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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 byDubhghlas de hÍde
Succeeded byÉamon de Valera
Personal details
Born(1882-08-25)25 August 1882
Dublin, Ireland
DiedNovember 23, 1966 (aged 84)
Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Political partyFianna Fáil
Spouse(s)(1) Mary Kate Ryan (d)
(2) Phyllis O'Kelly

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

Early life[change | change source]

O'Kelly 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 | change source]

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

Pádraig Pearse made O'Kelly his helper when Pearse was getting ready for the Easter Rising.

After the Easter Rising in 1916, O'Kelly was put in jail, released, and put in jail again. He escaped from jail in Fairfield in the UK, and came back to Ireland.

MP in the 1918 general election[change | change 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. O'Kelly 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 | change source]

O'Kelly 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, O'Kelly returned from Paristo try to ask de Valera to return to the presidency. A de Valera was very angry and ordered O'Kelly 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 | change source]

In 1926 when de Valera left Sinn Féin to found his own republican party, Fianna Fáil, O'Kelly 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 O'Kelly Minister for Local Government. O'Kelly 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 O'Kelly'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, O'Kelly 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 | change source]

In 1938, many thought that de Valera wanted to make O'Kelly 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. O'Kelly became Minister of Finance instead, and helped create Central Bank in 1942.[1]

President of Ireland[change | change 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.

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

O'Kelly 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.

O'Kelly 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]

O'Kelly's Roman Catholic Beliefs[change | change source]

O'Kelly's strong Roman Catholic beliefs sometimes caused problems. De Valera often thought that O'Kelly leaked information on purpose or accidentally to the Knights of Columbanus, and the Church leaders. O'Kelly 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. O'Kelly 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.

After he retired[change | change source]

When he retired as president in 1959, he was described as a model President by the normally hostile Irish Times newspaper. Though controversial, O'Kelly 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 O'Kelly were married from 1918 until Mary Kate's death in 1934.

In 1936 he married his second wife Phyllis Ryan, 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 | change source]

  1. http://acts.oireachtas.ie/zza22y1942.1.html Archived 2007-02-23 at the Wayback Machine 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] Archived 2006-05-03 at the Wayback Machine.

References[change | change 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 | change source]

Political career[change | change source]

Parliament of the United Kingdom (1801–present)
Preceded by
John Dillon Nugent
Sinn Féin MP for Dublin College Green
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Newly created constituency
Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Dublin Mid
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Newly created constituency
Sinn Féin (Anti-Treaty) Teachta Dála for Dublin North
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
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Newly created constituency
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin North West
Succeeded by
Vivion de Valera
(Fianna Fáil)
Political offices
Preceded by
Count Plunkett
Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
Succeeded by
Eoin MacNeill
Preceded by
Newly Created Office
Minister for Irish
Succeeded by
Office Abolished
Preceded by
Ernest Blythe
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Office of Tánaiste
Preceded by
Office of Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Seán Lemass
Preceded by
Richard Mulcahy
Minister for Local Government & Public Health
Succeeded by
P.J. Ruttledge
Preceded by
Seán MacEntee
Minister for Finance
Succeeded by
Frank Aiken
Preceded by
Douglas Hyde
President of Ireland
Succeeded by
Éamon de Valera