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Douglas Arnold Hyde was born in Worthing on 8th April 1911. His family moved to Bristol and as a young man he considered joining the Methodist ministry.
In 1928 he heard the Welsh miner, Lewis Jones, speak about his experiences in the General Strike. It was Jones who encouraged him to join the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).
Hyde became a dedicated opponent of injustice. This included the campaign to free the American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. He was a supporter of the Popular Front government during the Spanish Civil War. He later recalled this as "not only the most memorable and personally satisfying but the best part of my life".
In 1938 Hyde moved to Surrey and joined the local Labour Party and it was not long before he was elected to its executive. As he admitted in his autobiography, I Believed: "It was not long before I had got every likely man or woman at executive level into the Communist Party."
In September 1939, Harry Pollitt welcomed the British declaration of war on Nazi Germany. Joseph Stalin was furious with Pollitt's statement as the previous month he had signed the Soviet-Nazi Pact with Adolf Hitler. Pollitt was supported by John R. Campbell and William Gallacher, but Rajani Palme Dutt and William Rust followed the Soviet line. Pollitt was forced to resign as General Secretary and he was replaced by Dutt and Rust took over Campbell's job as editor of the Daily Worker.
Hyde joined the staff of the Daily Worker in 1940. The following year Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, banned the newspaper because it was not giving full support to the government during the Second World War. Hyde now was appointed to run a news agency established by the Communist Party of Great Britain called the Industrial and General Information (IGI), which sold stories to national newspapers.
On 22nd June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The CPGB immediately announced full support for the war effort and Pollitt was reinstated as General Secretary. Herbert Morrison now gave permission for the Daily Worker to be published.
Working under the editor, William Rust, Hyde helped the sales reach 120,000 in 1948. Hyde, the news editor, later recalled: "We would sit in a room, just half a dozen of us, and talk about the political issues of the day." However, it was Rajani Palme Dutt who decided on the newspaper's policy. "When we had all had our say, Dutt would drape his arm over the arm of his chair - he had the longest arms I have ever seen - bang his pipe out on the sole of his shoe, and sum up. Often the summing up was entirely different from the conclusions we were all reaching, but no one ever argued."
In 1949 Hyde resigned from the Communist Party of Great Britain. Two years later he published I Believed (1951), which explained why he now disagreed with the policies of the CPGB. He joined the Catholic Church and started to write for the Catholic Herald.
His friend, Kevin Morgan, pointed out: "Hyde himself, moreover, was by no means a convert to the right. He never accepted the grosser logic of McCarthyism and pointedly omitted in I Believed to name names like those of that Fleet Street lift's fellow-occupants. Spending much of his time in the Third World, initially as a lecturer and roving foreign correspondent, Hyde was as surely roused by the oppression and human suffering he encountered as he had been in his Communist youth."
Hyde eventually left the Catholic Church. He was interviewed by the journalist Francis Beckett who later recalled that he "was alienated from the Catholic faith, had never found there the comradeship and care for the underdog which he had known in the Communist Party, and was much closer to his first faith than to the second."
Douglas Hyde died on 19th September 1996.
"I haven't lived two lives," Hyde wrote shortly before his death. "There has been a continuum which is the most meaningful thing to me." One expression of that continuum was his lifelong passion for William Morris. On breaking with Communism, it was Morris's utopianism and love of beauty that Hyde set against the expediency and cultural blight of Stalinism. Like Morris, he was drawn to the medieval, and his own great love of plainsong and Gothic architecture played a major part in his attraction to Catholicism.
But there was another side to Morris too, of comradeship and struggle, that Hyde came to believe had been more fully realised in the Communist Party. "Fellowship is life," Morris had written, and nowhere had Hyde found such fellowship as among his former party comrades. Beyond that was what Hyde called Morris's sense of moral outrage, an outrage briefly dimmed perhaps on Hyde's first embrace of Catholicism but ultimately proving inextinguishable.
Douglas Hyde's final years were ones of failing health borne with fortitude. More gods than one had failed him, but his courage and optimism never wavered...
In the 1950s he came to lecture at our college for would-be priests. He was hero- worshipped. A modest, unpretentious man, he was never happy on pedestals. Soon we became friends.
It was clear that Douggie's passion was social and economic justice rather than religious orthodoxy. Justice had inspired him as a Communist and it inspired him equally as a Catholic Christian.
It was because he could not swallow the political selectivity of the present Pope, who has so often treated those supposed to be on the Left so harshly, that Douggie moved away from official Catholicism. On his last hospital admission form he listed himself as an "agnostic Christian".
He was never agnostic or indifferent about injury done to others. His courage in spending, voluntarily, two and a half years in Asian prisons working for the release of political detainees was astonishing. Thousands owe their freedom today to the unpublicised work which he undertook, at real risk to his own life.
The hundreds of Christmas and birthday cards balancing on his Wimbledon mantelpiece every year were witness to his many friendships world-wide. Many came from ex-prisoners. Indeed Amnesty International owes its foundation (in 1961) in part to his example.
Literature, music, the wonders of his garden and the iniquities of our government were favourite themes for a man who knew how to speak clearly and to the point. Always his humour bubbled over and his eyes sparkled. Illnesses were brushed aside.
It was a delight to be with him a few years ago at a summer garden party for his birthday. His old comrades respected the way he had followed the star of his own conscience and were there in plenty. Phil Piratin, once one of only two Communist MPs, was at his side when it came to cutting the cake.
Douggie Hyde was an inspiration and one who really did love his neighbour as himself. A prophet as well no doubt, but one who knew how to laugh.
Seeking Douglas Hyde: Ireland&rsquos forgotten patriot
I first heard the name Douglas Hyde in the place where he is still remembered best – his home county of Roscommon. My maternal grandparents lived almost across the road from the Dr Hyde Park, the county’s premier GAA ground, which officially opened in 1971.
As a child, I often kicked a ball in “the Hyde” and if, at first, I imagined that the stadium was named in honour of a great Roscommon footballer of yesteryear, this misunderstanding was quickly corrected. My late grandfather, Jimmy Moran, was one of the brave generation who had fought for our national freedom and he had been an active member of the South Roscommon Brigade of the IRA during the War of Independence. He was also someone who had a deep affection for the Irish language and an enduring respect for the Irish-Ireland ideals of the Gaelic League. My grandfather spoke reverentially about Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland.
