the preparation of the Irish Constitution is becoming more widely known.

The event took place at a conference being held all weekend in Waterford, organised by the Waterford Treasures Museum, to mark the 80th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution.

Much is known, Ms Justice Denham said, in other jurisdictions about the drafters of constitutions and about the “whole legal paraphernalia” that has grown around their judicial systems.


“That has been really absent in Ireland and that’s why this book is so important because it brings to the fore one of the key people in drafting the Constitution of Ireland.”

The biography was written by historian Dr Eugene Broderick and published by Irish Academic Press.

“Until fairly recently it was believed that president Éamon de Valera drafted, essentially, the Constitution but groundbreaking research in recent years by historians and lawyers has yielded a virtual treasure trove of information, original documents surrounding the drafting process and it has shed light on the reality,” the Chief Justice said.

‘Outstanding calibre’

She said the reality is that a public servant of “outstanding calibre”, John Hearne, was at the coalface of the drafting of that document and was involved at all key stages.

Dr Broderick also poured cold water on the commonly-held belief that the former Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid, was heavily involved in writing the Constitution.

“We had the notion that John Charles McQuaid, according to one of his biographers, was the co-author of the Constitution. He was nothing of the sort.”

McQuaid wasn’t even the archbishop in 1937, he pointed out, but a priest and headmaster of Blackrock College.

Meanwhile, de Valera himself “did very little to disabuse people of that notion” that he himself had written the Constitution, Dr Broderick told the conference.

However, on the day it came into force in 1937, he wrote an inscription on the Waterford-born John Hearne’s copy of the document, “not for public consumption”, describing Hearne as “architect-in-chief and draftsman of this Constitution”.


A keynote speech was given by former minister for justice and attorney general, Senator Michael McDowell, who once again criticised the Government’s proposed legislation on a new judicial appointments board.

One of his main criticisms was the proposal that the Government should be given three recommendations for a judicial vacancy, rather than the current seven, by the new board and would not be told of any other applicants for a post. “That proposed change in the law, in my view, strikes a damaging blow to the right of government to be fully informed of the choice available in the exercise of its constitutional power and to appoint persons whom the government considers most suitable for higher judicial office.”