Eighty years ago this month, Dr. Douglas Hyde was formally installed as the first President of Ireland. To many people this son of an Anglo-Irish Church of Ireland minister had seemed an unlikely source of the ideas he expressed in his speech in 1892 on de-Anglicisation, and an even more unlikely candidate for the role of defender of the Irish language and Irish culture, writes Ray Cleere.


In 1891 a tall, handsome, broad-chested young man with black hair, flashing eyes, and a drooping moustac he stood on a lecture platform in Dublin and startled his audience with an idea that would affect the course of Irish history.

The man was Dr. Douglas Hyde, bilingual scholar, folklorist, poet and essayist. The occasion was Hyde’s inaugural lecture as President of the National Literary Society.
Described by An Seabhac as “the first real folklorist, Hyde was a pioneer, in the tradition of Iain Campbell and John McKenzie of Scotland, in the “Scientific” collecting and scholarly presentation of Irish folklore. His collection of tales Leabhar Sgeulaighéachta in 1889 was a significant landmark in the history folklore in Ireland. It added a new dimension to the work of his predecessors in the field, including Thomas Crofton Croker, Patrick Kennedy, Lady Wilde and Jeremiah Curtin.

His subsequent works, Beside the Fire in 1890, Love Songs of Connaught in 1893 and Legends of Saints and Sinners in 1916, were acknowledged by William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) as major sources of the Irish Literary Renaissance. He later joined with Yeats, Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge to create an Irish theatre. His work with Milicete Indians in Canada in 1891 and his remarkable song collections confirmed his reputation.

One of the founders of the Folklore of Ireland Society in 1927, he was the first Treasurer and later Patron of the Society, and was appointed Chairman of the Irish Folklore Institute in 1930.

In his address, entitled On the Necessity for De-Anglicising the Irish People, Hyde argued that a first step towards finding a solution to the problems of Ireland was to restore its sense of national identity.

“To do this” he declared, “Ireland’s people must stop imitating England, revive the use of Irish personal names and place names, rediscover the pleasures of traditional Irish music and dancing, promote Irish games, give new life to Irish customs, and keep alive for generations yet unborn that the most important repository of and key to Irish history and culture: the Irish language”.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own