My initial interest in the presidency also had a Roscommon connection. The first presidential election in my lifetime took place in 1990. I was a teenager and I found it an enthralling contest. Brian P Lenihan, the Fianna Fáil candidate, was our local TD in Dublin West and he had formerly represented Roscommon. Instinctively, he had our support. As my interest in the presidency deepened, I became aware that the office was a hugely under-researched area in Irish historiography. It is also one of the most misunderstood.
As far back as 1997, Prof Dermot Keogh bemoaned the fact that there is no published history of the presidency. In the intervening years, there have been two biographical studies of former presidents, but both of these studies are largely weighted towards the portion of their respective lives preceding their tenures in Áras an Uachtaráin.
The lack of historical research into the presidency, especially in regard to the office’s early years, has allowed a number of misconceptions to take root. The most significant of these is that the formative presidencies were politically irrelevant. This train of thinking wrongly dismisses the presidency prior to 1990 as “a retirement home”, a largely ceremonial office, and a role far removed from the cut and thrust of political life.
My “search for Hyde”, which I dubbed my long-standing effort to tell the story of Ireland’s first President, was given added impetus by the centenary this year of the Easter Rising.
In the run-up to this significant anniversary, historians were prolific in assessing the momentous actions and the major personalities at the forefront of Ireland’s struggle for nationhood. One figure, however, was largely conspicuous by his absence – Douglas Hyde.
Though Hyde was one of the most consequential of Irishmen, his public career is today given scant attention. This is despite the fact that Hyde had arguably done more than any other individual to shape a distinct Irish identity and to encourage Irish people to regard themselves, in his own words, as a “separate nationality”.
Douglas Hyde railed against any notion that Irish people “ought to be content as an integral part of the United Kingdom because we have lost the notes of nationality, our language and customs” and he sought to “create a strong feeling against West-Britonism”. His cultural proselytising precipitated the political revolution from which Irish sovereignty flowed.
If apathy is, to paraphrase the Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel, a vice worse than anger, then Douglas Hyde’s legacy has been particularly ill-served by Irish historians. In the 67 years since Hyde’s death, only two full-scale biographies of Ireland’s first President have been written. The first biography, written by Janet and Gareth Dunleavy, two American professors of English and comparative literature, was published in 1991. Two years later, a two-volume Irish language biography by Risteárd Ó Glaisne, a teacher and journalist, was launched. In more recent times, Cormac Moore, a leading Irish sports historian, produced a commendable book focusing on the GAA’s scandalous decision to expel Hyde from its ranks. However, the general indifference that Irish historians as a class have shown to Hyde’s career belies the significance of his contribution.
Patrick Pearse, the titular head of the Easter Rising, seemed to intuitively understand the seismic impact that Hyde and the establishment of the Gaelic League would have on the course of Irish separatism. In 1914, Pearse wrote “the Gaelic League will be recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that has ever come into Ireland. The Irish Revolution really began when the seven proto-Gaelic Leaguers met in O’Connell St….The germ of all future Irish history was in that back room.” Ultimately, however, Pearse and Hyde would fall out, as the former embraced militant separatism at the expense, in Hyde’s view, of cultural inclusiveness.
In post-independence Ireland, the writing of Irish history has tended to focus predominantly on those who opted for the militant path in the formative years of 1914 to 1923. Our process of commemoration also seems to have developed almost a hierarchy in the national pantheon with more attention being given to those who took up arms in the cause of Irish freedom than to those who provided the intellectual basis for a separate state. This is not a new phenomenon born out of the understandable emotion generated by the centenary of the Easter Rising.
Official Ireland’s non-recognition of Douglas Hyde’s legacy was an issue that long rankled with his family. As far back as 1972, Hyde’s daughter, Una Sealy remarked in an interview with The Irish Times that “I have often thought if he had killed people he would have been considered great, but because he was such a gentle, refined person, no one bothered about him. He has been ignored for a long time. They left his grave twenty-three years without attending to it.”
Douglas Hyde is an underrated but outstanding figure who was central to Ireland’s emergence from centuries of colonialism. Even today, Hyde’s achievements remain relevant to the life of our independent nation. He preserved for us our vibrant culture and, through his benign presidency, he progressed stability and constitutional order. He deserves more from history than to be a forgotten patriot.
Hyde studied Irish folk tales and songs
Hyde had a happy childhood and enjoyed talking to the local, working people. At the time, about one quarter of the population still spoke Irish but the language was in steep decline.
The more Hyde listened to local speakers and studied their folk tales and songs, the more concerned he became at the thought the language might one day die out.
He began to learn Irish, and started to develop nationalist instincts that were to stay with him all his life.
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We are above and beyond all politics, all parties and all factions offending nobody – except the anti-Irishman.
What we want in Ireland is a National University which will bring students together and educate them upon national lines.
The literary activity of even the eighteenth century among the Gaels was very great. What we want in Ireland is a National University which will bring students together and educate them upon national lines.
Now if we allow our living language to die out, it is almost a certainty that we condemn our literary records to remain in obscurity.
We must put pressure upon our politicians not to snuff out (our living language) by their tacit discouragement merely because they do not happen to understand it.
More on Douglas Hyde
Founder of the Gaelic League
Rivalry between Pádraig Pearse and Douglas Hyde came to a head 100 years ago
One hundred years ago last week, Douglas Hyde resigned from the presidency of Conradh na Gaeilge—a non-governmental organization working to promote the Irish language—a role he had held for twenty-two years.
Douglas Hyde, the academic scholar, son of a Church of Ireland Rector, and later the first President of Ireland, was a leading figure in the Irish language revival of the late 19th and early 20th century.
In 1893, he founded Conradh na Gaeilge (then known by its English name, the Gaelic League) as a non-governmental organization to promote the Irish language in Ireland and worldwide and it quickly became the leading institution promoting the revival.
Pádraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, was also a prominent member of Conradh na Gaeilge in the early 20th century. Pearse joined the organization aged 16 in 1896 and went on to become editor of their newspaper “An Claidheamh Soluis” ("Sword of Light") in 1903 when he was just 23 years old. Under his editorship until 1909, the paper became a prominent force in the Irish Literary Revival.
