In and Out of Public Life
The facts had been confirmed: John MacNeill had indeed stated when he was arrested that although he had opposed the insurrection of April 24 he accepted responsibility for what had happened and wished to share the fate of the others who had been arrested. Fortunately the judges did not accept his request. On May 24 MacNeill was given a life sentence in Dartmoor Prison. Cautiously his friends began discussing how they might gather support for an appeal. It was clear that the British policy of swift and harsh punishment had been purposely chosen as a deterrent to others contemplating rebellion. The government did not swerve from its resolve even in the face of shocked and outraged protests from all over the world. The Casement trial was still pending, the evidence against him too strong for observes to expect anything but another highly publicized execution, for he had been involved in attempts to obtain German arms for the Volunteers and he had been seized on the coast of Kerry, on Banna strand, after having made the trip from Germany in a German submarine. His defenders insisted that he had returned to Ireland for the purpose of urging his confederates to cancel plans for the Rising; his accusers declared that he had been caught in the midst of a botched attempt to smuggle arms. It was not a good time, Hyde and other friends agreed, to draw attention to MacNeill. Hyde therefore concentrated for the moment on making sure that MacNeill was adequately fed and reasonably comfortable and that he had books and papers with which to occupy himself.
Meanwhile, the academic term over, Lucy was making arrangements
for their return to Ratra for the summer holidays. Hyde gathered up what he needed to continue work on the Gilbert catalog and the translation of "The Conquests of Charlemagne." Before he left Earlsfort Place he had a talk with Diarmid Coffey, son of his friend and neighbor George Coffey. Diarmid had proposed that he write a biography of Hyde. Upon reviewing young Coffey's background, Hyde had consented. He was an Irish speaker. He had taken part in the Kilcoole gun-running of July 1914. In 1914–1915 he had served as secretary to the inspector general of the Irish Volunteers. He therefore could be counted on, Hyde thought, to appreciate Hyde's commitment to the language and to understand his unwillingness to narrow the membership of the Gaelic League to those committed to physical force. Hyde promised to provide him with letters and documents and to make himself available also whenever he was needed for interviews.
Six weeks later, settled at Ratra, Hyde began circulating a statement on MacNeill's behalf. On July 22 he wrote to Shane Leslie in America. MacNeill, he declared, had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. He never had contemplated armed rebellion; in fact, had he not countermanded the orders of others, the insurrection would have been more extensive: "the fire would have spread all over the north and west." Hyde enclosed a copy of a petition, "to be signed only by a dozen scholars of eminence," which he asked Leslie not to publicize as "nothing could be more injudicious than a monster or public petition." He made similar requests of trusted friends in Ireland.
On August 3 Roger Casement was hanged in London, in Pentonville Gaol. He died in the tradition of Irish martyrs, calmly and with dignity, following an eloquent speech from the dock. Petitions seeking clemency had been ignored. Many had come from abroad. Public indignation increased. Unable to save Casement, men like John Quinn of New York, who had actively sought his release, were quick to respond to petitions for MacNeill. Hyde redoubled his efforts on MacNeill's behalf.
On September 5 Nuala Hyde suffered a hemorrhage. The diagnosis was tuberculosis; the prognosis was poor; the progress of the disease was rapid and devastating. Lucy and Hyde watched helplessly as day after day their once vivacious and beautiful daughter fought for breath. For Hyde all the horror of his boyhood when he had watched for months the suffering of his brother Arthur returned. Mercifully, Nuala's struggle was not so long. By September 30—at the age of twenty-two—she was dead. In notes to friends Hyde spoke understandingly of Lucy's great sorrow. What he did not speak of was his own. Poised, articulate,
and gregarious, Nuala had been the daughter most like himself. To Quinn he wrote of how attractive and popular she had been. He had thought that one day he would give her to some young man who would escort her from the altar. Instead, escorted in the Irish tradition by twenty-four unmarried young men, her coffin was carried out of the little church in Portahard and into the graveyard where his father and mother already lay buried.
Hyde had written Shane Leslie that he had obtained all the names he needed on his Irish petition on behalf of John MacNeill. Rumor had it that Lord Wimbourne would be sympathetic. Hyde intended to make the presentation himself. He urged that an American petition, differently phrased, be sent at once. He knew that John Quinn would sign it; he asked if Shane Leslie had identified others. To MacNeill's family Hyde emphasized the importance of encouraging him, as a condition of his release, to agree to refrain from politics for the duration of the war. The petitions were submitted but MacNeill remained in Dartmoor. "What a dreadful year this has been, both public and private," Hyde wrote to Lady Gregory in December 1916. "Ireland seems in a hopeless muddle. So does everything, the Gaelic League included." To Quinn he wrote that the league, "which should be reaping golden harvests in the bankruptcy of politics, has been steered on the rocks by fools." As for Home Rule, it appeared as "dead as a herring." The general outlook was "as bleak as could be."
