Ceremonies over, almost immediately Hyde and his staff, joined by Annette, settled down to work in Áras an Uachtaráin. To Hyde's relief and pleasure, Annette had agreed to stay on with him, to help Michael McDunphy look after his personal and social affairs and to serve as the president's hostess. Struggling with the series of undefined illnesses that continued to plague her, Lucy remained at home. It was ironic that she who once wanted so desperately to sell Ratra and leave Roscommon, preferably for Dublin, now wished only to be left alone there. It was ironic too that after years of deploring Ireland's failure to reward Hyde's service to the nation, she could not be present to see him honored. But Dr. Kilgallen, Lucy's physician, not only had approved Lucy's decision to remain in Frenchpark but had advised that she was much too nervous and easily upset to be moved to Dublin and certainly was not well enough to cope with the public life of a president's wife. There was nothing to do but accept the situation. Ratra was well staffed; the Mahons and Morrisroes were in charge; Annette and Una took turns going down to the country, although as the wife of a judge and the mother of four children Una had her own full share of responsibilities; Hyde went home to Frenchpark as often as he could. Lucy did not seem more than usually unhappy.
Given the amount of work that needed to be done at Áras an Uachtaráin to reverse the years of neglect, it was probably just as well that Lucy was not there to share its management with Michael McDunphy. If she were well, it is unlikely that she would have taken kindly to having
such private matters become a governmental and therefore public concern. As for the social duties of a president's wife, Lucy would not have enjoyed these either. Among the qualities that Hyde had admired when first they met were the forthright way in which she expressed herself and the strength and sharpness of her mind. She would not have found attractive a situation in which she was obliged to entertain strangers and could not express her opinions frankly. It was one of the things that she had found troublesome about her 1905–1906 trip to America.
Annette was by nature more gregarious, more diplomatic, and less perturbed by the fact that public appointment to high office carried with it public involvement in private life. She was also better attuned to her brother's ideas, no doubt because it was he in fact who had had the most significant influence on her education. Whenever he went abroad when she was a girl, he had brought home for her books in different languages. He used to write letters to her in Irish, French, German, and Italian and had encouraged her to alternate the languages in which she replied. He had recommended books for her to read and then urged her to discuss them with him. Brother and sister were compatible in other ways as well. Unlike Lucy, who even before her sad chronology of debilitating illnesses never had been enthusiastic about outdoor life, they both loved activities—walking, riding, tennis, shooting, boating, swimming, skating—almost anything that took them outdoors. Annette had been married to Hyde's friend Cam Kane. They had never had children. Cam was dead; there was nothing to keep her from staying at Áras an Uachtaráin as long as she pleased, and she seemed to enjoy the prospect.
Watching Annette at the inauguration, Una was awed by the way in which "Auntie" could meet and chat with strangers. Her talent for putting others at ease never failed to elicit Una's admiration. Most astonishing of all to Una, who acknowledged frankly that she herself was far less outgoing, was that while she was willing to endure for her father's sake the lunches and teas to which she was invited, Annette genuinely enjoyed them. Una got on well with Captain de Buitléar, who was unfailingly kind and supportive, but she was just as happy to leave to Annette the tasks that required working with Mr. McDunphy, for she was certain that she could not possibly match his expectations of her father's daughter.
The most important member of the presidential team at Áras an Uachtaráin was Michael McDunphy. Solemn and highly principled to those who encountered him on his job, to family, friends, and close
associates he was a warm and thoughtful person with a passion for the out-of-doors and a fondness for storytelling. Together McDunphy and Eamon de Buitléar were a superbly efficient pair. Their immediate and pressing problem, as inauguration day became a memory, was to decide what to do with the boxes and tea chests full of books and papers that had arrived by army lorry from Frenchpark—and how to allocate time between the unending stream of letters from well-wishers and favor seekers that daily poured into Áras an Uachtaráin and the daily visitors admitted on official business and by courtesy. For both, establishing a good working relationship from the start was a matter of highest priority. Hyde agreed: his years in the Gaelic League had taught him that his own success depended on the competence and goodwill of his staff.
At forty-seven Michael McDunphy was a tall, spare Dubliner who had devoted himself to government service. He had been twenty-one at the time of his first appointment in 1912; six years later, in 1918, he had been dismissed for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the Crown. In 1922 he had become the first assistant secretary to the Free State government, a position in which he continued until 1937, although he was called to the bar in 1928. In 1937 he had been a member of the committee of four appointed to examine and revise the preliminary draft of the new Constitution. After its enactment he was named secretary to the president and clerk to the Council of State; he was also generally regarded as an expert on questions of letter and intent related to the Constitution. His wide-ranging personal interests included military history, the agricultural cooperative movement, aviation, and walking tours. One of his proudest possessions was a certificate dated 1928 for the first plane ever registered in Ireland.
Assessing the personalities of the men who would be involved in the new government, the Irish Digest had pointed out shortly before the inauguration that McDunphy's political background, like Hyde's, was nonpartisan. Whether he was working with Cosgrave or de Valera, his loyalties were always to concepts, not people. Those who knew him well said that it was not at all uncommon to see him walking, alone and thoughtful, along the narrow roads of the Wicklow hills and Dublin mountains. In the city his usual mode of transportation was his bicycle. Warm and happy within his family, he made no attempt to cultivate as friends the large circle of men and women with whom he came in daily contact, as liaison between Áras an Uachtaráin and the government. He was by nature and inclination what on the surface might have seemed the antithesis of Douglas Hyde: a very private person. What they both
understood after a short time together was that they were both essentially private men with very different styles.
Within a few days of the inauguration, at Hyde's invitation, the president and his secretary sat down together for a working lunch at the Gresham Hotel. Hyde's opening gambit in the game of getting to know one another, although not immediately perceived as such by McDunphy, was a clear signal of his respect. As McDunphy later recalled:
Scarcely were we seated than he asked me what were the powers of the President of Ireland. It was not a question to be answered briefly amid the din of a public restaurant and to a man who had no previous interest or experience in politics, but I did my best to the detriment of the meal. I told him that apart from the ceremonial duties involving no authority the powers and duties conferred on him by the Constitution were to be exercised by him on the advice of the Government, although there were a limited few which he could exercise on his absolute discretion, and I told him what they were.
Hyde was in fact neither as naive nor as removed from the center of political discussion as McDunphy thought; he had closely followed the discussions of the new Constitution and talked with friends about its provisions, and he had agreed to stand for the presidency only after understanding what his contribution would be. What McDunphy's answers to Hyde's question revealed was McDunphy's concept of how they ought to work together. Comparing the powers of the presidency to those of a referee on a football field, McDunphy declared that "there were rules by which the game should be played and the referee should not interfere unless he saw an infringement of those rules." From that day forward, whenever he was briefed—even three years later when a stroke for a time confined him to bed—Hyde would ask McDunphy, in Irish or English, with a twinkle in his eye, "Do you think I should get out the whistle?"
Not all days ended so pleasantly. During their early weeks together, until they became accustomed to Hyde's foibles and working methods, both McDunphy and de Buitléar had moments of frustration. Both men prided themselves on their efficiency, their organizational concepts, their ability to set up systems and adhere to them. Hyde was not accustomed to teamwork. Ordinarily no one touched his books and papers but himself. McDunphy and de Buitléar sorted and shelved; in search of particular documents or quotations or facts, Hyde rearranged items to suit himself—in stacks, on the floor, or under the table at which he was writing, or in the chair in which he planned to settle down to read.
McDunphy's time schedules were carefully arranged so that the most important business of the day could be allotted the appropriate number of minutes necessary to its completion. These had to be rearranged to comply with Hyde's arbitrary decisions concerning which letters he would answer himself, by hand, and which could be answered on his behalf. Eventually, largely as a result of McDunphy's quiet determination, a routine was established.
Every morning after breakfast Hyde, de Buitléar, and McDunphy would confer. Papers sent by the government to the president for his signature were the first order of business. These were discussed thoroughly before being returned. The day's mail, already opened by McDunphy, would be presented next, often with replies already composed in response to routine requests for an interview with or a photograph of the president or to simple queries that did not require more than a few words. If Hyde approved (as he did almost without exception), these letters were signed and set aside for mailing. The remainder of the morning mail usually contained other letters that could be acknowledged almost as quickly: personal notes from fellow scholars and friends in all parts of the world accompanying copies of their latest books and articles or clippings in which they thought Hyde might be interested. Often Hyde would dash off handwritten replies on the spot. Some items that were purely personal or particularly amusing were saved to be shared later in the morning with Annette. One such was the businesslike message delivered from the secretary of the Board of Public Works to the secretary to the president on July 26, 1938, to inform Hyde of a perquisite of which he had been unaware: "The Office of Public Works has authorized killing some of the bucks in Phoenix Park. Enclosed find warrants entitling the President to the venison of three animals." Letters from America, from friends, and from strangers were set aside to be answered at another hour when Hyde would be alone in his study. Some, such as those written from the Dingle in the heavy black but highly readable lettering of an Seabhac (Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha), were easily identified and singled out for immediate attention. Among the letters from America there were often versions of the following, dated August 20, 1938, from Mrs. Dempsey of Milford, Massachusetts:
Dr. Douglas Hyde President of Eire you may think this letter inquisitive but I am thinking that you are of my Grandmother's people as I no [sic] that name was in my family years ago and as I thought you resembled my Uncle Maurice Walsh as I saw your picture in the paper and was proud you were made
President of Eire. Grandmother came in the Great Western ship and had a son born on board. I would love to see Ireland some time but I don't think I will unless I go with Corrigan as they had a time in Boston for him.
Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan and the story of his wrong-way flight across the Atlantic were familiar to the small staff of Áras an Uachtaráin. They all remembered the day the handsome young American pilot had left Dublin. It was McDunphy the aviation enthusiast who had learned that Corrigan's frail monoplane was to be dismantled and trucked to the Dublin docks before six o'clock in the evening, for shipment home on an outboard freighter. The day's schedule was quickly abandoned as McDunphy, Hyde, and de Buitléar rushed to Baldonnel Aerodrome outside Dublin to satisfy Hyde's great curiosity about the man and his plane. The elderly Hyde and the young American aviator were each fascinated by the other. The next day's schedule was also rearranged when it was discovered that Corrigan could visit Áras an Uachtaráin, where he was such a favorite that everyone from the gardener to Hyde himself wanted to be photographed with him.
Other letters were encapsulated tragedies. Mrs. Mahon of Fairy-mount, county Roscommon—a crossroads village not far from French-park—sent a plea to the new president asking his help to get her son out of the British army. His father had been taken ill and was given only a week to live. "I will be put out of my place," she lamented, without a man of the family to work their small holding. Hyde was powerless to provide the help she requested, although he well understood her plight. With the landlords had gone the threat of eviction, but old women who outlived their husbands and lost their sons faced a new threat: an impoverished widowhood in the county home, formerly the workhouse, if they could find no one to hoe the potatoes, cut the turf, milk the cow, and mend the thatch. In the old days they would have had children to look after them. But now, strong young sons had little choice. With no future at home but that which could be wrested from a rock-strewn patch, their only hope of a decent living was what they could find on a construction site in Scotland or in a hotel in America. Emigration left no one at home to look after elderly parents.
After the correspondence of the day had been attended to in a way that satisfied both McDunphy and Hyde and the latter also had conferred with Annette about matters with which she was concerned, there was lunch, usually with one or more invited guests. Afternoons generally were reserved for receiving visitors from home and abroad, in accordance with a policy on which Hyde insisted: that no reasonable
request for an interview be refused. This often created problems for McDunphy, whose task it was to arrange Hyde's days so that he also had time for a rest; for the scholarly reading and writing in which, like Theodore Roosevelt, he continued to be engaged; and for writing out by hand, in his usual fashion, the "heads" of an address he was to present, as part of his presidential duties. But once a visitor captured Hyde's attention, it was hard for McDunphy to bring the interview to a close. One day McDunphy had arranged a long lunch with an attractive American woman journalist. When time came for her to leave, she rose appropriately, prepared to end her visit on time, but Hyde insisted that she remain and continue their conversation. For McDunphy the rest of the afternoon was havoc. Returning to his office, he muttered grimly to de Buitléar, "He simply can't do this! It's not right!" "He is doing it," de Buitléar pointed out quietly, "and there is nothing we can do about it."
McDunphy had also to cope with Hyde's unscheduled interviews. On a number of occasions, de Buitléar recalled, McDunphy would come into Hyde's study to find him neither working on the speech he had sat down to compose nor having the rest that Annette had prescribed but sharing a wee drop with Luke Nangle, the gardener. It was a chill November day, Hyde pointed out; he had asked Luke to come in for only a moment to warm himself and have a sip of the national drink. Other visitors also recalled arriving at Áras an Uachtaráin on a wet day and being solicitously offered a sip from the small bottle Hyde kept in his study—"for patriotic reasons," he would explain, his eyes opening wide, as if in surprise that anyone might regard the scene differently. When McDunphy attempted to remonstrate with him, Hyde struck a mock-serious pose and complained that he was "but a prisoner" in Áras an Uachtaráin.
Only once, in the recollection of Eamon de Buitléar, did sparks ever really fly between Hyde and McDunphy: in spring 1939, Hyde had arranged a reception at Áras an Uachtaráin for a number of members of the Gaelic League, most of them Hyde's former associates and old friends. It was not until the event was half over that Hyde realized that not everyone invited had accepted—in fact, some of the refusals, he learned, had been insulting if not hostile. These McDunphy had withheld from the ritual review of the daily mail on the day they had been received. Hyde insisted that henceforth all letters addressed to him be opened before him. He was equally adamant that some of his visitors were to be admitted whenever they came, whatever the schedule. These
included his old friend, the still beautiful Maud Gonne; the O'Conors of Clonalis; several former Trinity classmates; and Ó Siochfhradha, better known as An Seabhac ("the hawk"), cofounder with Hyde of the Irish Folklore Society, and a frequent and very welcome caller. Their conversations, like their correspondence, covered many subjects besides the current status of folklore collecting, in which Hyde remained actively interested. It was in Áras an Uachtaráin, in fact, that together Hyde and An Seabhac looked over the proofs of Hyde's last contribution to the series of books published by the Irish Texts Society: volume 36, Sgéalta Thomais Ui Chathasaigh (1939).
Frank MacDermot, at this time of his life Dublin correspondent for the Sunday Times , also visited from time to time. Youngest son of The MacDermot of Coolavin and a cousin therefore to O'Conor Don, MacDermot had campaigned for Home Rule in two Westminster elections before the establishment of the Irish Free State. In 1932 he had won a seat in the Dáil as an independent; he was widely recognized as a founding member of the National Centre party and its successor, the United Irish party, neither of which ever had grown to main-party status. He therefore had continued to sit in the Dáil as an independent until, like Hyde, he was co-opted for service in the Senate by de Valera in early 1938. The two men had much in common besides their Connacht background and political careers. MacDermot was also a writer. In 1939 he published a biography of Wolfe Tone. Josephine O'Conor, a daughter of O'Conor Don who worked for a time in MacDermot's office, also used to drop in, as did her sisters, especially Molly, later wife of Sir William Tealing, and the identical twins, Gertrude and Eva, who later married Maurice Staunton and Rupert Nash, respectively. With the twins, Hyde always played a little game: if they came together, it was the question of which was which; if one came alone, which one was she. For years the twins had teased him, each claiming to be the other, until he had found what he thought was a foolproof way of telling them apart: he would pretend to drop something accidentally, then watch as they bent to pick it up, knowing that Eva was right-handed, Gertrude was left-handed. But his confidence was short-lived, for the twins soon discovered his method and foiled him by deliberately using the opposite hand.
In addition to managing time so that Hyde could count on finding relaxed and private moments in what was otherwise a very public life, McDunphy arranged Hyde's schedule of presidential visits, state banquets, public addresses, and public appearances as well as monthly din-
ners with the Council of State. Meetings with de Valera were outside his control. The Chief, typically, would arrive very late in the evening, often around midnight. To outsiders who did not know of these regular sessions at Áras an Uachtaráin it seemed as if there was little connection between government offices and the president's home in Phoenix Park.
During the first months that Hyde was in office, always and ever there were newsmen, both reporters and photographers. Given Hyde's open-door policy, McDunphy was concerned about how much of Hyde's time was taken up by them. He was annoyed especially by the photographers who seemed to pop up from bushes and out of closets in their insistence on providing the public with "photo essays" of the real Douglas Hyde. "Just one more of the president in his study" (or on the south portico with his sister, or in McDunphy's office, or in conference with his secretary and aide-de-camp), they would say. Particularly time-consuming was a visit from the Weekly Illustrated 's journalist and photographer in early October 1938: Their assignment was to create a photo-essay that would depict a day in the life of the president, from morning to night. There were shots of Hyde "resting" (on a day in which they gave him no rest, thought McDunphy), stretched out full-length in his rough Irish tweeds on a sofa, holding a copy of Silva Gaedelica ; Hyde "working" (on a day on which he did almost nothing except pose for pictures) at his desk; of Hyde dining with McDunphy and de Buitléar (the soup was cold by the time they were told that the cameras were ready to catch them eating). In the end Hyde turned the tables on the photographers: he insisted that Miss Dowling, the housekeeper, be brought out to pose with him on the gravel walk. "She is most valuable . . . You must take her," he had said. Then not only Miss Dowling but Luke Nangle was placed in front of the cameras. Then other members of the household staff. When almost every possible combination of Áras an Uacharáin employees and residents had been immortalized on film, McDunphy—who hours before had accepted the fact that little else would be accomplished that day—noted that one was still missing. Picking up the press camera, he snapped the cameraman standing between Hyde and de Buitléar.
Most photograph sessions were more formal. Following luncheons with archbishops, ministers, ambassadors, and other notables, the cameramen—familiar faces from the Irish Times, Irish Press, Irish Independent, and Keystone Press Agency, less familiar faces from provincial newspapers and newspapers abroad—gathered. On July 8, 1938, they recorded the visit of Roosevelt's ambassador to Great Britain, the flam-
boyant Joseph P. Kennedy, accompanied by his handsome eldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Hyde told the boy about his experiences in Boston in the winter of 1905, when he had met young Kennedy's maternal grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, better known as "Honey Fitz," who was then waging his campaign for election to the office of mayor. John Cudahy, the American minister to Ireland, also was present at the luncheon. Hyde amused Cudahy with an account of his visit to Cudahy's uncle's home in California in 1906. Hyde regarded Cudahy as a decent fellow, very much on Ireland's side in the matter of the North—a man whose clear eye, common sense, and warm heart were an asset to Ireland as well as to the United States. More important to Hyde was the fact that Cudahy and de Valera got on well together, for it meant that the American minister could be helpful in confirming the analysis of Irish-American politics that Hyde had tried to impress upon de Valera. De Valera tended to think of Irish Americans as a monolithic group, single-minded in their dedication to Ireland's independence and their opposition to the continuing British presence in the North, therefore a reliable source of votes and money in support of the "Irish cause." What Hyde and Cudahy both knew was that Irish-American attitudes toward Ireland could better be described as a spectrum. They were aware, furthermore, that even groups that conformed to de Valera's stereotype were divided not only on the question of how the goal of an independent, united, thirty-two county republic might be achieved (this, after all, was a problem in Ireland as well) but also by petty power struggles, unsettled scores, personality conflicts, regional misunderstandings, private ambitions, and class and religious prejudice. Hyde was therefore delighted to have such a man as Cudahy in the American minister's residence in Phoenix Park.