Despite the incredible work that both men did for the promotion of the language and Irish culture there were times when they did not see eye-to-eye.
After more than two decades at the helm of Conradh na Gaeilge, Hyde decided to resign. He laid out the reasons for his departure in a letter read aloud by Pádraig Ó Dálaigh to attendees of the Ard-Fheis (Conradh’s annual convention) in Dundalk on July 29, 1915.
Please inform the Ard-Fheis that I am greatly saddened by it, but if anyone is kind enough to put my name forward as president again, I must refuse that honour.
The work of years past has afflicted my health, and I think now that the responsibility has become too great for me.
I receive hundreds of thousands of letters from every corner of the world week in week out the whole year long, and as long as I am president of the League I am obliged to answer these letters and examine many issues. And I can say that I never received a letter from anybody from the foundation of the League to which I did not respond.
I had to, as president, go to meetings in every county in Ireland, just about. There are few towns in the country in with I have not spoken in these past twenty two years.
And when I look back at the amount of work which has been done in those twenty two years, I see that it is no less than a miracle, and I am more certain today than ever before that the hand of God was in the work.
I did my very best for our language all the time.
It is not without sorrow and heartbreak that I decided that I could not remain as president of the League anymore. I bid everyone at the Ard-Fheis a fond farewell and I need not say that my heart is and will be in the work of the Irish language as it was from the start and that I will do my very best on her behalf. I apologise to the Ard-Fheis for my absence today.
But it was not just his health that was playing on the president’s mind. For some years prior, a political tension was building within the Conradh between those who wanted the organization to have a clear political vision and those who wanted the Conradh to stay out of politics altogether.
Pádraig Pearse was one of Hyde’s best lieutenants in the Conradh in the years before 1912, but the more Pearse became interested in militant nationalism the greater the schism between them grew.
The 1915 Ard-Fheis met in Halla na Maor gCoill in Dundalk. A resolution was accepted at the Ard-Fheis that political independence would be one of the aims of the Conradh from then on.
“Pearse and Tom Clarke [Tomás Ó Cléirigh, Irish republican and person famed as being the most responsible for the Easter Rising] were central to pushing the League in a militant direction. Hyde did not believe in physical force unless there was no alternative and victory was assured. He had little sympathy for the notion of a blood sacrifice,” Dr Brian Murphy from DIT told Tuairisc.ie, Ireland’s online Irish news service.
Dr Murphy has written a book about the public life of Douglas Hyde, especially his time as President of Ireland, which will be published by Collins Press in 2016.
In 1913, in an essay published in "An Claidheamh Soluis" Pearse directly articulated the case for physical force.
“Whenever Dr Hyde, at a meeting which I have had a chance of speaking after him has produced his dove of peace, I have always been careful to produce my sword and to tantalise him by saying that the Gaelic League has brought in Ireland ‘Not Peace but a Sword’,” wrote Pearse.
“By the time the Ard-Fheis took place in Dundalk, the Irish Republican Brotherhood had heavily infiltrated the Conradh, and they succeeded in passing a series of motions to dilute the non-political status of the League. Hyde resigned in protest,” explained Dr Murphy.
Hyde had no hand, act nor part in the Easter Rising. In the months which followed it, he took no public stance, but he did not support the militant action in which many of those who pushed him from the Conradh had taken part.
Dr Murphy told Tuairisc.ie that “his opinion about the Rising was clear in a letter he sent to John Quinn in America on 12 October 1916, in which he wrote ‘The League had been steered on the rocks by fools’ and that the outlook in Ireland was ‘as black as can be’.”
The mindset of the Irish people regarding the revolutionaries had changed by that stage and by the time the General Election of 1918 came around, the heroes of the Rising were held in great regard by the public.
Hyde supported the First Dáil when it was established in January 1919, but he criticized the War of Independence which started the same year. Once more, he did not believe in the violence perpetrated by both sides nor did he publicly support one side or the other during the debate about the Anglo-Irish Treaty which both ended the War of Independence and started the Civil War. He wrote to Quinn once more, however, and told him that “this Treaty is a measure of freedom.” He was of the opinion that little more could be achieved.
A successor to the presidency of the Conradh was not elected for a while after Hyde’s resignation in July 1915. The Ard-Fheis decided to leave the position vacant in the hope that Hyde would return to the role before long.
An editorial written in An Claidheamh Soluis a week after Douglas Hyde’s resignation claimed that the organization's founder needed a rest, but there was hope the he would return to his presidential responsibilities.
“His health has been a worry to him for a considerable time, and there is no doubt whatever that the work of the League has been too exacting on him. He requires a rest from excessive work and controversy. He may be with us again before very long. In the meantime let us take up again with high spirits and courage the work of teaching and organization and let An Craoibhín’s counsel to keep the League out of party warfare be ever before our mind,” wrote the editor in the Claidheamh Soluis published on August 7, 1915.
In the end, Eoin Mac Néill reluctantly accepted the role of president. Of course, it was Mac Néill who tried to stop the Rising at the start of Easter Week 1916.
Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh was made General-Secretary during the same Ard-Fheis. Ó Ceallaigh would later succeed Douglas Hyde as President of Ireland in 1945. Although the First and Second Presidents of Ireland fell out with one another during the quarrel over the political neutrality of the Conradh, they made up in the thirties.
“Unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened between Pearse and Hyde had Pearse survived the events of Easter 1916, or indeed had the Rising been successful. Unlike Ó Ceallaigh, Hyde never got the chance to extend the hand of friendship to Pearse,” said Dr Brian Murphy.
Doug Hyde Biography
Of Native American descent, Doug Hyde was born in Hermiston, Oregon, in 1946. The lore of his Nez Perce, Assiniboine, and Chippewa ancestry came to him from his grandfather and other elders who carefully instructed Doug Hyde through legends of animal characters the morals of his people as well as the ways of Mother Earth and the creation of man.