In April 1917 Hyde cautiously considered applying for amnesty for MacNeill but restrained himself to avoid the risks of raising the issue so close to the anniversary of the Rising. In June, however, the matter resolved itself. British prime minister David Lloyd George called for an Irish convention that would meet in Dublin to discuss the future of Ireland. Organizations representing all aspects of Irish political, social, religious, and economic life were invited to nominate delegates. To encourage participation, Irish prisoners in England were freed on June 16. Hyde relayed the good news of MacNeill's release to John Quinn. The struggle, he noted, was not yet over. Because MacNeill had been convicted on felony charges, he had been stripped of his university chair and deprived of his right to a lifetime reappointment. As for the Irish convention, Hyde's doubts that it would produce any significant agreement proved valid. Talks began on July 25, 1917, with Sir Horace Plunkett in the chair. Although delegates convened monthly through the fall and winter of 1917 and early spring of 1918, nothing was accomplished. It was the same spring in which John Redmond died and
John Dillon was chosen to succeed him as leader of the Home Rule party. How far they had come, thought Hyde, from Charles Stewart Parnell. The good news was that MacNeill was returned to his university chair in May, 1918.
Meanwhile, in the fall of 1917, Coffey's biography of Hyde was published. A brief and compact study, it reflected Coffey's own zeal for the revival of Irish and his uncritical admiration for his subject but included little discussion of complex issues and events. When the reviews appeared, Hyde read them avidly, then clipped and laid them into his personal copy. He was amused by one review that called his work as president of the Gaelic League "service to Ireland . . . [yet] perilous work, almost as dangerous to the reputation as the feeding of tigers is to life." Another over which he chortled appeared on February 22, 1918, in the pages of his old antagonist, the Church of Ireland Gazette . It asserted that all idealist movements in Ireland were doomed to capture and wreck by political extremists and that the Gaelic League, no longer a revivifying and reconciling force in Irish life, was now dead and damned beyond all recovery. Never had the Gazette considered him an idealist, never had it called the league "a revivifying and reconciling force in Irish life" during his presidency! It was good to be appreciated, he noted wryly, even in retrospect. Publication of the book brought him a flurry of letters from former acquaintances with whom he had lost touch. Lucy was happy with the sketch of herself and her family background. It was for her a small pleasure that momentarily lifted the depression from which she continued to suffer following Nuala's death.
In July 1918 the point of agreement that had escaped the Irish delegates to Lloyd George's convention emerged in Ireland's response to a conscription act that would have sent able-bodied Irishmen between eighteen and fifty to fight in France. A fire storm of public outrage united the country. Even the North joined the rest of Ireland in opposing the measure. Dillon and his party walked out of Parliament. De Valera—who had succeeded Arthur Griffith as president of Sinn Féin—charged that the British government had declared war on the Irish nation. Hyde published a three-part multiple-verse poem that drew on the satiric talent of his youth and added the sophistication of maturity. The first part, entitled "Almost Any O or Mac to Almost Any Englishman," contained such stanzas as:
They held our homes by naked force
By naked force they sucked our soil,
They seized our riches at their source,
They spun not, neither did they toil.
Our landmarks and our ancient signs
They rooted up with all things good;
They slew our priests before our shrines;
—We drew their water, hewed their wood.
Changing voices swiftly and dramatically, the second part, "Almost Any Englishman's Answer," makes a patronizing offer of redemption:
Now for your sake—more than ours—
We're giving you this chance
Come out against the Central Powers
And bleed with us in France.
By dying with us you will let
The whole world see we're Christians yet,
That you forgive and we forget.
Part three anticipates the response of the British press to Irish indignation:
But if you don't, and will not change
Nor answer freedom's call,
We're going to teach you something strange
You will not like at all;
What do you say to a firing squad
And a grave beneath a prison sod,
For that is what you'll get, by God.
What the British had got by their ineptitude, Hyde observed in an unpublished memoir written in 1918, was Sinn Féin. Analyzing the changing political scene from the sidelines, Hyde grudgingly admitted to himself that the nonpolitical strategy on which he had insisted probably had run its course. Yet he was not sure that things had turned out badly for the language movement. There was no longer a chance that the language would be the unifying factor in the history of modern Ireland, but at least it had rendered the movement homogeneous. In a letter to John Quinn he predicted Sinn Féin's victory in the elections of December 1918.
Hyde's political speculations were cut short in December by a sudden illness that struck the usually robust Una a day after, apparently perfectly well, she had been playing golf with him. Hyde and Lucy immediately feared the worst: that they would now lose their only surviving daughter to tuberculosis. To their relief the doctor's diagnosis was scarlatina
(scarlet fever) and Hyde's next worry was that he himself could come down with the disease. An entry in Una's diary describes his morbid fear of contagion. For the family archives she made a pencil sketch of him holding a handkerchief to his nose and looking the picture of terror. Confined to the hospital, she appealed to him to send her writing materials. The next day she was amused to receive a large envelope, carefully sealed (she could not imagine why), containing paper, envelopes, and stamps, but no pencil.
