John J. Hearne
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John J. Hearne

John Hearne
Bust in Waterford.jpg
Portrait bust in Waterford
Waterford, Ireland
DiedMarch 29, 1969(1969-03-29) (aged 75-76)
Dublin, Ireland
Alma materMaynooth College (BA),
King's Inns (BL),
OccupationLegal scholar, diplomat

John J. Hearne (Irish: Seán Ó hEathirn; 1893 – 29 March 1969[1]) was an Irish legal scholar and diplomat whose role in the drafting of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland was so important that he was referred to as "Ireland's Thomas Jefferson".[2]


John Hearne was the youngest son of Alderman Richard Hearne, a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, who twice served as Mayor of Waterford, and Alice Mary Hearne (née Power). His older brother Canon Maurice Hearne served as parish priest in Cahir.

Hearne attended Waterpark College (Christian Brothers). He went to train for the priesthood at St. John's College, Waterford transferring in 1911 to Maynooth College after a year. Here he completed a BA degree in Arts and Philosophy from National University of Ireland, enrolling in a Theology Degree which he didn't complete. He left in 1916 having decided not to become a priest, and studied for the degree of barrister at law at the King's Inns.[3] He also studied law at University College Dublin being awarded an LLB Degree.

In 1937, during the government of Éamon de Valera, he was working as a legal expert in the Department of External Affairs when de Valera called on him to assist in the writing of the new constitution, which would replace the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State.[4][5] With Maurice Gerard Moynihan, Hearne drew up the first draft of the constitution; according to Moynihan, Hearne had been instrumental in convincing de Valera that a new constitution was necessary in the first place.[6] The exact role of Hearne is not evident from the remaining documents; it is not clear who actually wrote the first draft,[7] and according to the Irish historian John Joseph Lee, "Much remains to be uncovered about the planning and drafting of the constitution, including not least the roles of John Hearne, the legal adviser to External Affairs, and of Maurice Moynihan."[8]

After his legal career, Hearne filled a number of diplomatic positions. In 1939, he was appointed High Commissioner to Canada. In March 1950, he became the first Irish ambassador to the United States,[2] and was welcomed in Boston on 13 May 1950.[9] He began the tradition of presenting a bowl of shamrock to the White House on St Patrick's Day.[10] In 1954, he gave the commencement address at Boston College, and on that occasion was awarded with an honorary degree.[11] In 1960, after retiring from the diplomatic service, he became a legislative consultant to Nigeria and Ghana, which had recently acquired independence, albeit within the Commonwealth.[2]

He died in Dublin in 1969. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Irish constitution, Hearne's birthplace (8 William Street in Waterford) was marked with a tribute.[2]

A bust of Hearne was unveiled in Waterford on 3 July 2017 on the 80th anniversary of the constitution.[12]

A bust of Hearne stands in the garden of Iveagh House, headquarters of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

A biography of Hearne, "John Hearne: Architect of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland" by Eugene Broderick was published in 2017.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d "Waterford honours famous diplomat John Hearne". The Waterford News & Star. 22 June 2007. Archived from the original on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 2011.
  3. ^ Keogh, Dermot (1988). Ireland and Europe, 1919-1948. Gill and MacMillan. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-389-20803-7.
  4. ^ Cooney, John (2000). John Charles McQuaid: ruler of Catholic Ireland. Syracuse UP. p. 452 n. 38. ISBN 978-0-8156-0642-0.
  5. ^ Whyte, Gerry (2002). Social inclusion and the legal system: public interest law in Ireland. Institute of Public Administration. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-902448-66-4.
  6. ^ McCarthy, John Paul (25 April 2010). "It's time that we resolved our constitutional conundrum". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2011.
  7. ^ Keogh, Dermot (1995). Ireland and the Vatican: the politics and diplomacy of church-state relations, 1922-1960. Cork UP. pp. 156 n. 86. ISBN 978-0-902561-96-0.
  8. ^ Lee, Joseph (1989). Ireland, 1912-1985: politics and society. Cambridge UP. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-521-26648-2.
  9. ^ "First Irish Envoy' to U. S. Arrives in Boston Today". Boston Globe. 13 May 1950. Retrieved 2011.
  10. ^ Ireland's first ambassador to the US to be honoured, Irish Times, April 22, 2018
  11. ^ "B. C. to Honor Irish Envoy at Graduation". Boston Globe. 28 May 1954. p. 6. Retrieved 2011.
  12. ^ "Architect of Constitution Honoured with Waterford Bust on 80th Anniversary".

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