Doug Hyde attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during which time he enjoyed the tutelage and friendship of the late renowned Apache sculptor, Allan Houser. In 1967 Doug Hyde attended the San Francisco Art Institute on scholarship for a time before enlisting in the U.S. Army. During his second tour of duty in Viet Nam, a grenade seriously wounded Doug Hyde. During his recuperation he learned the use of power tools in the cutting and shaping of stone while working in a friend's tombstone business, all the while continuing his art education and sculpting at night. Finally Doug Hyde entered some of his sculpture for a show sponsored by the Northern Plains Indian Museum in Browning, Montana. When his work sold out, Doug Hyde realized that he was now ready to make his mark and that Santa Fe was to be his base of operations.
Returning to Santa Fe in 1972 to teach at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Doug Hyde brought with him experience and knowledge as well as a desire to learn all he could about other native cultures. The following year he left the institute to devote himself full-time to sculpting. Doug Hyde's works sculptured in bronze or stone, often in monumental size, frequently represent the stories told to him during his youth or portray more historical events. What is of great importance to him is that they are accurate representations of their subject matter, and that process only occurs "when I can visualize the finished sculpture in my mind."
Doug Hyde has remained a resident of Santa Fe since 1972. His works may be viewed in the collections of the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Heard Museum, Museum of the Southwest, Southwest Museum, Gilcrease Museum, Eitelborg Museum, and the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center among others. In 1990 the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, provided Doug Hyde with a retrospective exhibit of his work.
First President of Ireland – Douglas Hyde
‘We need not claim that in quantity and quality of achievement he was great as a writer but we surely can say that he did write well, that he did help others to write greatly – that he did help Irish letters, in all its branches, to be native, continuous, rooted, branching and fruitful.’
Robert Farren, ‘Douglas Hyde the Writer’, in Irish Press (14 July 1949) [obituary notice on the day following his death]
A boy, transplanted to Roscommon soil – in an alien garden he not only put down firm roots, but proceeded to flourish and bloom like no other before him, to cross pollinate thoughts and ideas that would wake and revive the native life, all the while respecting, caring for and nurturing the fields and gardens which surrounded him – Douglas Hyde.
Born by accident in County Roscommon, on 17th January 1860 while his mother, Elizabeth, was on a short visit to Longford House, in Castlerea. Raised in his father’s Church of Ireland rectory in County Sligo, Hyde didn’t return to Roscommon until he was 7 years old. His father, Arthur, was appointed Rector and Prebendary (a type of Canon) of Tibohine, and the family moved to the village of Frenchpark in 1867.
There were 4 brothers, but the youngest, Douglas, was educated at home due to illness, by his father and his aunt. At the time, Irish people were still suffering the after effects of the extreme poverty and denigration of the Big Famine. An Gorta Mór, ‘the Great Hunger’, took about a million people in death, and approximately another million in emigration. That was about 25% of our population. And the anger that remained! The loss and grief were terrible, but the anger and frustration felt by the Irish people equaled, and even surpassed it – to know that there was plenty of food all along, grown on our land, with our labour, and leaving our country to grace the tables of Landlords and their class, while our children starved to death.
The Irish ‘peasantry’ were suffering and struggling still by the time Hyde was born, to a county that was among the worst affected. His family were well off, of a higher class, and it would have been unseemly for their child to mingle with the peasantry.
But mingle he did. In particular, he was fascinated by listening to the older people in the community speaking the Roscommon Gaeilge dialect. He became friends with an old Gilly on his father’s estate, a gamekeeper by the name of Seamus Hart. The job title ‘Gilly’, by the way, comes from the old Irish term Giolla, meaning servant or slave. The Irish language was deemed coarse, backward, savage – old-fashioned, at best. It had been made shameful to speak it, to teach it to your children. Parents were convinced that their children would never, ever, get anywhere, progress at all in life unless they could speak with a proper English tongue. But to the young Douglas Hyde, the language was lyrical, eternally pleasant to listen to, witty and wise and unendingly beautiful. He fell in love with the Irish language, and began to study it of his own accord.
The boy would roam the estates, and the countryside, listening to the stories, exploring the ancient places, talking to the older people in their own tongue. Learning. He loved the legends of Rathcroghan, home of Queen Meadbh (Maeve) and Gaelic royalty for over 2000 years. He carved his name in Uaimh na gCait, the Cave of the Cats – fabled entrance to the Irish Otherworld. He was devastated when Seamus Hart died, 7 years later, when Hyde was just 14. He flagged a bit, stopping his studies of the language and the culture, but his interest and passion began to rally when over the course of a few visits to Dublin he discovered there were others like him groups of people who wanted to preserve and speak the Irish language, to whom it was just as important and wonderful as he found it to be.
Hyde rejected family pressure to follow their traditional career in the Church, and instead went to Trinity College, Dublin, where his flair for languages continued into fluency in French, German, Latin, Hebrew and Greek.
At the age of 20 (1880), he joined the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language, and published over a hundred pieces of Irish language poetry under his pen name An Craoibhín Aoibhinn, ‘the Pleasant Little Branch’. The Irish Language movement was viewed as eccentric at first, the province of bored academics looking for novel ways to spend their time.
But it gained respect, and a huge following, steadily in the years to follow. Hyde was a huge influence on this, helping to establish the Gaelic Journal in 1892, and speaking publicly on topics such as “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland”, where he said:
But the Irish language is worth knowing, or why would the greatest philologists of Germany, France, and Italy be emulously studying it, and it does possess a literature, or why would a German savant have made the calculation that the books written in Irish between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, and still extant, would fill a thousand octavo volumes…
We must arouse some spark of patriotic inspiration among the peasantry who still use the language, and put an end to the shameful state of feeling — a thousand-tongued reproach to our leaders and statesmen — which makes young men and women blush and hang their heads when overheard speaking their own language…
To a person taking a bird’s eye view of the situation a hundred or five hundred years hence, believe me, it will also appear of greater importance than any mere temporary wrangle, but, unhappily, our countrymen cannot be brought to see this…
We must teach ourselves to be less sensitive, we must teach ourselves not to be ashamed of ourselves, because the Gaelic people can never produce its best before the world as long as it remains tied to the apron-strings of another race and another island, waiting for it to move before it will venture to take any step itself…
I appeal to everyone whatever his politics — for this is no political matter — to do his best to help the Irish race to develop in future upon Irish lines, even at the risk of encouraging national aspirations, because upon Irish lines alone can the Irish race once more become what it was of yore — one of the most original, artistic, literary, and charming peoples of Europe.