Relieved that Una's illness was not life-threatening, Hyde again turned his attention to politics. To John Quinn he wrote that now would be the time for Sinn Féin to consolidate their strength if their best men (including de Valera) were not in prison. What he did not anticipate was that even without those in jail or in hiding Sinn Féin candidates who had won election to Parliament would make a bold move. First, of course, as agreed, they refused to take their seats in Parliament. Second, meeting in Dublin on January 19, 1919, they declared themselves to be members of Dáil Éireann, the parliament of the sovereign Republic of Ireland. Affirming that all rights of private party were subordinate to the public right and welfare, they set up the process through which local courts were established throughout the country. Meanwhile, also throughout the country, Volunteers who styled themselves the Irish Republican Army instituted a series of attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Dáil accepted them in their new role. The British answer, predictably, was to step up their policies of intimidation. The Anglo-Irish war, although never formally declared, had begun.
For the citizens of the new republic represented by the Dáil and defended by the IRA, things were not easy. In March, Hyde complained to Quinn that the country was under fierce oppression from a government that "rams men into jail with savage sentences for small crimes like wearing uniforms or making speeches." He estimated that the jails held nearly seven hundred political prisoners and he urged Quinn to do what he could in America to keep up the agitation for a free Ireland. By September conditions were even worse. Law and order, Hyde reported, had broken down completely; the Gaelic League had been suppressed; more people than ever were being sentenced to jail; within the jails hunger strikers protested the summary judgment, long sentences, and filthy, crowded conditions that they were forced to endure; the Black and Tans—British irregulars who took their name from uniforms
that were part Royal Irish Constabulary, part regular army—were loose upon the land. On April 16, 1920, Hyde and Una bicycled to Mountjoy Prison to join the demonstrators sympathetic to the hunger strikers. Describing the scene to Lady Gregory, Hyde wrote that on their return home he had postponed a dinner for invited guests. "How could we eat," he asked, "and the prisoners starving?" Lady Gregory had her own hands full, heading a committee that included Hyde, Katharine Tynan, Stephen Gwynn, AE, W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and other distinguished writers and artists that were attempting to recover for Ireland the valuable paintings that had belonged to her nephew, Hugh Lane. They had publicized the issue throughout the world. They had appealed directly to Lloyd George.
In July 1921 a truce was declared between the two sides in the undeclared war. An Irish delegation went to London to negotiate a treaty. Under threat that the war would be resumed—an eventuality not acceptable to most of the Irish population, whatever their political sympathies—in December the Irish delegates reluctantly accepted the terms offered by the British. At issue was British insistence on the retention of the six counties of the province of Northern Ireland, separated from the twenty-six counties by the act of Partition in 1920. The British Parliament immediately ratified the treaty. In the Dáil pro-treaty forces led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins were almost evenly opposed by anti-treaty forces led by Eamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha. So sensitive was the issue that the Dáil conducted its debate in secret sessions. Nevertheless, almost everyone in Ireland seemed to have some information about them. Hyde wrote Quinn that, from what he had heard, he believed that the treaty would pass by a small majority: "We seem to have really hammered out a measure of real freedom. . . . So far as I can see, we have got almost everything we want. . . . I think we got the very most we could . . . without war, and war is too awful to contemplate again." In January 1922, as Hyde had predicted, the treaty was narrowly accepted. War with England was over. The Irish Free State, no one's idea of perfection but at least a workable entity, was established. Bitter wrangling over the treaty continued, mainly on the matter of Partition. Within six months another war was ravaging the countryside, this time a civil war between Free State forces and republicans. Cathal Brugha was killed in a fire fight in July; Michael Collins was ambushed in August; Erskine Childers, Sr., was executed in November. Hundreds of others died before the fighting ended in the
spring of 1923; as the reprisals continued, dozens more—among them Kevin O'Higgins—died in the next several years for their real or supposed actions between 1922 and 1923.
Through Hyde's correspondence of this period runs a strong indication that he had hoped to be appointed to the new Free State Senate. That Yeats won a seat and he did not was a crushing disappointment. Pleased with the selection of Yeats, John Quinn was shocked that Hyde had not been similarly honored. He wrote to Yeats, Russell, and Lady Gregory, pressing them to do something on Hyde's behalf. In her journal for February 18, 1923, Lady Gregory noted that Hyde must have changed his mind, for he had told her that he was glad that he did not have a Senate seat. She added that he believed that he had been passed over because he had written to William Cosgrave, first president of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, asking a reprieve for Childers.
The fact is that despite what he had said to Lady Gregory, Hyde never got over having been ignored by the Free State majority in the Dáil, as some of his writings reveal. In August 1923, for example, he published a long article entitled "The Irish Language Movement: Some Reminiscences" in England, in the Manchester Guardian Commercial, and in the United States, in John Devoy's Gaelic American . In it Hyde claimed that the Gaelic League was the spiritual father of Sinn Féin, and that Sinn Féin's progeny were the Volunteers who had forced the English into the treaty negotiations. "The Dáil," he said, "is the child of the Volunteers, and thus it descends directly from the Gaelic League, whose traditions it inherits." He praised the Dáil for establishing the importance of Irish at its first meeting and decreeing that Irish was the official language of the nation, thus affirming the status of the Gaelic tongue. Tactfully phrased to draw attention not to himself but to all the others whose efforts he related to the league, the article silently raised the all-important question: what of the man who had been one of the nine original founders of the league, who had led the organization to greatness, who had obtained for it world recognition, and who had nurtured within its protective environment the young men—some of them scarcely more than boys when they joined the league—who had become leaders of the Irish nation?
