Poet, scholar, and politician, Douglas Hyde (1860–1949) was born on 17 January at Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, and became a leader of the Gaelic revival and, from 1938 until 1945, president of Ireland. Hyde earned a law degree from Trinity College, Dublin, and collaborated with Anglo-Irish writers such as W. B. Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, but his greatest achievement was his contribution to the preservation of the Irish language and literature.
He attained wide fame as president of the Gaelic League, the cultural nationalist body founded by Eoin MacNéill in 1893 in answer to Hyde's seminal speech "The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland." Good-natured and witty, he was equally at home testifying before government commissions and appearing at League festivals and meetings. In 1905 and 1906 he made an extensive tour of the United States, raising more than 10,000 pounds for the organization. Under his leadership, language enthusiasts successfully pressed the educational authorities to include Gaelic as a voluntary subject in the primary and intermediate school curricula and to make a knowledge of Irish a matriculation requirement at the National University of Ireland after 1913.
Hyde continually contended with factionalism in League ranks and, after 1910, with an increasingly vocal cadre of nationalists. When they associated the organization with calls for independence in 1915, Hyde resigned and applied himself to his post as professor of modern Irish at University College, Dublin.
Hyde's scholarship, though marked by a lack of philological training, testified to his skill as a folklorist and synthesizer of the first rank. He published several groundbreaking works, including the folklore volumes Leabhar Sgéulaigheachta (1889) and Beside the Fire (1890); the Love Songs of Connacht (1893), which inspired subsequent writers, including Yeats, Gregory, and J. M. Synge; the monumental A Literary History of Ireland (1899); and, with Gregory, the Songs Ascribed to [Anthony] Raftery (1903). In the 1920s he helped to inaugurate the Irish Folklore Society and established an Irish studies journal, Lia Fáil.
Hyde received numerous public accolades, including cooption into the Free State Senate in 1925 and appointment to the Irish Academy of Letters in 1931. His highest honor, however, came in 1938 when he was elected to the largely ceremonial position of president of Ireland. He died on 12 July 1949, having invigorated indigenous interest in Gaelic literature and established the Irish language as a symbol of national identity, if not as a practical medium of everyday discourse.
SEE ALSO Gaelic Revival; Gaelic Revivalism: The Gaelic League; Literacy and Popular Culture; Literature: Gaelic Literature in the Nineteenth Century; Pearse, Patrick; Protestant Ascendancy: Decline, 1800 to 1930; Raiftearaí (Raftery), Antaine; Primary Documents: From "The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland" (25 November 1892)
Daly, Dominic. The Young Douglas Hyde: The Dawn of the Irish Revolution and Renaissance, 1874–1893. 1974.
Dunleavy, Janet Egleson, and Gareth W. Dunleavy. Douglas Hyde: A Maker of Modern Ireland. 1991.
Hyde, Douglas. A Literary History of Ireland from Earliest Times to the Present Day. 1899, 1967.
Hyde, Douglas. Mise agus an Conradh (go dtí 1905). 1937.
Timothy G. McMahon
The scholar and writer Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) led the Irish language revival and was president of Ireland from 1938 to 1945.
Douglas Hyde was born at Frenchpark, County Roscommon, on Jan. 17, 1860, the son of the local Protestant rector. As a child, he learned the Irish language from surviving native speakers in the area and developed a love and enthusiasm for Irish which were to characterize his later life. He graduated from Trinity College in 1884 and soon concentrated his attention on Irish literary studies. During his career he published a number of scholarly works, notably The Love Songs of Connacht (1893) and A Literary History of Ireland (1899).
In 1893 Hyde played the leading role in the foundation of the Gaelic League and then served as its president until 1915. The purpose of the league was to revive the disappearing culture and traditions, and its work stimulated considerable popular enthusiasm for the study of the Irish language. At the turn of the century Hyde led a successful fight to prevent the exclusion of Irish from the curriculum of secondary schools. In 1908 he was appointed professor of modern Irish in the newly established National University of Ireland and helped to make Irish a compulsory subject for matriculation at the university.
Hyde insisted that the Gaelic League must remain non-political so that it might have the widest possible appeal. This condition was formally observed, but the league's efforts to revive Irish inevitably encouraged political separatism, and its strongest supporters were nationalists, who saw restoration of the native language as a means of helping to establish and maintain a distinct national identity.
Hyde successfully resisted attempts to turn the league to political ends until 1915, when the annual convention passed a resolution which added the objective of national freedom to the league's statement of aims. Hyde at once resigned the presidency and remained aloof from the struggle for Irish independence which began in 1916. He served briefly as a senator in the Irish state which was established in 1922, and in 1938 he was elected unopposed as the first president of Ireland under the new Constitution of 1937. He died 4 years after, completing his term of office, on July 12, 1949.
Hyde's work, more than that of any other individual, preserved the Irish language from extinction and began its revival, a revival which became a matter of state policy after 1922. P. H. Pearse, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916, called the Gaelic League "the most revolutionary force that has ever come into Ireland" and observed that the Irish Revolution really began with its foundation.
The most detailed study of Hyde is Diarmuid Coffey, Douglas Hyde (1938). Good brief studies of Hyde are in Conor Cruise O'Brien, ed., The Shaping of Modern Ireland (1960), and Kevin B. Nowlan, ed., Making of 1916 (1969).
Daly, Dominic, The young Douglas Hyde; the dawn of the Irish revolution and renaissance, 1874-189, Totowa, N.J., Rowman and Littlefield 1974.
Dunleavy, Gareth W., Douglas Hyde, Lewisburg Pa., Bucknell University Press 1974.
Dunleavy, Janet Egleson, Douglas Hyde: a maker of modern Ireland, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. □