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Crowds gather at Nelson's Pillar on O'Connell Street as new President Douglas Hyde's cavalcade passes by on 25 June 1938.
Crowds gather at Nelson's Pillar on O'Connell Street as new President Douglas Hyde's cavalcade passes by on 25 June 1938.
Image: Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Collection at the National Library of Ireland

GALLERY: Inauguration of Ireland's first poet-President... in 1938

Michael D isn’t the only poet to grace the Áras – Ireland’s very first President Douglas Hyde was a poet and defender of Irish cultural heritage. Here’s how his big day went in June 1938.
Nov 11th 2011, 9:00 AM 3,609 4

MICHAEL D HIGGINS will become the ninth President of Ireland this morning – but he won’t be the first poet to take residence in the Áras.

The State’s very first President, Douglas Hyde, was also a scholar, a writer and a poet – and a fierce activist for the preservation of the Irish language. Although Hyde was born the son of a Church of Ireland rector in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, his family came from Castlehyde, Fermoy, Co Cork (yes, that Castlehyde of Michael Flately residence fame).

Hyde was President from June 1938 to June 1945 and was the first to live in the building previously known as the Viceregal Lodge in the Phoenix Park under its new name, Áras an Uachtaráin. As a non-Catholic but also a staunch defender of Irish cultural heritage, he was seen as a unifying figure for the young Irish state.

Unfortunately, Hyde suffered a stroke in 1940 which led to him being confined to a wheelchair. However, he still managed to twice invoke the Presidential power under Article 26 to refer proposed legislation to the Supreme Court, once in 1940 and once in 1942. He was 89 when he died in 1949.

As a Gaeilgeoir, poet, academic (and physically, he was apparently a man of small stature), Hyde has much in common with our President-elect. While we will be posting a slideshow of Michael D Higgins’s inauguration later today, we thought you might enjoy a flash back to the inauguration of Douglas Hyde in 1938.

The order of ceremonies on that pleasant Saturday morning in June 1938 pretty much set the template for future Presidential inaugurations, with the exception of the separate religious worship for different faiths at the start of the day.

It went as follows on 25 June 1938:

  • 10am: Douglas Hyde, a member of the Church of Ireland, attended a special service at St Patrick’s Cathedral while members of the Government including Eamon de Valera, Sean T O’Kelly and Sean Lemass attended Mass in the Pro-Cathedral. (Catholics were not permitted by their Church in those days to enter a Protestant place of worship.)
  • Inside St Patrick’s Cathedral, Hyde was escorted to a pew that had been known as the Royal Pew (used by the former Lord Lieutenant under British rule), but which was now called the President’s Pew.
  • After both services were over, all dignitaries and participants in the inauguration headed for Dublin Castle in a parade of cars – President-elect Hyde was in the first car, with Eamon de Valera and Sean T O’Kelly following in the second car. According to the Irish Times, every window in the Castle yard “was crowded with members of the Civil Service, some of the more adventurous of whom – women among them – found vantage points on the roofs”.
  • 10.55am: The inauguration ceremony took place, as it does again today for Michael D Higgins, in St Patrick’s Hall, Dublin Castle. Senior members of Government and the Army were on stage with Hyde as the Army band waited in the Minstrel’s Gallery above for their cue to break into the national anthem. The ceremony was quite short – lasting around 30 minutes in total.
  • 11.25am: The new President – the first for the Irish State – was then brought under cavalry escort onto Dame Street, across the Liffey and up O’Connell Street to make his way to his new home in the Phoenix Park. The former Viceregal Lodge had been vacant for some time before Hyde moved into it and it was renamed Áras an Uachtaráin, or the Residency of the President. The cavalcade paused for two minutes outside the GPO to remember the fight for Irish independence at one of the most important focal points of the 1916 Rising.
  • Later that evening, the new President attended a State reception in St Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle. Outside the walls of the Castle, the citizens of Dublin celebrated in a more informal fashion – see the contrasting photos at the end of our slideshow of Mrs Sineád de Valera bowing before the Papal Nuncio and young Dubliners gathered around street bonfires.

All pictures appear courtesy of  Independent Newspaper (Ireland) Collection at the National Library of Ireland. Thanks to Carol Maddock in the NLI for her sterling research on the ceremony and in the picture archives.

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Susan Daly


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