McDunphy's personal souvenir of this luncheon was an interesting handwriting portrait of those present: a sheet of presidential stationery, labeled "Lunch to the American Ambassador to Great Britian, 8.7.38" in McDunphy's hand, on which each of the diners had signed his name. Hyde's signature—"Dubhglas de h-íde," written in large, clear letters without Hyde's characteristic uphill slant—heads the list, with McDunphy's addition in parentheses, "President of Ireland." Beneath it, the flourishing letters leaning sharply to the right, sprawled across two full lines, is "Joseph P. Kennedy/Ambassador to G. B." Next in order is the equally flourishing but perpendicular two-line signature of his colleague, "John Cudahy/American Minister," to which McDunphy added in parenthesis, "to Ireland." Beneath, in a simple and neat clear hand
very different from his father's, is the signature of Kennedy's eldest son, "Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr." Next, in smaller letters, widely spaced yet difficult to read because of their idiosyncratic form, is the name and title of the papal nuncio, J. Paschal Robinson, preceded by a modest cross. Beneath is the erect, firm, and boldly black signature, as angular as a seismographic chart, of John MacVeagh: to it McDunphy had added "Secretary to the American Legation." Last is McDunphy's own signature, the "D" as sharply peaked as the mountains he loved to climb, complete with his own title, "Secretary to the President."
By early fall the presidential team was working expertly, dispatching papers with admirable speed, keeping appointments on schedule. Messages of congratulations and condolence, inspirational pieces for schoolchildren, greetings to the annual Congress of the Irish Red Cross, messages from the president of Ireland to various ministers of state: more than a match for the steady influx of communications received at Áras an Uachtaráin every morning was the steady daily outflow of letters, telegrams, and memoranda. All but the most routine were first drafted by Hyde in his own hand; all but the purely personal were typed in duplicate, the copies to be filed in accordance with procedures that had been established by McDunphy. They were doing what Hyde thought was the important work of the presidency: they were creating a public image of a nation. All went smoothly through the balance of 1938 with but two exceptions. Both were exceedingly distressing to Hyde.
The first incident came as a shock to both Hyde and de Valera. Routinely, Hyde had received an invitation to attend an international soccer match, to be held in Dublin on November 13, 1938. Routinely, he had accepted. Suddenly what had been anticipated as an enjoyable occasion, a welcome diversion from the usual daily schedule, became an ugly incident. Hyde was reminded that the Gaelic Athletic Association, of which he had long been a patron, expressly prohibited any support, by any member, of "foreign" games (i.e., games non-Irish in origin). By attending the international event, Hyde was told, he had violated this long-standing ban. Expulsion from the Gaelic Athletic Association was the penalty he would have to pay.
Founded in 1884 by Michael Cusack, a close friend and long-time associate whose death in 1906 at the comparatively young age of fifty-nine had been a blow to Hyde, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) had been successful not only in reviving native games but in attracting to them, as players and supporters, Irish men and women from all
the provinces of Ireland, regardless of religion, political sympathies, or social position. Long before he had made his famous speech on the subject, the GAA had in fact taken a giant step toward the deanglicization for which Hyde had called in 1892. When the Gaelic League was founded in 1893, Cusack, predictably, had been an early and enthusiastic member. The GAA quarterly journal, devoted to all aspects of native culture, had welcomed contributions from Hyde and other Gaelic Leaguers. An Seabhac, Erskine Childers, and Daniel Corkery had been among its authors. The lyrics of the GAA anthem, the "Marching Song of the Gaelic Athletes," had in fact been composed by Hyde. Despite these harmonious connections the members who had lodged the formal complaint against Hyde insisted that there could be no exception to the rules—Hyde's name must be struck from the list of GAA patrons. The matter went to the executive council of the organization, which supported the complaint despite protests from a number of district branches and opposition from de Valera. The expulsion was formally announced.
Eamon de Valera was furious when he received word of the executive council's action, but Hyde, although deeply wounded, argued against any public response. On his orders no statement was issued from the office of president. De Valera also acquiesced by keeping silent, but he did not forget. Biding his time, he waited until Hyde had retired from the presidency before bringing up the matter again, as a matter of principle, without involving personalities. His position was that no single organization had any right either to approve or bar the presence of the president of Ireland at any public function. This was a matter strictly between the president and the government. Yet the wound did not heal, at least not in Hyde's lifetime, so strong were the emotions involved. In August 1984 the contending voices were stilled at last when, in celebration of the GAA centennial, the Roscommon branch of the GAA held a ceremony at Hyde's graveside and affixed a plaque to the entrance of the small cemetery behind the Portahard church in Frenchpark to commemorate Hyde's friendship with Michael Cusack and his early contributions to the organization.
The second distressing incident was not unexpected but affected Hyde even more deeply. Lucy's health, for many years uncertain, had been declining steadily throughout the fall. Hyde wrote to her regularly, sent gifts of pâté, German newspapers, and other such items that he knew would appeal to her, welcomed what little he could find of good cheer in her letters to him, and was in constant touch with her physician,
Dr. Kilgallen. He had taken pains to find an understanding and dependable nurse to stay with her, and when he himself could not visit, he relied on his surrogates, Annette and Una, to go down to Roscommon whenever they could and to report to him on her condition upon their return to Dublin. In late November he was upset to hear that the nurse had resigned, leaving the maid, Kate, burdened with full responsibility for Lucy in addition to her regular duties. It was not easy to replace the nurse, nor was there any assurance that a new nurse would remain longer than the last, for Frenchpark was isolated and Lucy was not an easy patient. Moreover, the medication regularly prescribed for Lucy—the regimen had been begun many years before, partly on the advice of George Sigerson, when less was known of the dangers—contained ingredients such as belladonna that often left her weak and lethargic, in need of frequent assistance. The exact nature of her illness apparently was difficult to determine. In later years, in response to inquiries, Dr. Kilgallen spoke vaguely of "moral neurosis," by which he seemed to mean a form of neurasthenia. What was certain is that by the fall of 1938 there was little in Lucy's behavior or appearance that would recall the quick, intelligent, well-educated, self-assured, and assertive young woman Douglas Hyde had courted forty-six years earlier, except perhaps her continuing interest in German literature and culture. Those close to Hyde knew that her illness had been costly in financial as well as emotional terms. The newspaper might suggest that, with his salary of £15,000—a sum they obviously regarded as munificent—Douglas Hyde was a wealthy man. But in fact one of his aides was surprised at what he described as the starkness of Ratra, and spoke of one room in which the walls were covered in old newspapers, observations that suggested to him a miserly nature until he realized what sums were being spent by Hyde on medical attention for his wife and on the staff necessary to care for her.
Early in December came word from Roscommon that Lucy's physical condition was deteriorating rapidly; Hyde was advised to plan a trip earlier than Christmas, which he had planned to spend at Ratra. Quickly he and McDunphy reviewed his schedule to determine what could be postponed, what had to be done. One thing he could not put off was his radio speech to America, to be broadcast on December 22. While keeping in daily touch with Dr. Kilgallen and the faithful Kate, he prepared and revised his handwritten draft. "My friends, my very dear friends of America whom I have never forgotten and never can forget, . . ." it began in English, "I give you my warmest greetings in
the Irish language which is the language of my heart." Continuing in English, after his Irish greeting, he wrote of his gratitude for the reception he had received in more than fifty American cities during the fall, winter, and spring of 1905–1906, "when I was only a humble worker in the cause for the restoration of our own language." The goal set those long years ago had been reached, he reported; his plea for funds for the Gaelic League to which the American Irish had responded so warmly had made the difference. Irish, he declared, "although not widely spoken yet, is recognised by our Constitution to be the national language of Ireland." Its literature is "being unfolded in all its beauty to all the people. . . . A sound beginning has been made." Yet, he reminded them, the dream remained short of full realization: "Ireland has independent statehood, though not . . . for the whole of our national territory." He concluded as he had begun, in Irish: "Beannacht Dé orraibh go léir, agus go dtugaidh Dia Nodlaig shona dhibh, agus bliadhan nua fe shean agus fe mhaise." (Blessings on you all, and may God give you a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.)
On December 22, Hyde gave his address as planned. When the engineers signaled that the broadcast was over, he rose and walked out with his aide-de-camp into the gathering darkness. There his car waited, the small tricolor above the presidential plaque on its roof barely visible. A detachment of local gardaí saluted, and the car began its journey west across the Shannon, into Connacht, on to Frenchpark, to Ratra and Lucy's bedside. Nine days later Lucy died.
As if the reality of words set down in ink could etch the reality of his widowhood on his conscious mind, within the next days and weeks Hyde often scribbled phrases on scraps of paper to remind himself of the routine tasks that had to be taken care of as a result of Lucy's death. First, of course, was the announcement for the newspapers, drafted and revised and reviewed with McDunphy, who then made sure it was properly distributed:
Hyde, December 31, 1938, at her residence Ratra, Lucy Cometina, beloved wife of Douglas Hyde, LL.D., daughter of the late Charles Kurtz of Coed-y-Celyn House. The President wishes that the funeral should be private and that no flowers should be sent.
Next came the matter of arrangements. "Burial, local," wrote Hyde, on one scrap of paper. Then "where—Portahard," "who notified—Canon Furlong," and, in response to information he had requested which then required a choice, "coffin—what price?" It was not, of course, Hyde's
first experience with the death of someone close to him, nor even the first in which responsibility for arrangements had fallen on his shoulders. Indeed, with McDunphy and de Buitléar at his side, willing and capable of relieving him of the necessity of coping with mundane details, there was actually little for him to do, once decisions were made. His father's death in 1905; Nuala's death in 1916; these had been harder. And when Cam Kane died in 1932, leaving Annette a widow, he had come forward to perform the brotherly services through which he was able to communicate his affection for both Cam and Annette—his closest friends, really—in ways more effective than mere words. But Lucy: the feelings engendered by this last parting were much more complex than any he had experienced before. In October 1893 Lucy and Hyde had been married. Three months earlier Hyde, MacNeill, and others had joined in founding the Gaelic League. She had not then seemed unsympathetic to his interests and hopes for the future of the language. Together, they had brought two children into the world. Together, they had buried one of them. At what point had she discovered that she could not share his dream? He could not give it up, of course—it was too much a part of him, the part that in many ways had made him a son of Seamas Hart. He had not known when he married how fully the cloak of the Countess Cathleen would envelop him. He had not realized how much Lucy would resent his commitment. In the 1938 revision of his biography, Diarmid Coffey had written:
Mrs. Hyde has always been the greatest strength and stay to her husband. She was never a Gael; her contribution to Hyde's success was that of the cool critic who helped him to come to the right judgment in time of crisis. It is no exaggeration to say that without her help he could not have survived the strain of his years of struggle.
