Douglas Hyde: Dubhghlas de hÍde – 17.01.1860 – 12.07.1949 known as An Craoibhín Aoibhinn (“The Pleasant Little Branch”), was an Irish scholar of the Irish Language who served as the first president of ireland from 1938 to 1945.
Hyde was born at Longford House, in Castlerea, Co Roscommon while his mother, Elizabeth née Oldfield (1834 – 1886) was on a short visit there. His father, Arthur Hyde, whose family originally came from Castlehyde, Fermoy, Co Cork was Church of Ireland rector at Kilmactigue, Co Sligo from 1852 to 1867, and it was here that Hyde spent his early years. Arthur Hyde and Elizabeth Oldfield married in Co Roscommon in 1852 and had four other children, (Arthur 1853 – 1879 in co Leitrim), John Oldfield (1854-1896 in co Dublin) and Hugh (1856) Hyde who were all older and a sister Annette who was approximately five years younger than Douglas, with whom he had a close relationship.
In 1867, his father was appointed prebentary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moved to neighbouring Frenchpark. He was home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness. Whilst a young man he became fascinated with hearing the older people in the locality speak the Irish language. He was influenced in particular by Seamus Hart and the wife of his friend, Mrs Connolly. He was crushed when Hart died (Hyde was 14), and his interest in the Irish language, which was the first language he began to study in any detail, and which was his own undertaking, flagged for a while. However, he visited Dublin a number of times and realised that there were groups of people, just like him, interested in Irish, a language looked down on at the time by many and seen as backward and old-fashioned.
Rejecting family pressure that like past generations of Hydes that he follow a career in the Church, Hyde instead became an academic. He entered Trinity College in Dublin where he studied French, Latin, German, Greek and Hebrew. A medallist of the College Historical Society, he was elected its President in 1931. His passion for Irish, already a language in severe decline, led him to found the Gaelic League, or in Irish Conradh na Gaedhilge, in the hope of saving it from extinction.
Connection to Ratra House
The Hydes moved to Frenchpark, to the church at Portahard, in 1866 and shortly became friends with John French, the owners of nearby Ratra house. The Rev. Hyde was related to the French family through marriage. Ratra had been built by John, elder brother of Arthur, 4th Baron de Freyne. The friendship was to grow strong and for the next twenty five years Douglas Hyde was a regular visitor to the house for tennis and for dinner. When he was twenty six (in 1886) Hyde wrote in his diary “only for the French’s of Ratra I would surely die of ennui”.
The Hyde family were active hunters and shooters and Lord de Freyne gave them shooting rights over the lands and bogs of his estate. After he died his widow continued to allow the family to shoot on the land. Hyde continued to enjoy this privilege for most of his long life. Hyde’s visits to Ratra also brought him into contact with the locals and it was through them that his lifelong interest in the Irish language began.
In 1892 the French’s decided to leave. This was sad news for Hyde, but within the year – by July 1893, he had agreed to lease Ratra from the beginning of 1894, at a rent of £50 a year. “That was a great move” he declared. At this time Hyde was engaged to be married and on 10 October 1893 he wed Lucy Kurtz in Dublin. When they arrived home from their honeymoon on 3rd December there was a tumultuous welcome from the locals. Hyde wrote “when we came to Ratra there was [a] big arch across the road and .. many people. They took the horse from under the carriage and drew us home from the Ratra road … and such shouting and hullabaloo you never heard. Before long, however, Lucy began to hate the place. By 1896 when she was expecting the couples first child, Nuala, she felt “isolated and unhappy [and] she developed a massive dislike of Ratra, Frenchpark and the whole of Roscommon … and the Gaelic League”. This dislike was to stay with her throughout her life.
Ancestry of Douglas Hyde
They may have had influence at the Court of Elizabeth when Arthur was boon companion of Robert Dudley Lord of Leicester, and it was in Hyde’s house at Denchworth that the unfortunate Amy Robsart, Leicester’s wife, is said to have ended her life. Douglas Hyde had a clock engraved with a fleur-de-Lis which is said to have been given to his ancestor by Elizabeth.
Arthur Hyde got a grant of land from Elizabeth and settled at Carrig an Eide, on the River Blackwater. His family prospered and built the fine house of Castle Hyde which stands above the Blackwater, and is famous for its beautiful terraced gardens. There is a well known poem by a local bard which describes it in flowing irish metre though in English words. A version is given in a note to one of Hydes own books, “Mo Thuras go hAmerice”.
The family remained in Castle Hyde until 1851. The Senior line ended with the death of John Hyde in 1885, and Douglas now represented the main line of the family.
Arthur Hyde, great-grandson of the original Arthur, had a second son George, whose son Arthur took orders in the Church of Ireland and became the ancestor of a line of clergy-men, all called Arthur, the fourth and last of whom was father of Douglas Hyde. Douglas’s great-grandfather had taken a wife from the Frenches, of Frenchpark, Co Roscommon, ancestors of the Lord de Freynes who during Douglas time in the area still resided at their estate there. Through her the family moved from munster to connaught and were rectors at Mohill and Tibohine.
Arthur Hyde, Rector of Mohill, married the eldest daughter of Sir Hugh Crofton, Bart., of Mohill and his son Canon Hyde of Frenchpark (Tibohine), who remained rector until his death in 1905 married Miss Elizabeth Oldfield, daughter of the archdeacon of Elphin, so Douglas was a connaught man on both sides of his family. He was the youngest of three sons, the eldest brother died relatively young in 1879 and John in 1896 neither married. He had one sister Annette, who is also buried in the nearby graveyard at Tibohine where he himself and his parents are interred.
This website does not take responsibility for the authenticity of the above but assumes it is factually correct as derived from various media sources.