The idea for this article may well have originated in a letter from John Quinn dated January 5, 1923. The purpose of Quinn's letter had been to thank Hyde for the volume of Connacht Half-Ranns that Hyde had dedicated to him: "I accept the dedication with pleasure as a mark of our sincere and unbroken friendship," Quinn wrote, erasing the
memory of 1911. In a postscript he declared that Hyde deserved membership in the Free State Senate because he had worked "for nationalist Ireland before the de Valeras and some of the others were out of their knickerbockers. You and I know that if it had not been for the Gaelic League there would have been no Sinn Féin. And with no Sinn Féin there would be no Free State today." Everyone after Hyde, he concluded, had built on the foundation of nationalist sentiment of "which you were the direct creator."
In March 1924, after tea with Hyde, Lady Gregory made another note in her journal: "He has kept quite out of politics and just does his university work." But in April, Lucy confided to her that Douglas was still deeply hurt at having been passed over for the Senate. Lady Gregory assured Lucy that she had missed no opportunity of pressing his claim to office. Privately she acknowledged that she was not quite sure whether Lucy had been speaking for herself or for Hyde. Lucy had always been ambivalent about Hyde's work on behalf of Irish Ireland. On the one hand, she had often expressed her disdain for the league and most of the people in it; on the other, she had been vociferous in her indignation that Hyde was not more appreciated, not better rewarded, not more justly recognized, for what he had done. Nevertheless, Lady Gregory again raised the question with Yeats, arguing that Hyde should be added to the Senate as a representative of literature, "the intellectual side"; that he deserved appointment on the basis of the achievement evident in his Literary History and Love Songs of Connacht ; and that given the fact that his name was honored in France and in America, such an appointment would redound to the credit of the Senate itself. "Yeats was I think convinced," she wrote in her journal.
On July 28, 1924, John Quinn died in New York. For Hyde, whose American tour in 1905–1906 had been the product of Quinn's blazing energy and will, who kept Augustus John's sketch of Quinn on the mantlepiece in his Dublin drawing room, and whose Christmases for years had been enriched by Quinn's gifts of apples, rye, books, and cigars, the passing of this special friend marked the end of an era.
On February 4, 1925, Sir Hutcheson Poe resigned from the Free State Senate. Hyde's name was placed before the body. He was unanimously co-opted. Soon it was like old times: whenever he picked up the newspaper he looked first to see who had made sport of him in sketch or doggerel. He did not mind—he knew that all who step upon the political stage make themselves fair game to journalists and cartoonists. He was particularly amused by "The Celebrity Zoo" (1925),
which promised readers a visit to a zoological garden, different from the one in Phoenix Park, "where rare and precious creatures are on view." Included were visits to "the Elite, the Dáil, the Senate and Society." One of its illustrations depicted Hyde with jet-black bushy brows, mustache, and hair, his large bony skull attached to a walrus body lying on a rock. The caption is in verse:
Look at the lovely Walrus in its lair
Hyde-ing its beauty under stacks of hair,
As you may know, it never wastes a minute . . .
Nor neither does its copy in the Sinate,
It shows its love for Music to its flock
By singing Gaelic on its lonely rock.
Despite his eagerness to serve in the Senate, Hyde was uncharacteristically quiet. He spoke from the floor only twice: once to pay tribute in Irish on the occasion of the death of his old friend Dr. George Sigerson; once in English on behalf of government assistance for the Celtic Congress held in Dublin in 1925. He was present and voting on ten of the eighteen motions called up in the Senate between February and June, 1925. Nevertheless, even before his term as a co-opted member expired, Hyde had decided to run for another term in the national election set for September 17, 1925. Contrary to Coffey's assertion that Hyde "made no effort to secure votes," he waged a vigorous campaign by mail and through paid advertising. He sought and received a promise of support from George Russell. He wrote to veteran Gaelic League supporters asking their help. He contributed twenty pounds toward the printing and distribution of advertisements for himself and fellow candidates that ran in major Dublin and Cork newspapers in July 1925. He paid another ten pounds toward publication of an illustrated campaign book. He spent ten pounds circularizing all Connacht members of the Dáil on the virtues of his candidacy. He sought and received the endorsement of the Cumman-na-nGaedheal party in Connacht. Senator Liam O'Briain, professor of Romance languages, University College, Galway, responded to Hyde's request for assistance in August by organizing an advertising campaign on behalf of the five Connacht candidates who lived in the province. Hyde and his fellow senators each contributed eight pounds to pay for leaflets that encouraged Connacht voters to vote for Connacht candidates. He paid for his own insertions in all the western county papers plus The Teacher's World and contributed to the cost of 50,000 handbills and 5,000 posters printed for dis-
tribution at churches and other places in Dublin on the Sunday before the election. His message to the voters was brief: "Douglas Hyde (An Craoibhin) respectfully asks for your votes, if you are satisfied that he has done useful work for Ireland during his lifetime . . . During the 22 years that he was President of the Gaelic League he never left a letter unanswered." P. M. O'Griffin, a staunch supporter, offered Hyde the use of his car while he was campaigning in Kerry. Two days before the election he assured Hyde that he was doing very well in Kerry and that although the Gaelic League's reputation was not strong in the country (hard evidence of its decline that shocked Hyde despite all he knew), "your reputation was made long ago."
