Douglas Hyde (Dubhghlas de hÍde) 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. He founded the Gaelic League, one of the most influential cultural organisations in Ireland at the time.
Hyde was born at Longford House in Castlerea in County Roscommon, while his mother, Elizabeth née Oldfield (1834–1886) was on a short visit there. His father, Arthur Hyde, whose family were originally from Castlehyde, Fermoy, County Cork, was Church of Ireland rector of Kilmactranny, County Sligo from 1852 to 1867, and it was here that Hyde spent his early years. Arthur Hyde and Elizabeth Oldfield married in County Roscommon in 1852 and had three other children, Arthur (1853–79 in County Leitrim), John Oldfield (1854–96 in County Dublin), and Hugh (1856) Hyde. In 1867, his father was appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moved to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He was home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness.
While a young man he became fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language. He was influenced in particular by the gamekeeper Seamus Hart and the wife of his friend, Mrs. Connolly. He was crushed when Hart died (Douglas 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 he would follow a career in the Church, Hyde instead became an academic. He entered Trinity College, Dublin where he became fluent in 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.
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