The following year, the same in which he married a German lady by the name of Lucy Cometina Kurtz (1893), Douglas Hyde helped found the ‘Gaelic League’, Conradh na Gaedhilge, to preserve and promote Irish culture and language. Contrary to other organisations of the time, Conradh na Gaedhilge accepted women as full members right from the start, and did not assign them to subordinate roles. Many notable women, such as Lady Esmonde, Lady Gregory, and Mary Spring Rice, played an active part in establishment of the League, and in leadership roles in their local communities. At the 1906 annual convention, out of 45 executive roles, 7 were filled by women. Hyde resigned in 1915, when the League formally committed to the Nationalist political movement, as he felt that the culture and importance of our language should be above politics. His influence though, was huge, as many of the prominent Irish leaders (such as Earnest Blythe, Pádraig Pearse, Éamon De Valera, and Michael Collins) first became educated and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement with Conradh na Gaedhilge.
It seems he tried his best to stay out of politics, and returned to the life of academia. He did get sucked in briefly, accepting a nomination to Seanad Eireann, the Irish Senate, after the creation of the new Irish state. But things got messy in 1925, and a Catholic smear campaign caused the loss of his electoral seat, so he settled in to be Professor of Irish at UCD (University College Dublin), instead. In 1938 though, then Taoiseach (Irish political leader) Éamon de Valera, re-appointed him to the Seanad. From here he was nominated and elected uncontested to the position of An tÚachataráin, first President of the Irish Republic, on 26th June 1938. Although the President could choose either English or Irish in which to recite the Presidential Declaration of Office, Hyde set the precedent by (unsurprisingly) declaring in his chosen native tongue. His speech, the first ever recitation of the Irish Republic’s President, is one of the few remaining recordings of the now lost Roscommon dialect in which he was fluent.
He was a very popular president, cultivating friendship with many world leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and the English King George V, but due to ill health decided not to run for a second term, leaving office on 25th June 1945. He never returned to Roscommon, his wife having died early in his presidential term, but moved to a residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, the President’s Residence in the Phoenix Park, Dublin where he died quietly on 12th July 1949, at the age of 89. Douglas Hyde is buried with his family at Portahard Church, which is now the Douglas Hyde Museum, beside the Main N5 road between Tulsk and Frenchpark, in County Roscommon.
The Irish Poet and Writer W.B. Yeats had this to say on Douglas Hyde:
‘He had much frequented the company of old countrymen, and had so acquired the Irish language, and his taste for snuff, and for moderate quantities of a detestable species of illegal whiskey distilled from the potato by certain of his neighbours’…
‘the cajoler of crowds, and of individual men and women … and for certain years young Irish women were to display his pseudonym Craoibhin Aoibhin in gilt letters upon their hat-bands’.
‘The man most important for the future was certainly Dr Douglas Hyde. I had found a publisher while still in London for his Beside the Fire and his Love Songs of Connacht and it was the first literary use of the English dialect of the Connacht country people that had aroused my imagination for those books. His faculty was by nature narrative and lyrical, and at our committees […] he gave me an impression of timidity or confusion. His perpetual association with peasants, whose songs and stories he took down in their cottages from early childhood when he learned Irish from an old man on a kitchen floor, had given him. Though a strong man, that cunning that is the strength of the weak. He was always diplomatising, evading as far as he could prominent positions and the familiarity of his fellows that he might escape jealousy and detraction. […] He never spoke his real thought […] for his mind moved among pictures, itself indeed a premise but never an argument. In later years the necessities of Gaelic politics destroyed his sense of style and undermined his instinct for himself. He ceased to write in that delicate, emotional dialect of the people, and wrote and spoke, when he spoke in public, from coarse reasoning’.
He said Hyde ‘wrote out of imitative sympathy’ he was to create a popular movement (the Gaelic League) but Yeats nonetheless mourned for ‘the greatest folklorist who ever lived’… ‘his style is perfect – so sincere and simple – so little literary’.
Tag: douglas hyde
2018 marks 125 years since Conradh na Gaeilge (or the Gaelic League) was set up, marking the birth of the Irish language revival (in 1893). In the previous 300 hundred years, but largely in the 50 years since the Great Irish Famine, English had long surpassed Irish as the main language spoken on the island. Yet, the 2016 census revealed that around 37% percent of the population can speak Irish (up from 16% in 1901), so certainly, things have changed in the 125 years since Conradh na Gaeilge was founded. But where did the Irish language originate, and for how long was it prevalent in Ireland?
From the first settlers to the Celts (circa 8000-1500BC) : Archaeology can trace human settlement in Ireland back to at least 8000 years before Christ (that’s 10,000 years ago!). The origin of the first Irish settlers is hotly disputed, but the most accepted view is that they originated in modern-day Spain, on the Iberian peninsula. Without any written evidence however, linguists can only rely on the modern Irish language itself for clues as to what languages it replaced. It’s been suggested that perhaps the early settlers spoke a language similar to that spoken in North Africa, but we aren’t sure what exactly they spoke. These pre-Celtic languages are thought to have some influence on what is now called the Irish language.
Common Celtic (500BC-1500 BC approx) : Around 2-3,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, Irish developed from a dialect brought to the island by the Celts. The Celts originated in central Europe, but seeing as Ireland was invaded many times in that period, we can’t be sure exactly when they arrived with their language.. What’s known, however, is that the Celts eventually succeeded in conquering the country and their language became widespread through it. The first mention of the word ‘Gaelic’ came from the Welsh, by Christian times the language was prevalent not just in Ireland, but also on the Isle of Mann (Mannish), the south-west of England (Cornish) and Scotland (Scots Gaelic).
Old-Irish (500-900 AD) : The first real examples we have of the Irish language written down are from the remains of Ogham stones from around 1,500 years ago. The Irish language is the earliest known vernacular language written north of the Alps. Ogham consisted of various strokes and dots representing letters, and was usually inscribed on upright stones. Believed to have largely been memorials dedicated to warriors, hundreds of these still survive in Ireland today.
Christianity arrived in Ireland in the 5th century, and in the succeeding years, Irish scribes would annotate Latin scripts with Old Irish. It’s from these ‘glosses’ that we known most about Old Irish.
