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.
Further Reading on Douglas Hyde
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).
Additional Biography Sources
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.