On September 9 the Manchester Guardian estimated the eligible voters for the Senate election to be in excess of one-and-a-third million. It noted, however, that the republicans had boycotted the election and that of the seventy-six candidates, only Hyde and four or five others were known by name to the vast majority of voters. But the Guardian also reported that the liquor interests were running scared because of rumors that the government was planning a drastic cut in the number of pubs, and on September 11 the Irish Times published a letter from the secretary of the Irish Association for Prevention of Intemperance identifying Douglas Hyde as one of the candidates who had responded affirmatively to a questionnaire on temperance reform. Meanwhile, on September 9, the Catholic Truth Society attacked Hyde in the Derry Journal for having voted on June 11 for a divorce motion sponsored by Senator James Douglas. The motion was described as "an artful attempt to introduce divorce to the Saorstat [Free State]" and "a deadly blow at sacred Catholic principle." The writer warned that Catholic voters would not forget this item in Hyde's voting record.
As Hyde's supporters already had alerted him to the charge made by the Catholic Truth Society, he had tried to diminish the damage in a letter to the Irish Independent printed on September 9:
I hear from different sources that false statements are being circulated to the effect that I used my influence as senator in the interest of divorce. This is not true. I am utterly opposed to it. I did not join in the debate, but if I had, I would have spoken with all my power against allowing divorce into the Free State.
However, the Independent for September 10 repeated the charge against Hyde in a reader's letter that argued that since he had voted for the Douglas motion, "which was a recognition of the state's right to grant
divorce and an attempt, which many people regarded as insidious, to allow divorce legislation to be introduced in the Dáil and Senate," he had in fact used his influence as senator in the interest of divorce. Hyde countered with a curious letter in the Independent of September 11 which stated that he had voted for the Douglas motion because "it was one way of rendering divorce in the Saorstat impossible. . . . There are more ways of killing a cat than by drowning." It was "not likely," he argued, "that the writer of two volumes of the Religious Songs of Connacht would be in favor of divorce. He is not, and never was."
Hyde's opponents had the last word in the Independent of September 12 in which F. O'Reilly challenged Hyde to state publicly that if elected to the Senate he would vote on matters involving the moral law "in accordance with the principles laid down by the Catholic Church." The damage was done. Fixed in the mind of the voters was the image of Hyde as a prodivorce candidate.
Election results printed in the Irish Times for September 21 with only three counties unreported showed that Hyde had failed to make the list of twenty-five candidates who had received over 4,000 first-preference votes. He had in fact only 1,360. By September 27 the completed count showed Hyde with a total of only 1,710 first-preference votes countrywide, finishing forty-ninth in a field of seventy-five candidates. In the Observer for September 27 Stephen Gwynn speculated on the reasons for Hyde's defeat. No man in Ireland seeking reelection was better known than Hyde; he was, moreover, unquestionably the most distinguished of those before the electorate. Fifteen years before, he had been the most personally popular man in the country. Inexplicably, the top first-preference vote had gone to a man no one had ever heard of, Thomas Toal, a member of the Monaghan County Council who always agreed with the bishops and whose candidacy had the support of the local bishop as well as that of Mr. Blyth, the finance minister. Gwynn dismissed the impact of Hyde's controversial vote for the Douglas motion. He attributed Hyde's defeat to popular resentment against the Gaelic League and its former president, the chief proponents of compulsory Irish in the schools. That was a new blow, after years of immense popular support for both the league and language revival.
Fortunately Hyde did have a less fickle constituency. At University College, Dublin, he had established for himself a pleasant niche with students and colleagues who enjoyed and appreciated him. From 1925 until his retirement in 1932 his university work—teaching, scholarship, and writing—became the principal focus of his efforts. It was a pleasant
life, the kind Hyde might have pursued had Mahaffy and others not closed the doors of academe to him in 1891, when he had already shown his promise in these areas. From 1909 when he was appointed to University College through 1915 when he resigned from the Gaelic League, he had been too busy with league business to enjoy it. From 1915 to 1925 there had been the Rising, Nuala's death, MacNeill's imprisonment, the Anglo-Irish war, the establishment of the Free State, the civil war, and the Senate, all occupying large portions of his time and energies. And now? Not many men, he knew, had the opportunity to travel the road not taken. He accepted his good fortune gratefully.