But in America she had blurted out to an interviewer, "I didn't marry a man, I married a cause," and at the dinner table, when Hyde tried to speak Irish with the children or referred to a place he had visited by its Irish name, she would mock the sounds of the language, purposely mangling them for comic effect when she repeated what he said. Yet she was always solicitous of him, of his health, of his energies, of his position. She was furious when he did not receive the attention or respect she thought he had earned; when she felt that arrangements for his talks had been badly handled; when his efforts were not acclaimed or publicized. Everyone who ever had worked closely with him had received her letters, full of concern for her husband, urging that he not be per-
mitted to overexert himself, strain his voice in too many successive lectures, fail to take the daily rest he needed, to avoid the colds and sore throats that always plagued him. And in the end, thanks to her care, he was robust—she was the one who failed. Characteristically, what was deepest and most personal for Hyde was least expressed. As always he used the façade of the public man to shield his private self.
In the weeks following Lucy's death, 106 letters, some enclosing cards or press cuttings, were sent from Áras an Uachtaráin to people who had known her. They went into every province of Ireland and to far corners of the world. One recipient was Mrs. Fitzwilliam Hyde, in Berkshire; another, Lieutenant Anthony Hyde, serving the Royal Dragoon Guards in Palestine; still another, Ben Greenwald, the Columbia University graduate student who, during his extended visit to Ratra in the summer of 1937, had been kind to her. Letters were sent also to such old friends as Sinéad de Valera and Maud Gonne; to Lady Stafford King-Harman of Rockingham Park and other members of Lucy's Anglo-Irish social circle in Roscommon; to Willie Stockley, still living in Cork; and to O'Conor Don and other Clonalis House O'Conors, wintering at the Hotel d'Angleterre in Nice, where the Hydes had spent a portion of their honeymoon.
On a cold and cheerless day in January 1939 Douglas Hyde signed his name to a document authorizing payment of one pound to Lucy's gravediggers and eighteen pounds for her coffin. She now lay next to her daughter Nuala in the little Church of Ireland graveyard in Frenchpark, near her mother-in-law who had died in 1885, her father-in-law who had died in 1905, and Annette's husband, John Cambreth Kane, who had died in 1932. If Hyde wondered as he wrote how long it would be before he himself would join them, he gave no sign of such thoughts but concentrated on the work still to be done. Another speech to America had been scheduled; it was important. The occasion was the opening of the New York World's Fair, the first international exposition at which Ireland would have its own pavilion, under its own flag. Its purpose, like that of his speech of December 22, would be to make friends. The war drums were again beating louder, as they had in 1914. The nations of the Western world were choosing up sides again. Ireland was again in the role of innocent bystander, vulnerable and defenseless in the conflict that—it was now being said openly—probably no longer could be avoided. As in 1914 England was again exerting pressures that, now that Ireland was no longer under British rule, were even more unacceptable than they had been a quarter of a century earlier. Given
British refusal to consider steps that might lead eventually to the reunification of Ireland, de Valera refused absolutely to concede to demands for British military use of Irish ports, especially as such use of these ports inevitably would draw fire on Ireland.
Back in his study in Phoenix Park, Hyde sat at his writing table near the great windows open to the south and west and began drafting what he wanted to say to the American people. De Valera had asked Hyde if he could strike the proper note to persuade them to keep British troops out of Ireland and British ships out of its harbors. Hyde wondered: would the United States support Irish neutrality?
Death again diminished Hyde's personal world on the twenty-eighth of January when Ireland received word of the passing of its first Nobel Prize winner, W. B. Yeats. Time and circumstances had taken them along different paths, but once they had shared a dream, and they had both lived to see some of their dreams come true. De Valera, too, was a dreamer of dreams—and, also like Yeats, a skillful manager of women and men and a practical politician. It was practical for him to rely on Hyde to speak to the American people of old friendships and former support while he himself remained firm on questions of British military use of Irish ports, Irish neutrality, and Northern Ireland. Hyde was a symbol of de Valera's continuing commitment to Irish Ireland. Hyde could keep the home fires burning while de Valera negotiated abroad. De Valera was the Big Fellow, the Chief, the one who made the rest of the world sit up and take notice. Hyde was the grandfatherly An Craoibhin who, unable to contain his curiosity, stepped down from the reviewing stand in College Green to peek down Dame Street, which had begun to pulse with sounds of approaching martial brass and drum, on St. Patrick's Day, 1939. Years later it was this image of the president that endured in the heart of a small boy, present on that occasion, who had himself inched forward impatiently for the same reason.
Behind the scenes in this last spring before war enveloped Europe, John Cudahy's firm support for de Valera's tactics began to weaken. War clouds had grown more threatening since Hitler's Anschluss in Austria in March and the Munich Pact of September 1938. On February 9, 1939, Cudahy had warned Roosevelt that the only hope of "staying the aggressive tactics of Mussolini and Hitler" was by "confronting them with the reality that the U.S." would support Great Britain and France "by material means." When within weeks of sending this letter he learned that de Valera had accepted an invitation from Roosevelt to visit Washington in May, Cudahy was concerned. Writing scathingly
of "the crushing failure" of Chamberlain's policies regarding all Europe and the British government's refusal to admit its failures in Ireland, he told Roosevelt that he had tried to impress on de Valera the importance of not talking too much about Partition and unity with Northern Ireland during his upcoming American tour—to caution him that any attack on England would be detrimental to the Irish cause. On April 27 de Valera cabled Washington his regrets that he would have to postpone his transatlantic trip. His official explanation to the Dáil was that "certain grave offenses" of the previous day had "changed the situation." In diplomatic circles it was generally believed that this was a broad reference to Great Britain's announcement that conscription would include Northern Ireland. As likely a reason was de Valera's view that the trip could accomplish nothing for him if as both Cudahy and Hyde had warned, he could not seize the opportunity to attract Irish-American public opinion to his cause. In Áras an Uachtaráin, Hyde and Frank MacDermot reviewed Ireland's position between Scylla and Charybdis. It was a major topic of discussion also between Hyde and de Valera, on the latter's evening visits to the Park. A year earlier it had seemed even to Cudahy that the threat of war would force England into a conciliatory position favorable to those committed to a united Ireland. Pressure from America had been essential to their hopes. But the United States was now as then unwilling to take any stand that might in any way encourage the dictators in Europe; the psychological moment appeared lost.
On the same day that de Valera announced his postponement of his American trip, Hyde hosted an official dinner at Áras an Uachtaráin for his old friends and associates in the Gaelic League. The guest of honor was John MacNeill, another of the league's founders, and the man who had taken over the presidency of the league following Hyde's resignation in 1915. Even before, as vice-president (as Hyde had declared in Mise agus An Conradh and in his unpublished memoir of 1918), MacNeill had worked unstintingly on behalf of the language and the organization. A first-rate historian specializing in early Ireland, like Hyde, MacNeill had been tapped for service on the faculty of University College, Dublin; there the two men again had been colleagues. And although MacNeill had headed the Volunteers before the Rising, he had shared Hyde's unwillingness to resort to force in 1916, knowing as Hyde did the odds against its resulting in anything but tragedy for Ireland; he had tried therefore to forestall the Rising by countermanding, too late, Pearse's orders. The 1939 dinner brought together those who
had fought and those who had opposed fighting in 1916 and again in 1922. A reminder of the bitterness that had separated the two sides on both those occasions was the absence of some who never had been reconciled to Hyde's or MacNeill's position and who had now become disappointed in and disillusioned with de Valera for not having achieved the goal for which they had twice risked their lives. In their impatience with Hyde, MacNeill, and de Valera, they were now joined by other young militants who were applying old pressures to the new constitutional government.
Despite the rising tensions, summer brought opportunities for Hyde to return to Ratra to fish on Lough Gara as he had fished every single summer of his life from the time his family moved from Kilmactranny to Frenchpark in 1867. De Buitléar accompanied him. Lucy's will had been probated on March 21; all her worldly goods, all her carefully managed investments, had been left to Hyde, for his use during his lifetime, in trust for Una. No longer did the enormous expenses of her care and medical treatment strain his resources, yet Ratra remained, in the opinion of his aide-de-camp, a sparsely furnished place unsuited to the president's position. Nor did de Buitléar approve of the careless way in which there were always books and papers scattered about. It was very different indeed from his own cozy and attractive though much more modest home. Thinking to give it the kind of cheerful order to which he himself was accustomed (and which he therefore could not help but associate with a well-managed household), one evening after the president had gone to bed the young officer set about arranging the books and putting the papers into neat piles. In the morning he was astonished to hear a roar of anger from the sitting room where, the night before, Hyde had been reading and making notes. Red-faced and raging, completely the opposite of the mild-mannered, jocular, easygoing old gentleman de Buitléar thought he knew, Hyde had scattered the neat piles of paper and tossed down the books that had been shelved, in a futile attempt to locate an item for which he had been searching. Never again, he told his aide, must anyone have the temerity to disturb his work. Contrary to what the young man might have thought, he declared through quivering mustaches, every piece of paper, every single volume on desk, chair, table, or floor had been given its place for a specific purpose. Only if the house were on fire could there be any exception to his rule. Although often tempted, de Buitléar never forgot, and eventually he got used to the president's unconsciousness of his surroundings and conscious disorder.
