Douglas Hyde is best remembered as the first President of Ireland, and was a student and academic dedicated to the preservation of the Gaelic language and culture. This centre is committed to revealing the life of the man as well as the results of his work as founder of the Gaelic League, an organization known as a powerful cultural influence across Ireland.
Douglas Hyde was born in Castlerea, County Roscommon, on January 17, 1860. His family was known for a long tradition of service to the church of Ireland. In fact, his father Arthur Hyde, was once rector of the church building that now houses the interpretative centre.
Douglas chose not to follow the family tradition, but went into the world of academia instead. He had a strong interest in languages, especially the Irish dialect spoken by the elderly people in his community. He entered Trinity College, where he studied Latin, French, German, Hebrew and Greek, and achieved fluency in each language. He retained his love for traditional Irish, and formed the Gaelic League in an effort to keep it alive.
The Gaelic League, or Conradh na Gaeilge, had many members who were instrumental in the fight for Irish independence, among them Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Patrick Pearse. The organization was energized by Hyde’s pamphlet, The Necessity of De-Anglicising Ireland, which made the case for preserving Irish cultural traditions and language. As the movement became more political than cultural, Hyde became uncomfortable as its leader. He gave up the presidency of the Gaelic League in 1915 to his successor, Patrick Pearse.
Douglas Hyde was not deeply involved with the battle for independence. He was, however, appointed to parliament upon the creation of the Irish Free State in 1925. Shortly afterward, his position became an elected one, and he lost the seat in a bitterly contested race. Hyde then returned to teaching at University College Dublin as a professor of the Irish language.
Chosen and then inaugurated as the first President of Ireland in June of 1938, Douglas Hyde took his oath of office in the Roscommon Irish dialect that he had worked so hard to preserve for so many years.
He served as president until June of 1945, when he retired due to his failing health. He lived at a home he called Little Ratra, named for his former house at Roscommon, until he died on July 12, 1949.
During his lifetime, Douglas Hyde compiled and published several collections of Irish verse and folk tales, most notably Beside the Fire and Love Songs of Connacht.
The Dr. Douglas Hyde Interpretative Centre at the old Portahard Church of Ireland houses many of his personal items, photos, letters and books. The letter of nomination he received as Ireland’s first President can also be seen. Audiovisual presentations chronicle his lifetime achievements and aspirations for Ireland, and demonstrate how he worked to keep the traditional language and culture alive. The adjoining churchyard contains his remains as well as those of many of his family members.
An imposing sculpture of Dr. Hyde created by Barry Linnane is located on the grounds outside the centre.