It was well that Hyde had such a positive perspective, for at each turning, as Yeats would have explained, although one appears to stand again at the same point, the cycle is different. There had been many turnings between 1891 when Hyde completed his year of teaching at the University of New Brunswick and 1909 when he was appointed to University College, Dublin. As a result—as many of his students and colleagues understood—he was something of a maverick in the profession. By and large, Hyde's students were happy with his maverick qualities. His colleagues, however, were not always sure how they felt about either his methods or his results.
One of Hyde's students in 1917 had been Austin Clarke, the poet, novelist, and playwright. Clarke recalled Hyde's classroom:
On the first morning of our first term, he spoke of the aims and ideals of the language revival. We were all equal, all united in the Gaelic movement. There was no vulgar competition, no showing-off, no twopence-halfpenny looking down on twopence. Those plain words changed me in a few seconds. The hands of our lost despised centuries were laid on me.
Henry Comerford, who had enrolled in a first-year Irish class of over seventy students in 1924–25, remembered Hyde as a tall man, slightly stooped, casually dressed, who would enter the lecture hall with a muffler wound around his neck, "a laugh on his lips," and a "lovely manner" that employed yarns and jokes to lighten the burden of learning. One snowy winter day when, at the entrance to the university, two lines of students were pelting each other and passersby with snowballs, Comerford watched with amusement as Hyde tied a white handkerchief signifying truce to the top of his umbrella and marched between the ranks. The students "gave him a hearty cheer and safe passage." In Hyde's love for the language Comerford perceived "a driving force behind his enthusiasm . . . the desire not to let a beautiful expressive language die off
the face of the earth; something like the urge a conservationist has not to let something fine and natural perish."
Impelled by that desire, Hyde joined An Seabhac (Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha) in establishing the Irish Folklore Society and founded and became first editor of Lia Fáil (Stone of destiny), a philological journal devoted to Irish language and literature. But the lure of teaching (or was it his old love of acting?) always brought him back to the classroom where, as his students observed, "a very happy, lively man, he would sing any verses he came on in the text that he was reading"; "squeeze up his eyes with fun and merriment, . . . trying to remember some verse, or limerick or episode . . . to strengthen the point under discussion"; "wander away from the point and make it all the more interesting by his wanderings, teaching all the while"; "lecture in tweeds and muffler from behind a walrus mustache, annotating his comments with jokes and anecdotes"; and in general "succeed in making everything look easy and interesting by his style of teaching." His last words to every class were always "Labhair i nGaeilge i gconaí le gach duine atá toilteanach Gaeilge a labhairt leat" (Always speak Irish with everyone willing to speak Irish with you). When Hyde retired, the students of his last term, sitting in what had been his lecture hall, chanted, "We want Dougie. We want Dougie" while they awaited his successor.
Some students admitted being uneasy in a classroom where there was so much laughing; could they really laugh and learn at the same time? Some colleagues could not accept the idea either. They also questioned Hyde's standards. Their goal was to teach correct Irish. His goal was to teach fluency—to provide students with an ability to use Irish as a living language and to postpone concern about the niceties of grammar to a later time. Myles Dillon, a distinguished Celticist in his own right, was one of Hyde's strongest admirers and also severest critics. On the one hand, "he was something of an enigma," Dillon declared, "a man of sanguine temperament . . . extremely cultivated," "a fire bringer who had a great gift of oratory and a dream that the Irish language would . . . link . . . people of different politics and background . . . an artist who set people on fire." That he was a popular teacher there was no doubt: his courses were always well enrolled. On the other hand, Dillon disapproved of Hyde's "keep them laughing" style of teaching; his selection of texts designed to introduce students to the major dialects of Irish, regardless of their intrinsic value; his "lack of strong belief" in grammatical accuracy (which Dillon condescendingly attributed to Hyde's lack of a scholarly or scientific knowledge of Irish and the fact
that he had not spent a term in the Gaeltacht but taken his language from local Irish speakers in his neighborhood). Above all, Dillon was infuriated by Hyde's lack of high seriousness: "I remember being in the library working on a study related to the Irish course on a lovely sunny day, deeply immersed in the subject along with a senior colleague, when Hyde put his head in, golf clubs in hand, uttered a quotation from 'The Lotus Eaters,' slammed the door and rambled off to a game of golf."
Gerard Murphy, a colleague at University College, had a similar if less judgmental view: "Inside the college" Hyde was known,
not as the public speaker capable of inspiring enthusiasm in crowds, but as the genial professor beloved by all, though frowned upon by some of his colleagues for not exacting the severest standard of learning or accuracy from those who presented themselves for degrees. "We must not be purists," he would say, when it was pointed out that a student mixed his dialects and was careless about the rules of aspiration and eclipsis in particular and grammar in general. "Keep them amused," was his advice to a young assistant anxious to receive guidance in how to conduct his classes.