On one of their summer fishing expeditions to Ratra, de Buitléar glimpsed still another side of Hyde about which he had heard a certain amount of gossip. Early in the morning, as usual, they picked up their rods and strolled down the road—a cart path, actually—to the Maxwell cottage at the edge of the lake where Hyde kept his boat. The Maxwell brothers helped shove them out through the reeds into the silvery, shallow water. A warm sun rose; with them they had Carrie Mahon's good brown bread and butter and a couple of bottles of stout. One after the other the bottles were emptied as the sun rose high over the lake and then began its descent. The fish were not biting—Hyde had predicted as much when he realized that the day would be fine—and after a while de Buitléar, who had lost interest in the dim prospect of a catch, began amusing himself by tossing two bottles in the air and shooting at them with his service pistol. A gruff sound made him turn; he was astonished by the look of disapproval on the older man's face. Thinking that it was the noise to which Hyde objected, de Buitléar put away his pistol. In the quiet waters of the lake the bottles bobbed astern for the next hour or so until the two men decided to bring the boat in. "Shouldn't you get those bottles?" Hyde asked in Irish, in a tone that left no doubt about the expected answer. "There's money on them, you know."
Lucy often was indignant at any suggestion that Hyde was ungenerous, but stories about his "nearness" (as Frenchpark neighbors used the term, with a conspiratorial wink and toss of the head) are firmly fixed in local lore. One farmer recounts how, when he was "no more than a gossoon" he and his friends had knocked on Hyde's door one day, dressed in worn-out clothing and carrying a broken concertina someone had discarded, hoping for a few coins. Holding up a half-crown, a munificent sum to the boys, Hyde asked if they knew a certain tune. Excitedly they all chorused "Yes!" "If you will play it for me on that squeeze box there," Hyde said, grinning mischievously and pointing to the instrument which clearly could not produce a note, "here's two-and-six for you." Another man, a pensioner in 1971, recalled Hyde's hiring himself and his friend to clean up leaves one autumn. It was a cold day, he remembered, and they had been working long and hard when Hyde emerged from his house with a bottle of stout in each hand. "I don't drink at all," the friend had said, according to the storyteller, who had been eying the two bottles, he admitted, thinking they both would be his. "You're a good man," Hyde said to the workman who had refused the stout. Then, handing over just one bottle to his partner, he returned to the house with the other.
Others (many long retired, some now dead, since they recorded their memories) have added their recollections that Hyde had the Anglo-Irish landlord's habit of "paying half"—that is, reducing any bill presented by fifty percent, with promise of the balance (never fully forthcoming) the next time, when again only one-half of the sum due would be paid. The men and women who worked for the Hydes in Ratra dispute such tales, putting them down to jealousy, greed, and the Irish penchant for deflation, or blaming the newspapers for raising exaggerated expectations by making so much of Hyde's presidential salary of £15,000—a small fortune to the modest people of Roscommon in 1938–1945. All agree that whatever the truth of such stories, Hyde was generally well liked by his Roscommon neighbors, for he never put on airs or tried to be anything but what he was: the son of an Anglo-Irish clergyman. What criticism there is of his behavior toward the local people of Roscommon or the small farmers of the west comes, curiously, not from them at all, but from Hyde's more affluent contemporaries. "He never really was one of the country people, for all his talking Irish," said one man; "there was always a lot of the squireen about him, especially in the way he talked and dressed." For this he was in fact respected, declared a woman who had known Hyde as a friend of her parents, who both had been active in the Gaelic League.
He didn't embarrass people by trying to be more Irish than the Irish or wearing a kilt or chattering away in the Irish language to anyone he happened to meet driving cows along the road, as if everyone who looked after a couple of cows was just out of the bogs or down from the mountains. He loved the language, surely, and he wanted others to love it, too. But he was a very courteous and intelligent man; he'd never have such poor manners as to make someone feel bad for not having any Irish.
Such an attitude, however—adopted not as a result of personal conviction but out of overdiligence—was sometimes perceived in members of Hyde's staff after he became president. De Buitléar had a story that he told on himself, about a trip back from Galway one day, passing through Ballyhaunis. Noticing a teenage boy who was lounging against a gate, studying the presidential car with great interest, Hyde ordered the driver to stop, rolled down his window, and spoke in Irish. Back came a gibberish parody of what the president had just said. Indignant at what he regarded as disrespect, de Buitléar jumped from the car and demanded the boy's name. Back in Dublin, he complained to a garda official, who had the boy brought into the Ballyhaunis garda station
for questioning. The report sent to Áras an Uachtaráin stated that the boy had meant no disrespect but only was having a bit of fun with the old gentleman. He had no idea that the man in the car was the president of Ireland. The interviewing officer added his own comments, that he knew the boy well and was sure he had intended no harm. De Buitléar was abashed, feeling that he had made himself and perhaps Hyde as well look foolish by making so much of the incident. By then he knew that Hyde not only could take such joking about Irish but was not above making a few jokes himself. Often, de Buitléar recalled, Hyde would say to him, "What is it that you call this country I am president of?" and then try to mimic de Buitléar's pronunciation of "Éire" which, according to his aide, Hyde could never say quite right, the slender r always proving too difficult for him. In later years, when they had come to know each other better, de Buitléar sometimes used to initiate the routine, in which he would ask the question and Hyde would give the answer, waving his hand in mock submission when his aide shook his head to signify that his slender r was still not correct. Hyde was in fact never a stickler for correctness, de Buitléar declared. As much Irish as anyone had was all he would expect; his delight in whatever few phrases a body could speak was what encouraged those around him who were not native speakers to try harder.
By late August 1939 the short Irish summer was visibly over: in the country oak trees were yellowing, and the vines that crept up the walls of great stone houses and twined around the trunks of large trees had turned a rich burgundy. On the last day of the month Hyde was in Galway to receive the Freedom of the City, an honor "exceeding all others," he declared, in a speech prepared in his own hand on Áras an Uachtaráin stationery, because Galway was for him "the most Gaelic city of Ireland." It was, moreover, a wonderful city that had undergone amazing growth and change in twenty years. Although it was a city he always had known well, because of its proximity to his native Roscommon, he had scarcely recognized it, he admitted, on a recent visit to the Taibhdhearc, Ireland's national Irish-language theater, so many new large houses had been built and there were so many new streets everywhere. That the city had flourished as it became more Irish was Hyde's important message. There were those who had said it could not happen—that an Irish-speaking Ireland would suffer economically and Irish-speaking children would be isolated from the rest of the Western world. Here, he told the lord mayor and members of the Galway Corporation, was evidence that such predictions were false. Galway had
proved that it could take its place among the cities of the world without giving up its Irishness. In it he saw united the Ireland of past and future. Every true Irish man and woman in Ireland would continue to support and strengthen their language, Hyde avowed, until perhaps one day "only Irish will be spoken in every shop; every house, every street in this great city."
If in retrospect Hyde's sentiments seem exaggerated, rooted more in wishful thinking than in fact, in August of 1939 a city at the edge of Ireland's largest Gaeltacht that was indeed growing in economic strength and population was certainly a symbol of hope for supporters of Irish Ireland. Europe had begun to recover from the worst worldwide depression in history; the fortunes of western Ireland had begun to reverse after centuries of decline. With continued peace and increasing prosperity, prospects of a brighter future for Connacht seemed assured, for despite the general feeling that war in Europe almost certainly could not be avoided, de Valera was determined that, however close the conflict, Ireland would remain neutral. Other countries of the continent could bankrupt themselves in territorial struggles and senseless destruction. Ireland now free, its ports its own to control, would concentrate on its own development, on the education of its own people, on the building—after centuries of domination and exploitation—of itself as a modern nation. Dispatches from American and British consular officers described de Valera as a dreamer and dismissed Hyde as a powerless old man. The world was smaller than it had been twenty-five years ago, when the First World War raged in Europe without touching Ireland's shores; in the coming conflagration, they believed, neutrality would be out of the question.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. At eleven o'clock that night Hyde was awakened in Galway. A telephone call from Dublin brought him the news and advised that he immediately return to Dublin. There was as yet no emergency—no need of speeding through the night along the narrow, twisting roads of Connacht, across midland bog and plain, until the looming Dublin mountains signaled that he would soon be within the gates of Phoenix Park once more. Nevertheless, it was best that he begin the journey the next day and keep in touch with the government should things change more rapidly than anticipated. In many respects on his return east Hyde traveled from future hope to present reality. Along the route he and his aide stopped at Costello's in Tuam, as was their custom when they were in that part of the country. Years ago, when he was collecting Connacht folktales, it had become
one of Hyde's favorite stopping places. A bottle was produced, there was a round of drinks to accompany a round of talk, and the presidential car pushed on toward Frenchpark, so its occupants might spend the night at Ratra. By the time Hyde reached Dublin on the afternoon of September 3—for their lunch Annette Kane had prepared sandwiches of herring skins—the speech he made in Galway was might-have-been. England had declared war on Germany. Again as in 1914, just as he seemed on the verge of seeing his dreams realized, he was defeated by history. The truth of what was happening and what the implications would be for Ireland did not strike him immediately—indeed, not for some months, as events continued to unfold along lines he had not anticipated. But with the invasion of Poland and declarations of war came shortages of materials needed for Ireland's continuing development. At this time of expansion and growth in the west, such an interruption, which continued throughout the war, meant a steady diminution of prospects for an Irish Ireland. Hope and commitment diminished with them, as hard times returned not just to the west but to the entire country. By winter slow and sporadic shipments from Britain had reduced fuel stocks to critical levels; Hyde ordered that coal stored for use at Áras an Uachtaráin be distributed among the people of Dublin, and that turf be brought in from the bogs to heat the president's house in Phoenix Park. Hyde, Cudahy, and de Valera all agreed: it would be a long war; things would get a lot worse before they got better.