Middle-Irish (900-1200 AD) : Ireland was invaded many times in 900-1300 AD period, firstly by the Vikings, and later by the Anglo-Normans. It’s during the 900-1200 period that some Scandinavian words began to be adopted by the Irish language, and are still in use today. Words such ‘pingin’ (penny) and ‘margadh’ (market) and a number of nautical terms used in Irish today are believed to have originated with the Norse. But the syntax of the Irish language was largely unchanged by the Vikings.
Early Modern / Classical Modern Irish (1200-1600 AD) : The Normans arrived in Ireland around 1169 and a started a period of multilingualism in Ireland. The vast majority of the Normans spoke French, but gradually, began to speak Irish as their main language, and it was to remain the main language of the country for a few hundred years. However there is significant evidence today of the French influence on Irish. Words such as cóta (coat/cloak), gáirdín (garden), seomra (room, chamber) and séípéal (chapel) are all words that are understood to have their roots in the Norman language. Additionally, the language itself went through many changes during the period 1200-1600, with many dialects emerging.
But although Irish was the most common language spoken by the ordinary people, it was during this period of English administration that English became more widespread, as it was necessary for administrative and legal affairs.
1600-present : Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish continued as the language of the greater part of the rural population, particularly in the West of Ireland. However English became the predominant language among the more prosperous members of the Irish-speaking community, and this increased greatly in the 19th century due a number of factors: after the Great Famine of the 1840s – English was adopted to prepare children for emigration to England, America and Australia in later life. The National Schools system, the first state system of primary education, was introduced in the 1830s, but one of it’s main aims was to teach Irish to children. Children wore a “tally stick” (the “bata scoir”) in the classroom, and a notch was carved into the stick if they spoke Irish. At the end of the day, they would be punished if they had notches carved on their tally stick.
And so, by the late 1900s, the Irish language was almost extinct. The 1901 census revealed that only around 16% of the population could speak Irish. With this in mind, some scholars became interested in preserving and reviving the language, and this was something that was to tie in greatly with the Irish Independence movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. A sort of renaissance of the Irish language ensued. Organisations such as the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (1876) advocated the need for the Irish language to be taught in schools. And as noted above, in 1893 Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) was established to gather support or the resurgence of the language and to bring written and spoken Irish in line with each other.
The Official Standard (Caighdáin) Gaeilge was declared by the government in 1958. In 2016, 1.76 million people stated on the census that they could speak Irish , amounting to around 37% of the population. A sharp rise from 16% in 1901! And with more and more Irish language festivals taking place across the country from Belfast to Carlow to Donegal , with ‘meet-up’ groups such as Pop-Up Gaeltacht gathering ever more numbers, will Irish become a mainstream language once more?
'Why Keep Irish Alive?' Douglas Hyde Responds, Takes Action
I t is well known that Douglas Hyde (January 17, 1860-July 12, 1949) was the first president of the Irish Republic. What may not be as well known is that he was a fluent speaker of the Irish language, a wonderful poet and an avid collector of Irish folklore. He fiercely objected to the ongoing "Anglicising" of Ireland ("The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland" by Douglas Hyde). By this he meant that though the majority of Irish people objected to the presence of English soldiers and administrators occupying their country, "we were [hypocritically] following them in our dress, literature, music, games and ideas. We will become a nation of imitators."
Hyde’s goals were to counteract these developments. In many ways, he became the conscience of the Irish people, encouraging them to take pride in their own nationhood, speak and write in their own language and cherish their own stories and folklore.
Known as " An Craoibhin Aoibhinn " ("The Pleasant Little Branch"), Douglas Hyde was born in Castlerea, County Roscommon. His father was a Church of Ireland rector who chose to home school his children. In his youth, Douglas became fascinated hearing the old people speaking the Irish language. Eventually, he visited Dublin and discovered there were groups of people like himself who had a great interest in learning Irish, a language at the time that was seen by many as "backward" and "old fashioned." (Wikipedia)
Eventually, Hyde entered Trinity College and became fluent in Irish, French, Latin, German, Greek and Hebrew. ("Douglas Hyde: A Maker of Modern Ireland" by Janet Egleson and Gareth Dunleavy ) His passion for the Irish language and its preservation led him to found Conradh na Gaedhilge (The Gaelic League) in 1893, whose goals were to encourage the preservation of Irish culture, its music, dances and language.
In time, Douglas began to write his own poetry and to collect Irish folklore. Especially, he was determined to rescue the oral tradition that had been lost during the Famine. "Lost forever with corpses in the grave-pits of the famine years . were the poems, tales, proverbs, prayers and songs of the oral tradition." ("Douglas Hyde" by Gareth Dunleavy ) Dunleavy goes on to say that it is not as astonishing that Hyde was able to recover so much of the oral tradition, but rather that he was able find any remnant of it by 1880. He made it a personal crusade to find people who knew the stories, listened to them and wrote them down.
In 1889, Douglas published his first book of folktales, titled Leabhar Sgealaigheachta ( Book of Stories ). It contained 20 stories "collected from countrymen and women in their 60s and 70s, who had miraculously lived through 1846-47."
Right, a young Douglas Hyde
No one can tell us the genesis of it, (folklore telling tradition) no one can consciously present its inception. It is in many ways a mystery, part of the flotsam and jetsam of the ages still beating feebly against the shores of the 19th century . still surviving on the Western coasts of Ireland where I gathered some of the bundles of it. . (Hyde quoted in Dunleavy’s book)
In six "Notes" appended to the Gaelic text of these stories, Hyde rebutted those who dismissively asked, "Why keep Irish alive?" His answer was that if the Irish language died, its literature would go into oblivion and that it deserved better. English is the language of "strangers" but Irish spawned a literature rich in legends, poems and proverbs.
Hyde also explained that rather than give a "pure" (corrected) text or transcription, he wrote down the stories as told to him with spelling unchanged and correcting only errors in grammar and inflection, occasionally substituting a word when necessary.