In 1929 Hyde was elected to the Council of the Royal Irish Academy and to the presidency of the Celtic Congress held at Glasgow University; in 1931 he was elected to the Irish Academy of Letters; in that same year he was chosen president of the Trinity College Historical Society (the club in which he had learned to twist the lion's tale during his undergraduate years). Twisting the lion's tale once again, Hyde replied to the "Hist":
If you cannot get anyone better, and the Society thinks that I would make a good president, I need not say I would esteem the honor highly, and will do my best to make as good a one as I can, though I know I will be a very poor successor of statesmen and men of affairs like Ashbourne, Ross, and Glenavy.
When Hyde retired from University College in 1932, former students from University College joined associates from the Gaelic League and other chapters of Hyde's life to rally support for a public acknowledgment of his service to the language. One of the first to come forward was Colm Ó Lochlainn, publisher of the Three Candles Press, who wrote to the Irish Press on December 21, 1933, "To those who were boys in my time his name is as a shining sword." He "must not be allowed to depart Dublin without honour," Ó Lochlainn declared, "for here surely was a prophet."
Departing Dublin meant, of course, that Hyde was returning to Ratra. For him it was not a difficult move: Roscommon, rather than
Dublin always had been home; he had never been away from it long. There were still perch to be caught in Lough Gara and grouse to shoot on the Ratra bogs. There would be time now to putter among the fruit trees and shrubs. For him the only sad news came in May from Coole of the Swans, the Seven Woods, and the Autograph Tree: his loyal friend Augusta Gregory was dead. For Lucy, however, the prospect of returning to full-time residence at Ratra after nearly a quarter of a century of city life was itself a matter for considerable dismay. It had been one thing to face the dampness and cold only during Christmas holidays ever since the move to Dublin in 1909, but she dreaded the thought of spending the entire winter there. Besides, such a move meant seeing less of Una, who had married James Sealy, and Una's two boys, now two and four years old. Nevertheless, the move was made.
Hyde's settled routine after the return to Ratra included reading, transcribing, and translating manuscripts, collecting folktales, corresponding with the French Celticists Dottin and Vendryes, and producing a steady flow of reviews and essays for Lia Fáil, the journal of Irish studies that he had founded at University College, Dublin, and Béaloideas, the journal of the Irish Folklore Society. Welcome interruptions from his scholarly projects were the visits he received from both old friends and from young men and women who sought his endorsement for civil service and teaching posts. Occasionally, during their holidays, young seminarians from Maynooth would drop by. Afternoon strolls provided opportunities for a visit to neighbors, for pleasant encounters with children whom he would encourage to speak a few words of Irish, and chats with their fathers and mothers about weather and crops. A favorite diversion was the walk to Lough Gara where he kept his fishing boat and where one of the Maxwell brothers would row him to a choice spot to fish for perch. In the fall, he shot the bogs. One day, walking across what seemed to be firm ground, he suddenly found himself standing in a small underground room—a poteen still—staring at two men who were staring back at him. Quickly recovering, the men offered him a sample of their product in an eggshell, then made him a gift of a small bottle which he secured by twisting wisps of bog cotton into a stopper.
Frequent visitors to Ratra knew that Hyde enjoyed long hours of talk on any subject but one: politics. Invariably if a political topic was introduced, Hyde changed the subject to crops or ghost stories or almost anything else that might evoke discussion. Peter Morrisroe, Hyde's chauffeur and handyman, recalled that Hyde's knowledge of
saints, holy days, monastic sites, and local folklore was encyclopedic, but that creed for its own sake was a subject that was alien, even abhorrent to him. Morrisroe described Hyde as "an ecumenicist long before we heard anything about ecumenicism and when it was just a strange word hidden away in the recesses of the dictionary . . . and in this he was fifty years ahead of his time."
It was Peter Morrisroe who kept the Ford in running order and who occasionally drove Douglas to Dublin for a day's work in the manuscript room of the Royal Irish Academy or to accept an invitation from old friends or colleagues. One such event was the annual St. Patrick's Day party given by the Gaelic Language Club at University College, to which officers and past presidents were always invited. Since Agnes O'Farrelly and Hyde were often together, the students enjoyed speculating about the nature of their friendship. Had they once been sweethearts? They were fascinated also by O'Farrelly's various costumes. On one occasion she wore what she identified as the traditional Christmas dress of a Celtic woman, complete with a headdress that looked to the students like the cap of a cleaning woman. One student, startled by her appearance, uttered an oath that left everyone silent with embarrassment. Hyde and O'Farrelly, smiling broadly, walked on. It was just such behavior that had made them favorites with their students.