Throughout the fall, in letters to Roosevelt, Cudahy warned that de Valera's determination to remain neutral had to be taken seriously. Those who hoped for cooperation between Britain and Ireland could take no comfort, he said, from the fact that newspapers represented the Chief as assailed at home on all sides, the nationalists accusing him of being in Chamberlain's vest pocket and the Unionists denouncing his neutrality policy as treacherously pro-German. De Valera remained in charge, declared Cudahy, and adamant. He warned, furthermore, that any unilateral moves by the British admiralty toward conducting naval operations from the Irish ports returned to Ireland under the provisions of the 1937 agreement would engender nothing but implacable hostility among the Irish. His advice to Roosevelt—Cudahy saw the issues as economic rather than idealistic—was to keep the United States aloof from the British-Irish controversy and, if possible, remain neutral with regard to the war. He himself had tried to convince de Valera to preside over the upcoming meeting of the League of Nations, in hopes that
some resolution of British-Irish tensions could be worked out in that international forum. De Valera had refused. Bitter and cynical about the league's influence and goals, certain that the meeting for which Cudahy had such high hopes would come to nothing, he had stated publicly that he would not even attend in person but would send a civil servant to represent Ireland.
War in Europe had no effect, however, on many routine aspects of Hyde's life. That letters from favor seekers continued to trickle into Áras an Uachtaráin, for example, sometimes gave the news from Europe a curiously unreal quality. In November there was a long letter from a Big House in Ballymoe, a small village within five miles of Castlerea: Would the president immediately take steps to stop the transfer of a "great sportsman of a sergeant at Ballintobber [sic]" who "has a great terrier for finding the foxes," asked Hyde's correspondent, further explaining that the garda in question was "a topper at the foxes" himself, as was his dog, and it would be "the devil's loss here" were he transferred to county Clare. For his 1939 "Christmas card"—actually a small illustrated book—Hyde sent his translation of Deirdre, which had won the vice-chancellor's prize at Trinity, to a long list of friends and associates. Acknowledging the gift, W. M. Crook, a former Trinity classmate, chided Hyde for having missed the last meeting of the College Historical Society, to which he had always been so faithful. At the same time, aware that only an illness could have kept Hyde away, Crook closed with the admonition, "You are very necessary to Ireland, so you must take care of yourself." In January, following receipt of an announcement that Hyde had been elected president of "the Hist," Crook wrote again:
Trinity was always slow to recognize your distinction. I always resented their narrow unwillingness to offer you the Irish chair in the University. Better later than never. They have repented. . . . At your age you are really a marvel, the reward of a well spent life, a life of much achievement in many spheres—and crowned at the end with great recognition.
From abroad also there were thank-you letters for Deirdre and for the good wishes from Hyde that the little book brought: other friends, former students, Gaelic League comrades from the old days, and fellow scholars were equally pleased to be remembered, and they marveled each in turn that with all the responsibilities of public office—and at his age—he still took time for the old courtesies that had characterized his personal relationships throughout his life. His mail did not consist only of compliments and congratulations, however. Predictably he received
letters also from political opponents, mostly men and women who regarded de Valera as too powerful and his regime as a betrayal of nationalist ideals. Their target was the taoiseach , but the president also received a swipe of their satiric brush, because de Valera, it was said, had chosen him. There were also antilanguage people who regarded the Gaelic League as an anachronism and prolanguage people who read its populist programs, addressed in English, as hypocrisy. They, too, wrote letters to Áras an Uachtaráin, for they perceived the league as still controlled by Hyde, but more often they expressed their complaints in public, through broadsheets and similar publications.
One anti-Hyde pamphlet printed in early 1940, entitled Imaginary Happenings , was distributed by the Irish Book Society, 8 Upper O'Connell Street. In an essay entitled "Imaginary Manifesto from the Gaelic League," it announced:
We are issuing this Manifesto in English because we want to reach everybody, even the 257 people who do not yet understand Irish, in spite of the success that has attended our efforts both in the Old Gaelic League and the New. . . . This remarkable success has been achieved by keeping Republican politics and mad talk about separation from the British Empire out of our deliberations. . . . We are criticised for remaining silent and inactive when Gaelic Leaguers who are Republicans were imprisoned for their separatist activities, and even when they were at death's door in a hunger strike for justice. . . . but we must above all things be cautious, careful, prudent, diplomatic, non-sectarian, non-political and non-Republican, even to an extent that may at times appear to be non-National. And since we joined up with Co-Co, as the new Gaelic League is called, we have to be extra careful because there are salaries, jobs and pensions at stake—the Hire Culture, as it were. We must march behind Mr. De Valera and his Government in public, no matter how heartily we may curse them in private.
Another essay, entitled "Political Bombshell! Dr. Hyde Refuses to Sign A Bill," was more direct in its attack on Hyde, through the old technique of the imaginary interview. The occasion for the interview, according to the prefatory statement, was his "point-blank" rejection of legislation,
passed by a majority of the minority present in Leinster House on February 20 . . . [that] seeks to make it a crime to think for more than 32 seconds at a time about the restoration of the Republic of Ireland; every other conceivable form of offense being already provided for in the other Coercion Acts.
The "interviewer," the reader is told, caught "His Excellency" at the back entrance of the "Viceregal Lodge" (such terms were employed by
disaffected nationalists to communicate their conviction that de Valera and Hyde had sold out to the British) as he was slipping out with his caddy, McDunphy, for "a quiet game of golf" on his private course. "The President of Ireland (less six counties) Hyde" (as the writer labels his subject) defended his decision by declaring it, in an imaginary quote, "'consistent with every action of my public life for the last forty years.'" Moreover, he continued,
I have discovered from a perusal of the splendid stories written about me during the past couple of years by Roddy the Rover and other scrupulously honest historians and humorists, that I have always been a hillsider, an out-and-outer, an extremist, a separatist, a hater of the British Crown and all the devilish things it represents in this country.
Furthermore, it would be "courting disaster" he said, to put his name on yet another of the
infernal British coercion laws against which my new found biographers say I have been swearing all my life . . . and whatever I may want to do in the courting line, it isn't that. Besides, we have enough coercion in force already to wipe out the last trace of Irish republicanism and we haven't been able to wipe out even the first trace of it.
Glaring at his caddy, "who was making signs to him to go easy," the imaginary Hyde then said,
Where would I be only for the Republic? In a moment of aberration and because, as Mr. De Valera would say, I denounced the Rising of 1916 as a criminal business, and told the British Government how I detested the action of Pearse and the rest of them, but it was Easter Week that got me the fine, easy enjoyable job I have today—not forgetting the Irish Times , of course, which first suggested my name for the Presidency. I have my job, I'm well paid for doing nothing, I'll probably get a pension like my predecessors here and why should I bite the hand that has fed me?
To suggest that the president of Ireland was no different in philosophy or political affiliation from the British lords lieutenant who formerly lived in the Park, even to the point of being eligible for the same kind of British pension, was a particularly hard slap at the government. Following other allusions to his "'cushy job'" and the "'lashings and leavings of everything and the salary of a prince,'" imaginary Hyde concluded the interview with a final sly suggestion of enlightened self-interest: "'Douglas knows just how much coercion is good for him, and he's as fond of his skin as the next guy. Do you get me?'" Then, "dig-
nified as ever he bowed to your representative, gave McDunphy a prod with the putter, and proceeded to tee."
Libelous as such as article might seem to readers accustomed to today's strict laws, for Hyde it was simply another item to add to his scrapbook of verbal and graphic attacks in the same genre, albeit from radically different viewpoints, of which so often he had been the target during his many years in public life. Nor was it likely that a man who had been the subject of George Moore's satiric pen would be stung by such far less sophisticated journalistic needling: as satire, Imaginary Happenings suffered even in comparison with Hyde's own forays in the same field. Nevertheless, the imaginary interview of 1940 did address a particular set of issues that could not be regarded as less than ironic.
Thirty-five years earlier Hyde had published The Bursting of the Bubble , his savage attack on Trinity College, the lord lieutenant, the social circle that gathered at the Viceregal Lodge, and other facets of the British Establishment in Ireland. In his prime he often had been denounced for his anti-British attitudes and treated with pained condescension in the pages of the Irish Times . Now he was the Man in the Park; now he represented the Establishment to those regarded as hotheaded radicals; now he was perceived as the darling of the staid and respectable Irish Times ! The truth behind the accusations was that the Gaelic League had gone its own way since 1915, when Hyde resigned as its president. Although he had never dropped his membership and he had always maintained a close friendship with those who had succeeded him, he never had led the league again; contrary to the impression communicated in Imaginary Happenings , he had not even been a guiding spirit behind the scenes in recent years. To be sure, he had continued to side with those who advocated promotion of the language through persuasion rather than coercion; for this reason he had been against excluding anyone interested in Irish, no matter how limited in comprehension or conversational ability. This attitude dismayed those within the league who maintained that the time for amateurism was long past, that the major task facing Gaelic Revivalists was the establishment of standards by which grammar and vocabulary might be taught and fluency in conversational and written use might be judged, in order that Irish might be studied on the same basis as French, German, English, and other modern languages. The embarrassing statistics on the poor success rate of Irish-language classes provided further ammunition for anti-revivalists already armed with figures on declining language use.
As for 1916, Hyde, like MacNeill, had indeed opposed the Rising, but not in the manner nor for the reasons suggested in Imaginary Happenings . For him the time had not been right, support had not been sufficiently strong, nonviolent alternatives had almost succeeded and could yet succeed. But above all he had feared exactly what had occurred: that Ireland would lose too many of its brightest and most talented young leaders and thinkers and writers; that the country he had struggled to unify would only be further divided. His long-range goals always had been independence for a united Ireland. If out of that Easter week sacrifice of twenty-four years ago had come a new nation, it was a nation still divided—politically and philosophically as well as geographically. By what means would those who now sneered at what he stood for and what he had accomplished achieve what was still beyond their grasp? More violence? A greater and more bitter divisiveness? These were questions that concerned him.