Hyde’s next collection, Beside the Fire (1890), presented 15 folktales in the Irish language. This time, he provided "facing pages" of Irish and his own English translations, thinking that if the stories were to be translated (which they would be), this should be done accurately. He dedicated it to "those truly cultured and unselfish men, the poet-scribes and hedgemasters of the last century and the beginning of this . men who may well be called the last of the Milesians. . " (Egleson and Dunleavy)
In his translation for these tales, Hyde observed how English and Irish are opposed to one another in "spirit and idiom . and how consequently he found translation to be hard." He points out that the English spoken by three-quarters of the Irish people was influenced heavily by the Irish idiom that was the language of the speaker’s father, grandfather, or great grandfather. He also explains that he did not always translate the Irish idioms literally. He did not translate, for example, the Irish for "he died" as "he got death," since this literal translation was not adopted into Anglo-Irish. He did, however, translate the Irish " ghnidheadh se sin " as "he used to do that," which is an Anglo-Irish effort to construct a consuetudinal (established custom or usage) tense missing in English. Hyde avoided the pluperfect tense since it did not exist in the Irish language. ( The Young Douglas Hyde by Dominic Daly)
Many of these tales take place in a magical or fairy world. In the story, "The Tailor and the Three Beasts," Hyde found episodes that reminded him of the tales of Jack the Giant Killer, possibly from an English source. He took note of the tale’s nonsense ending: "The tailor and his wife came home to Galway. They gave me paper stockings and shoes of thick milk. I lost them since." (Dunleavy) Such an ending is prevalent in other cultural traditions, especially the Slavic stories.
Another example is "Paddyeen O’Kelly and the Weasel." His teller was John Cunningham from Roscommon, a man with 70 and 80 years, who was illiterate. The story is set in the fairy world of the king and queen of Connacht. The fairy hurling team wins a big match played on Moytura (site of first recorded battle in the ancient Celtic world) and Paddyeen is given a purse of gold by the fairy king. ( The Encylopedia of Celtic Myth and Legend by John and Caitlin Matthews)
In "Trunk Without Head," Hyde picked out an utterance by one of the characters: "You are a valiant man and it stood you upon to be so or you would be dead." In translation: "It was well for yourself it was so." Hyde adds that this Elizabethan idiom was a frequent occurrence in Connacht "either filtering its way across the island from the Pale or else being picked up by the people from the English peasantry with whom they have to associate when they go over to England to reap the harvest." (Matthews)
Hyde concluded Beside the Fire with extensive notes on the Irish text, giving "variant spellings and pronunciations for the same words in Connacht and other provinces." (Dunleavy)
In Love Songs of Connacht (1893), Hyde tested his skills as a poet and translator of Irish verse. He offered these poems from one province thinking they might be useful "to foreign philologists ignorant of the Irish idiom and to his contemporaries in Ireland who may have wished to learn the native language." He mentions that in some of the verses he tried to reproduce the vowel rhythms and the exact meters of the originals.
Many of the "Love Songs" are by Irish country women "whose directness of expression reveals their capacity for love and simultaneously their frustration with custom, tradition, poverty and the matchmaking game that often defeated them." (Dunleavy)
Right, "A Connemara Girl," by Augustus Burke, The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 1865
I denounce love woe is she who gave it
To the son of yon woman who never understood it
My heart is in my middle, sure he has left it black
And I do not see him on the street or in any place
("If I were to go West")
From Biddy Crimmy, who lived in a log cabin near Frenchpark, County Roscommon. Hyde recorded the following verse in 1877, titled " Mo Bhron ar an Bhfairrge " ("My Grief on the Sea"):
My grief on the sea
How the waves of it roll
For they heave between me
And the love of my soul
In 1901, Hyde published a collection of 33 of his own poems that had appeared in weekly newspapers in Ubhla De’n Craoibh (Apples of the Branch ). In the preface, he wrote, "I would like to make even one good verse in the language in which I am now writing than to make a whole verse in English." Several of the poems in this collection were odes written for the Gaelic League and others were ballads dealing with "emigration, exile and death." Lady Gregory, with whom Hyde worked very closely, was "deeply impressed with these poems." (Yeats and Lady Gregory, Trina's Place)
There are three fine devils eating my heart
They left me my grief! without a thing.
Poverty left me without a shirt
Sickness left me with my head weak
And my body miserable, an ugly thing
Love left me like a coal upon the floor
Like a half burned sod that is never put out
("Three Fine Devils")
In his Religious Songs of Connacht (1906), Hyde printed close to 250 poems, stories, prayers, charms, blessings and curses that he had begun collecting 20 years earlier. He assured his readers that a majority of these had been taken down as they came from the mouths of the people:
The will of God be done by us
The law of God be kept by us
Our evil will controlled by us
Our tongue in cheek be held by us
Christ’s passion understood by us
("Morning Prayer" from Connemara)
Hyde collected, translated and published other volumes of Irish folklore and history. Among these are Three Sorrows of Storytelling , A Literary History of Ireland, Medieval Tales from the Irish and a one-act play in Irish, Casadh and t-Sugain ( The Twisting Rope ).
Pictured, Hyde in 1943, with Eamon de Valera to the right. Hyde was confined to a wheelchair following a stroke in 1940.
Douglas Hyde’s achievements can, according to Gareth Dunleavy, be exemplified in his poem "Raftery":
I am Raftery the Poet
Full of Hope and Love
With eyes that have no light
With gentleness that has no misery.
Going west upon my pilgrimage
By the light of my heart
Feeble and tired
To the end of my road.
Behold me now
And my face to a wall
And playing music
Unto empty pockets.
Dunleavy emphasized that this poem is a "triumph so complete that no one today knows with certainty whether it is the work of a blind Galway poet or a Protestant rector’s son from County Roscommon."
Hyde left the office of president on June 25, 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. He did not return to his home in Roscommon but moved into a residence on the grounds of Aras an Uachtarian in Dublin. Here he lived out the remaining four years of his life and died quietly on July 12, 1949. He was 89 years of age.
As we saw in the beginning of this article, Douglas Hyde had strong objections to the "Anglicising" of Ireland." At the conclusion of his talk, "The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland" to the Irish Literary Society in 1892, he calls upon every Irish person, whether Unionist or Nationalist "who wishes to see the Irish nation produce its best . to set his face against this constant running to England for our books, literature, music, games, fashions and ideas . and to become one of the most original, artistic, literary and charming peoples of Europe."