In June 1934 Hyde scribbled in pencil a twenty-four-page draft of a keynote speech that he had been invited to present at the International Celtic Congress to be held in Dublin from July 9 through July 12. Peter Morrisroe drove him up from Roscommon on a fine summer's day; Una (Agnes) O'Farrelly came down from her Donegal cottage to join him. Among others present were Eamon de Valera, head of the Free State government, who had pledged his backing for a permanent research institute where all the Celtic languages might be studied; and delegates from Brittany, Scotland, Wales, and the Isle of Man. Surrounded by former Gaelic League campaigners and old friends, including Maud Gonne MacBride, Hyde welcomed those attending "in the name of Ireland" and presented a program for preserving and propagating Irish that revealed that he was as committed to the language and as practical about saving it as ever. Among the recent government decisions that he spoke of approvingly was one to have Irish-speaking gardai in Irish-speaking areas. He argued also for subsidies for Irish-speaking families and praised Thomas O'Crohan's Islandman as the best book of its kind he had ever read. He also chided Robert O'Flaherty, the American filmmaker, for presenting English-speaking Aran Islanders in Man of
Aran and declared himself gratified by the rising interest among American academics in "everything concerned with us—history, archaeology and language." There was no doubt among those present that Douglas Hyde retired was still Douglas Hyde at work.
In the summer of 1937, Ben Greenwald, a graduate student at Columbia University, arrived in Ireland with a letter of introduction to Hyde from John Gerig, professor of Celtic studies. After meetings in Dublin with Hyde's former colleagues at University College, Robert Macalister and John MacNeill, Greenwald set out for Roscommon to spend a few days at Ratra improving his conversational Irish. Near Frenchpark Greenwald encountered Hyde on the Ballaghaderreen road, leaning over the engine of his disabled Ford. Hyde's appearance belied his seventy-seven years. Greenwald took careful note of Hyde's appearance: straight body dominated by a "massive head which George Moore had so uncharitably compared with that of a walrus. A broad face. Gray, sparkling eyes. A prominent hunk of nose. And the moustache! His trade-mark. Once jet, now silver, it drooped on either side of a smiling mouth." Despite the midday heat Hyde wore a baggy gray tweed shooting suit and muffler and heavy woolen golf stockings. Together they urged a response from the Ford and proceeded on to Ratra.
Throughout his stay in Frenchpark, young Greenwald worked alongside Hyde in Hyde's study, with its autographed photo of Theodore Roosevelt on the wall and Hyde's scholar's tools, books and manuscripts, closely packed on the shelves and piled on the floor. They chatted in Irish (Hyde offering frequent English translations for Greenwald's benefit) with interruptions for a Jameson's for Greenwald and poteen, "fresh from Paddy Maxwell's shebeen on an island in Lough Gara," for his host. "I used to enjoy this," Hyde said as he drank, "when the English collected the spirits tax. But now—I don't know. It seems really illegal—and he closed his twinkling eyes and kept on drinking." On a long twilight evening they were again sitting in the study when, something having caught Hyde's eye through the open window, he rushed out into the hall cluttered with fishing rods, guns, mackintoshes, and walking sticks, and returned with a gun. "With great aplomb," Greenwald reported, "he raised it to his shoulder and fired. 'Got him!' he shouted with glee. He had killed the rabbit that had been raiding his garden and depriving him of fresh lettuce."
Lucy Hyde, bedridden during the day, appeared at dinner. Greenwald, who had heard her referred to in Dublin as "a foreign woman," found her a "frail creature, slight and wrinkled, but ever the gracious
hostess—cosmopolitan, assured, thoughtful," with a shy humor that occasionally turned acid, particularly when the conversation at the table turned to Irish. After dinner the two men strolled in the garden, Hyde speaking Irish.
Several months after his return to New York, Greenwald received the Irish manuscript of "How Swineford Got Its Name," one of the last stories Hyde had received from an eighty-year-old Mayo informant, Thomas Casey of Kiltimagh. The tale was written, Hyde explained, in nearly the same language he had learned when he was young. It was published in 1939 in Hyde's Sgéalta Thomais Ui Chathasigh (Mayo stories told by Thomas Casey), the thirty-sixth volume of the Irish Texts Society series which Hyde had inaugurated in 1899. It was just one of many projects that occupied him during the years of his so-called retirement, strengthening his already distinguished place in the international scholarly community. In addition to Dottin and Vendryes, his regular correspondents included such other Celticists as Joseph Loth in France; Fred Norris Robinson, A. C. L. Brown, and Roger Sherman Loomis in the United States; and Rudolph Thurneyesen in Germany. He also kept in touch by letter with those old countrymen still alive from whom he had gathered, distilled, and preserved the folklore they held in their long memories. From an Irish immigrant to America, Eoin O'Cahill of Pentwater, Michigan, Hyde received Irish stories in a new genre, about heroes and villains of the American West whose character and deeds had been adapted from the Finn cycle of early Irish literature. Hyde kept in touch, too, with a wide circle of Irish friends, sending letters regularly to, among others, Sinéad and Eamon de Valera, Robin Flower, Alfred Perceval Graves, Eleanor Hull, Lennox Robinson, members of the family of O'Conor Don, Richard Irvine Best, Una (Agnes) O'Farrelly, the Yeats sisters, Shane Leslie, Willie Stockley, Stephen Gwynn, Walter Starkie, Jack B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats, and Oliver St. John Gogarty. To young Greenwald it seemed an enviable life.