17 January 1860: Douglas Hyde/ Dubhglas de Híde, the future President of Ireland and a co founder of the Gaelic League, was born on this day. He was brought into this World at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon while his mother was on a short visit there. His father, Arthur Hyde, was Church of Ireland Rector of Kilmactranny , County Sligo. On his fathers side they were descended from the Elizabethan planter, Arthur Hyde of Denchworth, Berkshire.
Young Douglas spent his very early years in Co Sligo before being brought up at Frenchpark in Co. Roscommon. Due to a childhood illness he was educated at home and thus had ample opportunity to roam the countryside in the pursuits of shooting and fishing. It was on these outings that an Old Fenian, Johhny Lavin, befriended him. At this time the Irish Language was in noticeable decline but Douglas Hyde learned it directly from the local speakers in the neighbourhood and also through an old copy of the New Testament his father possessed that was written in Gaelic. He also imbibed the old stories of local folklore and history from local people that fired his imagination and developed his strong nationalist beliefs.
His lifelong passion was the preservation of the Gaelic Language and in July 1893 he along with Eoin MacNeill, founded the Gaelic League (Connradh na Gaeilge), and he remained its President until his resignation in 1915. He believed that:
‘Wherever Irish is the vernacular of the people there live enshrined in it memories and imaginations, deeds of daring, … an heroic cycle of legend and poem … which contain the very best and truest thoughts … of kings, sages, bards and shanachies of bygone ages. … if we allow one of the finest and the richest languages in Europe, which, fifty years ago, was spoken by nearly four millions of Irishmen, to die out without a struggle, it will be an everlasting disgrace, and a blighting stigma upon our nationality’.
In 1938 he became the first President of Éire and held that Office until he retired in 1945. He died on 12 July 1949 and was given a State Funeral in Dublin before being buried at Frenchpark Cemetery near his family’s old home in County Roscommon.