This call seems to beg the question: What would have happened had the Irish people, in defiance, held on to their native language, refusing to use any English idiom at all. An interesting "what if" for a future essay!!
[This article was first published in The Hedgemaster, newsletter of the Irish Cultural Society of Garden City.]
The man behind the moustache: meet the real Douglas Hyde
When you hear the name Douglas Hyde, who comes to mind? Ireland&rsquos first President? Wasn't he the driving force behind the Gaelic League, giving us back our heritage and language? Perhaps the academics might know him as the renowned Professor of Modern Irish at University College Dublin from 1909 to 1932. Those who tread the boards might think of him as one of the "it" crowd back in the day, who excitedly socialised with W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.
Yes, Hyde was all of the above. He was a leading figure in the Gaelic revival, no mean feat for a well to do Protestant who learned his Irish from the local workers in Tibohine, Co Roscommon, and he was our first president. But what I find even more intriguing about this strange and complex man was what made him tick.
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From RTÉ Archives, a radio clip of Douglas Hyde's speech at Dublin Castle on the occasion of his inauguration as first President of Ireland in June 1938
If I had to choose an animal to represent Hyde, it would be a chameleon. He was a shrewd character capable of adapting to any situation. He could socialise with ease with the Anglo-Irish aristocrats at Coole Park or just as easily mingle with the local workers and native Irish speakers in Tibohine. This social chameleon would even change his outfits to ensure that he blended in as one of crowd. He was sure to tog out in a three-piece suit amongst the aristocrats, but working garb amongst the local grafters.
It was this uncanny ability to adapt to social situations and the ability of putting at ease whomever was in his company that propelled Hyde&rsquos profile onwards and upwards. The tweed-wearing professor, a voracious reader, was a bit of a social butterfly, but not solely for personal gain. He had a profound understanding of the importance of and an interest in the concept of community and was simply drawn towards others and good conversation.
This is reflected in his diaries where he documents many social outings. Hyde lectured far and wide, including in New Brunswick, Canada, where he recorded in 1891 how he would stay out till the wee hours of the morning socialising with fellow academics and friends. Yet he also managed to collect Milicete tales from the Native Americans, where he equally felt at home regaling them with stories and listening to theirs.
His friendly nature and sociable curiosity made him a sought after guest at any function. Behind the jovial nature however, was a pragmatic, astute man who listened to and acted on good advice wisely. When writing his autobiography Mo Thuras go hAmerice (My American Tour, 1937), he was discretely advised to conveniently omit tales of socialising and drinking Australian wine at his home in Ratra House, Co Roscommon. Hyde swiftly obliged, knowing full well that "those kinds of shenanigans" wouldn't be admired by the purists of the time.
Cover of Mo Thuras go hAmerice (1937)
Liam Mac Mathúna and I visited Michael Carty (1918-2019), a gentleman from Tibohine who personally knew Hyde when he was a child. During Carty's recollections, the image that struck me most was his description of Hyde&rsquos moustache. "Hyde had the biggest mustache of them all."
Hyde had a presence and you knew when he entered a room. On his passport it states that he was 5ft 10 inches in height, though Carty&rsquos description of Hyde highlights his immense aura. He was larger than life with a magnetic aura, whose features stayed in your memory long after meeting him. "Douglas Hyde was a very big tall man about 6 ft. 4 inches", remembered Carty. "He always wore tweed suits and plus fours and long grey stockings and brown shoes about size 11".
When Hyde retired from lecturing in UCD, the students didn&rsquot take it lightly, chanting "we want Dougie, we want Dougie." No average lecturer, Hyde captivated his students and was known to act out dramas in the lecture theatre. Hands-on learning and animated experiences were at the core of his lecturing style and ethos. The chameleon adjusted his persona whenever necessary, from full on snowball fights with students in Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, to drinking mint juleps in Washington and even elegantly dining twice at the White House.
Postcard from Douglas Hyde to his daughters. Courtesy of the Aidan Heavey Collection, Athlone (Westmeath County Library Service)
Behind the impressively preened moustache, there was a want and "grá" in Hyde for an Irish Ireland. Hyde, you could say, embodied the IDA long before its establishment in 1949. On his 1905/06 American tour for the Gaelic League, he was on a fundraising and an awareness-raising mission that he took very seriously. During the eight months he spent in America, he clocked up 50 cities and 12 university campuses, along with two invites to lunch in the White House with Theodore Roosevelt. His endeavours yielded a staggering $50,000, big bucks at the time and the equivalent of more than a million dollars today.
Behind the formidable public persona however, Hyde was also a father. His daughters Nuala and Úna were only 10 and eight years of age when their parents departed for North America for nearly eight months. Their father sent his girls postcards from every city. Imagine being a little girl in Roscommon at the start of the 20th century and receiving a postcard from your daddy saying he was having dinner with the president of the United States!
Hyde was a playful father with a cracking sense of humour whose lively spirit trickles through in the postcards to his daughters, e.g. when he says "nach deas an capall é seo" ("isn&rsquot this a nice horse?") about an ostrich. Hyde also had a beloved cockatoo at home called Polly. The postcards to his daughters are full of fond references to dear Polly and Hyde asks the girls to give Polly a kiss from him in his absence.
Postcard from Douglas Hyde to his daughters. Courtesy of the Aidan Heavey Collection, Athlone (Westmeath County Library Service)
Hyde&rsquos cheeky nature, comedic quality and jovial wit was undoubtedly passed onto the next generation of Hydes. Thanks to the generosity of Hyde&rsquos grandson Douglas Sealy (1929-2013), we saw evidence of this in a treasure chest of his grandfather&rsquos documents. In a Book of Limericks written by Nuala and illustrated by Úna around 1912, the same dark mischievous humour peeped out, indicating that the apple didn&rsquot fall far from the tree in the Hyde family.
There is no doubt that Hyde was an academic, but it was his social and emotional intelligence along with his creative personality that allowed him to flourish on his journey to becoming Ireland's first President. Celebrated cartoonist Isa MacNie's The Celebrity ZOO (1925) illustrates how many at the time were curious about the man behind the moustache. MacNie depicts Hyde as a walrus, marine mammals known for being sociable and rather entertaining. There is indeed a strangely stark resemblance between the walrus and the man behind the moustache.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