Yet there were points to these attacks that could not be ignored, even though Hyde's presidential powers did not extend into areas that enabled him to address them directly. Was the government stifling justified opposition? Had refusal to engage in dialogue with nationalists as impatient in 1939 and 1940 as de Valera himself had been in 1916 left them no alternative but separatist activities and hunger strikes? As there had been toadies and sycophants around the Castle and Viceregal Lodge, concerned with nothing more idealistic than the protection of their positions and the chance for personal advancement, was there now a "Hire Culture" that exacted loyalty to the government as the price of jobs, salaries, and pensions? Had Sean O'Casey been correct in suggesting that the new Irish government elected by the people was as unresponsive to their needs and wishes and desires and dreams as the old British government had been? Were the people right in turning to the president, through such avenues as Imaginary Happenings , to challenge him to provide—if indeed he had no power—at least the protection or assistance of his influence?
Closely monitoring these winds of Irish public opinion, a new neighbor had come to the Park in February. His name was David Gray; he replaced John Cudahy who for the past year had been chafing in his position on the sidelines of the European conflict. Cudahy's sincerest wish, he had been writing to Roosevelt, was to be transferred to Europe where he could better use his expertise to analyze events as they occurred, instead of conducting postmortems when finally the news reached him in Ireland. Where he was, Cudahy was convinced, he could do nothing. He was certain that de Valera could not be moved from
his determination to maintain neutrality without some concessions on the border issue, nor would Chamberlain ever be able to screw up his courage sufficiently to confront Sir James Craig and his crowd in the North with the necessity of bringing de Valera around. Cudahy also was not at all convinced that England would emerge victorious in the conflict that now fully engaged it. In Europe, he told Roosevelt, he could keep a closer eye on developments and advise the president of the best moment to negotiate with Germany, if such negotiations appeared inevitable, or increase assistance to France and England. Roosevelt obliged Cudahy with a transfer, but clearly he did not agree that the Irish post had diminished in importance. Nor did the man whom he selected as the next United States representative to Ireland.
David Gray was an intimate member of the Roosevelt family circle. His wife, the former Maude Waterbury, was Eleanor Roosevelt's favorite aunt. Gray had had no previous diplomatic experience when he was appointed to the Irish post six months after his seventieth birthday. From 1893, the year after his graduation from Harvard, until 1899 he had worked as a journalist for Rochester and Buffalo newspapers; in 1899, although he was admitted to the bar, he had turned his efforts primarily toward a more creative kind of writing. During the next forty years he had produced plays, articles, and at least one novel. Since money never had been a problem, he had been able to cultivate his talent without worrying about whether it would pay the grocery bill. His wife also was independently wealthy. The circles in which they moved were educated, sophisticated, privileged. They were accustomed to life close to the seats of power and influence. What did not seem to occur to them was that such a position was in itself a source of power. They took for granted and simply assumed, somewhat disingenuously, that it was right. Lack of actual diplomatic experience or career training in diplomacy therefore did not worry David Gray when the rumor that Roosevelt intended to name him American minister to Ireland became fact. The telegram Gray sent to Roosevelt on February 7, 1940, nine days before the post was officially his, was indicative of the self-assurance, poise, and sense of humor he would bring to the position:
David Gray to FDR: Congratulations on excellent appointment to Ireland.
Throughout his seven years in Ireland, Gray's communications to Roosevelt were characterized by the same breezy, informal, irreverent style. Beneath their entertaining wit they contained a frankness of
opinion and observation uncharacteristic of diplomatic reports. To the State Department, Gray sent briefer, more formal, and less informative communications.
David Gray came to Ireland with the obvious assumption that Douglas Hyde did not count. Although he paid the pro forma call on the president of Ireland to deliver his credentials, it was clearly with no expectation that he would be returning frequently to Áras an Uachtaráin or that it was at all necessary for him to cultivate the good opinion of the man who held the office and lived in the mansion. His attitude toward Hyde in his earliest letters from Ireland was a mixture of condescension and indulgence. Although he was but ten years Hyde's junior, his lack of regard was based in part on his transparent opinion that Hyde was a spent force, a bit of nostalgia, a formerly charismatic leader, now over-the-hill, who had outlived his followers. He might have received this impression from a State Department or Home Office assessment based on Hyde's disastrous 1925 senatorial campaign. More likely—Gray was not a man who relied on official files—it was a conclusion he had jumped to on his own. In any case he was certain that de Valera was his man; the Chief was the quarry he had been sent over to track down and put on a leash. To get to him he had to avoid McDunphy (Gray referred to him only as "Hyde's Secretary," as if his proper sphere were behind a typewriter or at the pencil sharpener), a nuisance who did not know his place. Bristling, Gray described to Roosevelt how, first on the twenty-second of March and then on the fifth of May, McDunphy had had the temerity to lecture both him and Vinton Chapin, secretary to the American legation, on the history of Irish neutrality and the futility of American attempts to force a change. Had Gray understood that the secretary to the president was a government official appointed by de Valera, not Hyde, with responsibilities for liaison between Áras an Uachtaráin and Leinster House, he might have regarded McDunphy as more useful and therefore more interesting. Had he realized that Hyde had a well-defined role as a member of de Valera's working team, he might have changed his own strategy. As it was, until mid-April, he spent a certain amount of time going around in circles, for when he had thought up a reason to ask for an appointment with de Valera, he was often referred to Hyde. And when he went to see Hyde, McDunphy sat him down to tea with Mrs. Kane.
On April 12 Ireland awoke to the news that during the night the president had suffered "a slight indisposition." Rumors spread through the country that Douglas Hyde was dead. On April 19 Gray wrote to Roosevelt:
In confidence we have been told that the President, Douglas Hyde, has had a stroke. He will probably make a partial recovery, but it is feared he is through. . . . I at once wrote him a note and sent flowers, and in a few days will write him that you have heard of his slight indisposition with regret and wish to convey your best wishes for his quick and complete recovery.
Gray added a note about McDunphy (whose name he consistently misspelled "McDumphy"): "We had tea yesterday with [Hyde's] sister and his secretary who insists that he is secretary to the Presidency and not to Douglas Hyde." Persistently misinterpreting relationships important for him to understand, he took it as "a little friction between the Government and the Vice Regal Lodge," as if the British still governed Ireland and Hyde were the governor general. All would be well, however, he assured Roosevelt, for his wife, Maude, had "made a smash [sic] both upon Mrs. Kane, the sister, and also on the Secretary, McDumphy." Roosevelt's temperate response was a letter to Gray expressing sympathy for Hyde, "a fine and scholarly old gentleman." "If you get a chance," he continued, "tell him how deeply I regret his indisposition and express the hope that some day he and I will have a chance to meet each other."
The "scholarly old gentleman" whom Roosevelt never met, although Hyde outlived him by four years, had suffered in fact only a moderate stroke. For the moment his right hand, arm, and leg were paralyzed. His speech, however, was unaffected, and to the relief of those closest to him his mind remained clear and sharp. Most important, he was determined to conquer his disabilities. For the time being he was confined to bed, with his sister Annette and Nurse Kathleen Fitzsimons from Virginia, in county Cavan, looking after him. His morning conferences with McDunphy were moved to his bedside. The number of items to be disposed of were held to a necessary minimum. All appointments were cancelled while his doctors, family members, and close associates did what they could to ease his frustrations. What bothered him most, because he was reminded of it each morning when he met with McDunphy, was his inability to scrawl more than an undecipherable semblance of his signature. Propped up in bed, he employed exercise and manipulation to regain control of the muscles of his hand and fingers.
By mid-June, Hyde was able to sign his name in Irish ("Dubhglas de hÍde"), his pen name ("An Craoibhin"), and his title ("President of Ireland"). Gradually his hours in bed were alternated with intervals in a wheelchair, pushed by either a second aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Thomas Manning of Ballyferriter, who had joined the president's staff
on June 19, 1939, or his sister Annette,or McDunphy. With a plaid rug covering his legs, his tweed cap or black homburg on his head, and his muffler around his neck, once again he became a familiar figure on the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin. Down the garden path he was wheeled, to the lake where swans and cygnets swam up to seize the scraps he brought, or to the greenhouses for a chat with Luke Nangle, the gardener, or to his study where on his desk official papers lay awaiting his scrutiny or signature. On the mantelpiece of his study stood photographs of his daughters, Nuala and Una. Beside them was an autographed portrait of the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, who had twice entertained him at the White House during his American tour of 1905–1906 and who had written and spoken publicly of his appreciation of Irish literature.
Hyde's disadvantage was David Gray's opportunity. With Hyde indisposed, de Valera stopped playing cat-and-mouse with Gray and even invited him to informal gatherings attended by Sean T. O'Kelly, Frank Aiken, Sean McEntee, and others who had been in jail with the taoiseach in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising. Gray was astonished at the easy way these men joked about May 7, the night before de Valera was to be tried. All those who had come to trial before him had been executed. He described their recollections in letters dated April 14 and 15 addressed to Roosevelt:
They told Dev that he was a goner and cut buttons off his coat as souvenirs. O'Kelly got his fountain pen. To brighten the evening they held a mock trial, . . . charging him with being a pretender to the Islands of Something or Other (some rocks down the bay) and finally condemned him to be shot.
To Roosevelt he commented, unaware of how significantly his observation was linked to what McDunphy had been trying to tell him, "You can't beat people like that. This companionship explains why there have been no cabinet changes. . . ."
