Séan T. O'Kelly

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Seán Tomás Ó Ceallaigh
2nd President of Ireland
In office
25 June 1945 – 24 June 1959
Preceded by Dubhghlas de hÍde
Succeeded by Éamon de Valera
Personal details
Political party Fianna Fáil
Spouse(s) (1) Mary Kate Ryan (d)
(2) Phyllis O'Kelly
Profession politician

Seán Thomas O'Kelly (Irish: Seán Tomás Ó Ceallaigh; 25 August 1882 – 23 November 1966) was the second President of Ireland. He served two terms from 1945 to 1959. He was a member of Dáil Éireann from 1918 until his election as President. During this time he had been Minister for Local Government (1932–1939) and Minister for Finance (1939–1945). Ó Ceallaigh served as Vice-President of the Executive Council from 1932 until 1937 and was the first Tánaiste of Éire from 1937 until 1945.

Early life[change | edit source]

Ó Ceallaigh was born in Dublin on Capel Street in the north inner-city Dublin. He joined the National Library of Ireland in 1898 as a junior assistant. The same year, he joined the Gaelic League, becoming a member of the governing body in 1910 and General Secretary in 1915.

Sinn Féin[change | edit source]

In 1905 Ó Ceallaigh joined Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin then wanted a dual-monarchy. He was honorary secretary of the party from 1908 until 1925. In 1906 he was elected to Dublin Corporation, which id Dublin's city council. He retained the seat until 1924.

Pádraig Pearse made Ó Ceallaigh his assistant when preparations for the Easter Risingwere being made.

After the in 1916, Ó Ceallaigh was imprisoned, released, and re-arrested. He escaped from detention in Fairfield in the UK, and returned to Ireland.

MP in the 1918 general election[change | edit source]

O'Kelly was elected Sinn Féin MP for College Green in the 1918 British general election. Along with other Sinn Féin MPs he refused to take his seat in the British House of Commons. Instead they set up an Irish parliament, called Dáil Éireann, in Dublin. Ó Ceallaigh wasCeann Comhairle(Chairman) of the First Dáil. He was the Irish Republic's envoy to the post-World War One peace treaty negotiations at Versailles, but the other countries refused to allow him to speak, because they did not recognise the Irish Republic

Close to de Valera[change | edit source]

Ó Ceallaigh was a close friend of Éamon de Valera, and both he and de Valera opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921.

When de Valera resigned as President of the Irish Republic on 6 January 1922, Ó Ceallaigh returned from Paristo try to persuade de Valera to return to the presidency. A de Valera was furious and ordered Ó Ceallaigh to return to Paris.

During the Irish Civil War, O'Kelly was in jail until December 1923. Afterwards he spent the next two years as a Sinn Féin envoy to the United States.

A founder of Fianna Fáil[change | edit source]

In 1926 when de Valera left Sinn Féin to found his own republican party, Fianna Fáil, Ó Ceallaigh followed him, becoming one of the party's founding members. In 1932, when de Valera, was appointed President of the Executive Council (prime minister) of the Irish Free State he made Ó Ceallaigh Minister for Local Government. Ó Ceallaigh often tried to publicly humiliate the Governor-General of the Irish Free State, James McNeill. Stunts such as withdrawing the Irish Army's band from playing at diplomatic functions which the Governor-General attended, or in one notorious case the sight of O'Kelly and Defence Minister Frank Aiken storming out of a diplomatic function at the French Legation when McNeill, the guest of honour, arrived, damaged Ó Ceallaigh's reputation and image, particularly when the campaign backfired.

Before resigning, McNeill published his letters to de Valera about this. It made de Valera appear foolish, and made de Valera choose a new Governor-General. To the surprise of many, Ó Ceallaigh's was not considered for the office. Instead former Fianna Fáil TD, Domhnall Ua Buachalla from County Kildare, would be the last Governor-General.

Considered for President of Ireland in 1938[change | edit source]

In 1938, many thought that de Valera wanted to make Ó Ceallaigh the Fianna Fáil choice to become President of Ireland, under the new Irish constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann. When Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alfie Byrne, said he wanted to be president there was an all party agreement to nominate Dubhghlas de hÍde, a Protestant Irish Senator, Irish language enthusiast and founder of the Conradh na Gaeilge. They thought de hÍde was the only person who might win an election against Alfie Byrne. Ó Ceallaigh was appointed Minister of Finance instead, and helped create Central Bank in 1942 [1].

