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11 things you might not know about our former presidents

Did you know that Douglas Hyde was fluent in Hebrew? Here’s 11 other things you may not have known about the past residents of Áras an Uachtaráin.

Eamon de Valera was known as a fearless leader and when he was not happy with a small joke made by US President John F. Kennedy in the Dáil Chamber, he let him know about it.
Eamon de Valera was known as a fearless leader and when he was not happy with a small joke made by US President John F. Kennedy in the Dáil Chamber, he let him know about it.
Image: AP/AP/Press Association Images

THIS WEEKEND IRELAND will know who its ninth-ever president will be.

Following more than 40 days of campaigning and media scrutiny, we may feel we know everything we need to about the seven hopefuls. But what of those who went before them?

Here are 11 facts that you probably didn’t know about Ireland’s previous heads of state:

  1. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh was a keen actor before his political and legal careers took off. Although there is no documentation on the event, it is understood that he, along with his friend Cyril Cusack, picketed the Dublin launch of Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People because of how it stereotyped Irish people.
  2. One of the last presidential acts of Douglas Hyde was to visit the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on May 3, 1945. During the visit, which remained a secret until 2005, he reportedly offered his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler.
  3. Seán T. O’Kelly had two wives – nothing too unusual there. However, his two spouses happened to be sisters. He married Mary Kate Ryan in 1918 but she died in 1934. He then married her sister Phyllis two years later in 1936. In the interest of full disclosure, it is also true that the other Ryan sister was married to Fine Gael leader General Richard Mulcahy.
  4. What do the unlikely pair of Eamon de Valera and James Cagney have in common? They both appeared in the same episode of Ed Sullivan’s US show Toast of the Town in 1955, when it was filmed in Ireland.
  5. Erskine Childers’ father was an author of popular espionage thrillers, including The Riddle of the Sands, which was made into a movie in 1979.
  6. Patrick Hillery boasted a golfing handicap of seven – the lowest of any head of state at the time.
  7. Hillery was also the subject of Ireland’s original (and completely false) sex scandal before the Pope’s visit in 1979. Unsubstantiated rumours about him keeping a Spanish girlfriend at Áras an Uachtaráin and having a baby born clandestinely in Brussels circulated until the President spoke out against them.
  8. Speaking of Patrick Hillery‘s, er,  sex appeal, women readers of the German magazine Der Spiegel voted him the “handsomest head of state in western Europe” during his time in office.
  9. Mary McAleese was named the 55th most powerful woman in the world in Forbes list in 2006 – her highest ranking ever. She has since fallen off the Top 100 list.
  10. In an unusual move in 1990, RTÉ decided to broadcast Mary Robinson‘s presidential election speech live instead of the Angelus.
  11. In another odd television-related decision, her first interview as President Elect was on the children’s television show The Den with Ray D’Arcy, Zig and Zag and Dustin the Turkey.

Image: Wikicommons

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