A few weeks later, concerned about rumors that the Germans were loading 40,000 men on transports in Norway, Gray assured Roosevelt that unless the Germans were crazy these transports were destined for Ireland, not England. Deeply worried that an undefended Ireland with unmined coastal waters was ripe for a Nazi invasion, he wrote, "It is heartbreaking when so much depends on making this island impregnable" that "petty jealousies and hates" should make a United States stand impossible. De Valera mystified him. At one point, he had assured Gray that he fully expected tremendous air attacks, "not by hundreds
of planes but by thousands." At another he had insisted that the only solution was for the North to join Éire in neutrality until both were invaded. At still another he had confided to Gray his conviction that "the freedom of Éire depends on the British fleet." Meanwhile, Gray confided to Roosevelt, he had it on good authority, from a source close to James Dillon, that de Valera had given Dillon, "very secretly," assurances that if a German invasion against Ireland actually began, Britain would provide immediate aid. For himself and Maude he assured Roosevelt, he was not worried. "I did what I have been putting off for two weeks, that is, examine the wine cellar as an air-raid shelter. We could retire there with a corkscrew and be very brave."
De Valera, of course, did not need to be warned of a possible invasion, by Gray or anyone else. The Irish government was well aware of the danger. In the meadows of Phoenix Park railway ties had been set on end in the ground, to a height of about four feet, to prevent gliders from landing. Every day, the rattle of machine-gun practice could be heard, interspersed with the sound of anti-aircraft guns. Nor were these preparations without cause. On August 26, 1940, several Wexford villages had been bombed by the Luftwaffe—by mistake, it was said; three young women had been killed. At Áras an Uachtaráin there was great concern for the safety of Douglas Hyde. The existing air-raid shelter was judged unsuitable, yet doctors had declared that in his state of health he should not be moved outside Áras unless it was absolutely necessary. Procedures issued by the Irish Defense Command called for stretchers to be available inside Áras for removing the president to other quarters while awaiting an ambulance, but they strongly urged that construction of a comfortable underground shelter be considered.
To David Gray, it was inconceivable that de Valera should be preparing for a German military invasion without doing the one thing most likely to save unarmed Ireland from disaster. Still hoping to find somewhere some aspect of the situation that would make sense to him, he consulted Senator Frank MacDermot of the MacDermots of Coolavin, currently an Irish correspondent for the London Sunday Times —and an old friend of Douglas Hyde. In such a man Gray hoped to find some understanding of the implications for Ireland of a recent agreement between England and the United States which would exchange overage destroyers for naval base privileges. MacDermot's response was to note that the Irish were having difficulty comprehending how this was, in Gray's words, "a first step toward an understanding of the democracies in cooperative defense against the Dictators."
Several months later Gray wrote Roosevelt that he had come to the conclusion that you either trust de Valera or you do not—but he was not sure which was the better choice. The Irish, he said, "are living in a world of unreality." Using Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park, New York, as an analogy, he complained that with only two exceptions "the whole government is of the timber of the Dutchess County Board of Supervisors." For all his frustration, however, Gray was beginning to understand something of the undercurrents of Irish politics at last. To Eleanor Roosevelt he wrote, "The politician in Ireland who has the custody of the Lion's Tail is the one who wields power." De Valera had the tail, he assumed, because he was honest and sympathetic to the underdog and concerned with the interests of the underprivileged. His government, he declared, was truly New Deal. "I like him very much though I deeply despair of coping with him. He has it over me like a tent."
It was now fall. The shooting season had begun. Although immensely improved, Hyde was still confined to a wheelchair. The doctors' judgment was harsh: he would not regain the use of his legs. Not since as a boy he had first raised a shotgun on the bogs of Roscommon had he missed a shooting season. Even in New Brunswick he had contrived to go hunting in the fall. The doctors were firm: there could be no shooting for him ever again. Hyde turned away, bowed his head, and wept. Several days later he was himself again. He had come to terms with his condition, more or less; in any case, he had no intention of inflicting his disappointment on everyone else; it was already late September; it was time to think about other things. In his old familiar upward-slanting hand Hyde drafted a message of congratulations for Cardinal McRory, primate of Ireland, on the occasion of his jubilee. In mid-October, having considered and rejected several other possibilities, he had described in writing his ingenious idea for a trophy to be awarded at the Punchestown races. Hyde's design employed the two great horses of Cuchulain, driven by his charioteer, Laeg. It required that the action of the horses, their heads, necks and forelegs, communicate the idea of speed. Cuchulain would be shown standing in his chariot, his spear poised; Laeg would be managing the steeds. It was also time to begin work on his annual Christmas publication—a small book that each year he sent to friends and associates. For Christmas, 1940, he had chosen The Children of Lir . He sent a copy to David Gray, for which he was thanked warmly.
In a letter to a friend written in January 1941, Annette described
how Hyde had taken great pleasure and interest in revising his translation for what he called his "Christmas card." She reported that he was getting on well, except for a cold that had kept him indoors lately. "He is wonderfully patient, never complains or says a word of self pity, and we are very cheerful together. He gets through a fair amount of official work." What she did not mention was that, although less frequently than before, de Valera had resumed his off-hours visits to Áras an Uachtaráin. One topic they discussed were the serious shortages of food, fuel, and clothing in Ireland. In May, Roosevelt offered to sell or lease to de Valera two ships to bring food to the Irish population; for money to buy the food Roosevelt pledged a half-million dollars from his relief fund. With a carrot in one hand and a whip in the other, the Allies were determined to end Ireland's neutrality.
One evening in June the residents of the Park were startled to hear airplanes overhead, followed by firing from anti-aircraft guns. Quipped David Gray, Hyde's closest neighbor, "We get the benefit of any little war that is going on." In December, Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the worldwide conflict. It was the move the European Allies had been waiting for. America's direct involvement, they expected, would at last win de Valera's cooperation. But de Valera remained firm. When Menzies of Australia warned that de Valera's fixed ideas would not be removed by either aloofness or force, Roosevelt's patience began to fray. "People are frankly getting pretty fed up with my old friend Dev," he warned Gray. More overtures were made but nothing changed.
Gray's exasperation is evident in the immoderate letter he wrote to Roosevelt in November 1943:
Your friend Mr. DeValera is continuing to ignore those little events of history which in spite of him keep occurring. He is in fact too busy attending meetings celebrating the revival of the Gaelic language to give his attention to such matters. It is fifty years since Douglas Hyde, the Protestant Anglo-Irish squire from the west, founded the Gaelic League. He now has his reward in being the paralysed, dummy President of a country which would have seen Britain overrun by Hitler . . . without lifting a finger to prevent it. . . . If I go nuts, can you blame me?
In anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary of the league, the Irish and English newspapers had been running photo essays on Hyde. It was evident that neither age nor infirmity had turned Hyde into the "dummy president of Éire." During the year he had made speeches and presented awards on behalf of the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, and other
organizations. In commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Gaelic League the Post Office had struck two stamps bearing his image. Visitors had been appearing by the score at the presidential residence, seeking his signature on these stamps. In characteristic good humor, over the usual protests from McDunphy, Hyde obliged.
That Hyde was in no sense a "dummy president" is evident also in a document that describes a delicate parliamentary dilemma that confronted him in May 1944. The drama—which presented Eamon de Valera with the first serious threat to his position since he became taoiseach in 1938—began a few minutes after nine o'clock in the evening. The government had been defeated by a small majority on the second stage of a controversial transport bill. De Valera had two choices: resign or call a general election. Hyde as president had the responsibility for determining which would be best for the country. De Valera had the right to place his opinions before Hyde. It was McDunphy's job to outline the constitutional choices and answer questions. Notified of the situation at his home in Clontarf, on a night when his own car was already in use and Hyde's chauffeur had the evening off, McDunphy set out on his bicycle against a strong headwind for the six-mile uphill journey to Áras an Uachtaráin. When he arrived, de Valera was already there, talking to Hyde. McDunphy waited in his office until Hyde called for him to join them. De Valera quickly outlined the situation as he had described it to Hyde. When he finished speaking, Hyde, propped up in bed, silently looked from one man to another. Catching Hyde's eye, McDunphy suggested to de Valera that it might be important as a constitutional precedent and matter of historical record for the president to be free from any suggestion of embarrassment or influence in making his decision. Hyde nodded. De Valera left the room. Hyde and McDunphy discussed the situation. A general election would be bad for the country. But the only alternative was for de Valera to resign, leaving it to the Dáil to name a new taoiseach . Reviewing the current membership of the Dáil, Hyde speculated on the possible consequences of such a move and concluded that, given the fact that no single party or combination of parties could secure the nomination, a general election was the only choice. De Valera was invited to return. He concurred in the decision. The entire discussion had taken almost two hours. When in 1950, in a letter to the Irish Times , a reader raised the question of exactly how this matter had been disposed of, the record was there to show that no political crisis had occurred. Both the Constitution and the men responsible for making
it work had functioned smoothly. There was talk of Hyde remaining in office for a second term. Hyde declined, in part because he would turn eighty-five in 1945, in part because he believed that it would be best for the country for someone else to have a role in shaping the presidency.
This decision having been made, Hyde began to make an agenda for the time remaining before his departure from office. One of the things he wanted to do was to make some sort of significant gift to the nation. After several discussions with family and friends he decided upon a collection of busts, paintings, photographs, and engravings that would form a portrait gallery of famous figures in Irish history. McDunphy researched the possibilities; Hyde made the choices. Together they wrote the letters and made the telephone calls necessary to obtain what they sought. McDunphy supervised the arrangement of items—over two hundred of them—in a second-floor gallery at Áras an Uachtaráin. The exhibit was planned to open on the eve of Hyde's departure from office.
A second task involved choosing appropriate gifts for the personal and official staff of Áras an Uachtaráin. There were also letters to send, memoirsto write, personal possessions to dispose of, and portrait and photo sessions for which he had agreed to sit. Eamon de Buitléar, his first aide-de-camp, had been recalled for army duties in March 1941. Thomas Manning would be leaving the president's staff on Hyde's last day in office, June 25, 1945. Michael McDunphy remained at Áras an Uachtaráin as secretary to the new president, Sean T. O'Kelly. Nurse Fitzsimons went with Hyde to Little Ratra, a smaller residence in the Park that was being readied for him.