President of Ireland[change | edit source]

President Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh, An Tóstal, 1954.
Outside the GPO, President Ó Ceallaigh receives the salute from the new Garda recruits during the Tostal celebrations of 1954.

Ó Ceallaigh left the cabinet in 1945 when he was elected President of Ireland in a popular vote of the people, defeating two other candidates.

Ó Ceallaigh was re-elected unopposed in 1952. During his second term he visited many nations in Europe and spoke to the United States Congress in 1959. He retired at the end of his second term in 1959, to be replaced by his old friend, Éamon de Valera.

Ó Ceallaigh did not refer any Bills to the Supreme Court to see if they were legal, but he did ask his official advisors, called the Council of State, if he should refer the Health Bill, 1947 but he decided not to.[2]

Ó Ceallaigh's Roman Catholic Beliefs[change | edit source]

Ó Ceallaigh's strong Roman Catholic beliefs sometimes caused problems. de Valera often thought that Ó Ceallaigh either deliberately or accidentally leaked information to the Knights of Columbanus, and the Church leaders. Ó Ceallaigh ensured that his first state visit, following the creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, was to the Vatican to meet Pope Pius XII. Ó Ceallaigh accidentally revealed the Pope's private views on communism. This angered the Pope and Stalin. This is why he was not given the papal Order of Christ which was given to many Catholic heads of state.

A Model President says The Irish Times[change | edit source]

On his retirement as president in 1959, he was described as a model President by the normally hostile Irish Times newspaper. Though controversial, Ó Ceallaigh was widely seen as a genuine and honest, but tactless.

He died on November 23, 1966 (aged 84), fifty years after the Easter Rising that first brought him to prominence. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Mary Kate Ryan and Ó Ceallaigh were married from 1918 until Mary Kate's death in 1934.

In 1936 he married his second wife Phyllis, who was Mary Kate's sister. Another sister was married to Fine Gael leader General Richard Mulcahy, and a brother was Fianna Fáil minister, James Ryan. O'Kelly died in Dublin.

Footnotes[change | edit source]

  1. http://acts.oireachtas.ie/zza22y1942.1.html Central Bank Act 1942
  2. Kelly, Hogan and Whyte The Irish Constitution (4th ed., LexisNexis Butterworth, 2003) par 4.5.110. Health Act, 1947 Part III [1].

References[change | edit source]

  • Hickey, D.J. and Doherty, J.E A Dictionary Of Irish History 1800-1980 Gill and Macmillian (1987) ISBN 0-7171-1567-4
  • Timons, M Seán T. O'Kelly, Roundwood and District Historical and Folklore Society, No 2(1989)

Other websites[change | edit source]

Political career[change | edit source]

Parliament of the United Kingdom (1801–present)
Preceded by
John Dillon Nugent
(IPP)
Sinn Féin MP for Dublin College Green
1918–1921
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Oireachtas
Preceded by
Newly created constituency
Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Dublin Mid
1921–1923
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Newly created constituency
Sinn Féin (Anti-Treaty) Teachta Dála for Dublin North
1923–1926
Succeeded by
O'Kelly joins Fianna Fáil as a founder member
Preceded by
O'Kelly was previously a member of Sinn Féin
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin North
1926–1937
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Newly created constituency
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin North West
1937–1945
Succeeded by
Vivion de Valera
(Fianna Fáil)
Political offices
Preceded by
Count Plunkett
Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
1919–1921
Succeeded by
Eoin MacNeill
Preceded by
Newly Created Office
Minister for Irish
1920–1921
Succeeded by
Office Abolished
Preceded by
Ernest Blythe
Vice-President of the Executive Council
1932–1937
Succeeded by
Office of Tánaiste
Preceded by
Office of Vice-President of the Executive Council
Tánaiste
1937–1945
Succeeded by
Seán Lemass
Preceded by
Richard Mulcahy
Minister for Local Government & Public Health
1932–1939
Succeeded by
P.J. Ruttledge
Preceded by
Seán MacEntee
Minister for Finance
1939–1945
Succeeded by
Frank Aiken
Preceded by
Douglas Hyde
President of Ireland
1945–1959
Succeeded by
Éamon de Valera