Douglas Hyde

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Douglas Hyde was elected first President of Ireland on 25 June 1938. He was born in Roscommon in 1860 and he died in Dublin in 1948. His father, a Church of Ireland rector, educated his son at home.

Douglas Hyde was elected first President of Ireland on 25 June 1938. He was born in Roscommon in 1860 and he died in Dublin in 1948. His father, a Church of Ireland rector, educated his son at home.

The place where Hyde was reared was a mixed Irish-English speaking area at that time and he learned Irish from the neighbours and from an old servant in the house. He showed a great interest in the language and he began to write a diary in Irish when he was 16 years of age. He studied the language from the grammar book written by William Nelson, a Presbyterian minister from County Down.

He received a degree in modern literature from Trinity College in 1884, a degree in theology in 1885, and an LLD in 1888. He was made a member of the Royal Irish Academy the following year. He was elected President of the National Literary Society in 1892. The Gaelic League was founded on 31 July 1893 and he was elected President of the new organisation. He was a prolific writer. He translated a great deal of material from Irish to English, he wrote poetry and he penned the first modern play in Irish.

He was interested in Irish as a fundamental aspect of Irish culture. He was in continuous conflict with politicians who tried to influence himself and the League. He resigned the presidency of the League when a motion was passed at the Ardfheis in 1915 that independence should be an objective of the organisation. He continued with his academic work, writing and collecting folklore.

Hyde’s life and work can teach us a number of lessons. Irish is not a political tool. It is not something sectarian, belonging to one religious group either. It belongs to everyone. The Irish language tradition is a source of great cultural wealth that goes unrecognised. This shows the importance of research and study of the language.