Seán T. O'Kelly
|2nd President of Ireland|
25 June 1945 - 24 June 1959
|Éamon de Valera|
29 December 1937 - 14 June 1945
|Taoiseach||Éamon de Valera|
|Minister for Finance|
16 September 1939 - 14 June 1945
|Taoiseach||Éamon de Valera|
|Minister for Local Government and Public Health|
9 March 1932 - 8 September 1939
|Taoiseach||Éamon de Valera|
|P. J. Ruttledge|
|Vice-President of the Executive Council|
9 March 1932 - 29 December 1937
|President||Éamon de Valera|
|Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann|
22 January 1919 - 16 August 1921
July 1937 - 25 June 1945
August 1923 - July 1937
August 1923 - May 1921
December 1918 - May 1921
|Constituency||Dublin College Green|
Seán Thomas O'Kelly
25 August 1882
Abbotstown, Dublin, Ireland
|Died||23 November 1966 (aged 84)|
Blackrock, Dublin, Ireland
|Cause of death||Congestive heart failure|
|Resting place||Glasnevin Cemetery,|
Glasnevin, Dublin, Ireland
|Political party||Fianna Fáil|
|Alma mater||University College Dublin|
Seán Thomas O'Kelly (Irish: Seán Tomás Ó Ceallaigh; 25 August 1882 - 23 November 1966), originally John T. O'Kelly, was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who served as the second President of Ireland from June 1945 to June 1959. He also served as Tánaiste from 1937 to 1945, Minister for Finance from 1939 to 1945, Minister for Local Government and Public Health from 1932 to 1939, Vice-President of the Executive Council from 1932 to 1937, and Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann from 1919 to 1921. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1923 to 1945.
O'Kelly was born in inner-city Dublin, although his exact place of birth is disputed. Baptised as John, he was the eldest son of Samuel O'Kelly, a boot and shoemaker of Berkley Road, by his marriage to Catherine O'Dea, and had three sisters and four brothers, two of whom were educated by Patrick Pearse[clarification needed] at St Enda's School.
O'Kelly's first school was the Sisters of Charity, in Mountjoy Street (1886-90), then the Christian Brothers School in St Mary's Place (1890-94). His senior school education was at O'Connell School, a Christian Brothers school in North Richmond Street (1894-98). O'Kelly joined the National Library of Ireland in 1898 as a junior assistant to T. W. Lyster, remaining there until 1902, and becoming a subscriber to the Celtic Literary Society. The same year, he joined the Gaelic League, becoming a member of the governing body in 1910 and general secretary in 1915. He was appointed manager of An Claidheamh Soluis, which included amongst its editors the revolutionary leaders of Sinn Féin.
He went to work almost immediately for Arthur Griffith, at the Gaelic League on the organization's administration papers. He came to Griffith's notice the previous years joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood as a member of the esoteric Bartholomew Teeling Circle from 1901. O'Kelly joined Sinn Féin, then a small dual-monarchist, capitalist party, immediately at its inception in 1905 as one of its founders. He became a joint-honorary secretary of the movement from 1908, remaining in the post until 1925. In 1906, he was elected to Dublin Corporation, and retained the seat for Inns Quay Ward until 1924. One acolyte campaigner was Thomas Kelly, who joined him in pressing the government for improved municipal drainage schemes for Dublin's slums.
Like Father O'Flanagan, O'Kelly was chosen to make an Irish language address to the Pope Pius X, in 1908. Both men were bilingual party members promoting Irish culture. O'Kelly was one of the establishing members of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. In August 1914, he agitated to suppress the landing of arms at Kilesole, County Wicklow.
In March 1915, O'Kelly went to New York City, to inform Clan Na Gael of the plans for a rising in Dublin by the IRB. Patrick Pearse appointed O'Kelly to be his Staff Captain in preparation for whenever the insurrection would take place.
It was during the Easter Rising that O'Kelly met Mary Ryan. She was arrested on 18 May 1916, with her sister Nell for unspecified offences to be incarcerated in Mountjoy Prison. Historians have argued that she may have been confused with her sister, Min Ryan. Kit, as Mary Ryan was known, was Professor of French at University College Dublin. She shared her house with her sisters at 19 Ranelagh Road, Dublin, which O'Kelly visited. They were married in 1918.
O'Kelly was at the heart of the party operation. He was one of a handful of men who might have known of the "All-Ireland" Volunteer HQ at Athenry, County Galway, according to Liam Ó Briain involved in marshalling the rebellion in the western hills from Limerick across the Shannon. He was also responsible for springing Bulmer Hobson from the custody of the IRB. Thereafter Hobson's mysterious "disappearance" became the moment when "a devoted son" of Ireland was excluded from the movement; but O'Kelly may have saved his life. During the Rising he was in and out of the GPO, and was requested to set up as "Civil Administrator of the Government of the Republic" with four others. The project never proceeded, as perhaps no attempt was made to anticipate preparations for a political structure free from Britain.
After the Easter Rising in 1916, O'Kelly was gaoled, released, and re-arrested. He was sent to Reading Gaol, and then escaped from detention in HM Prison Eastwood Park in Britain, and returned to Ireland. "Sinn Fein became a cloak for Volunteer meetings" Sinn Féin won a landslide victory.
O'Kelly was elected a Sinn Féin Member of Parliament (MP) for Dublin College Green, in the 1918 general election. In his role as Secretary, O'Kelly was tasked with preparing the Sinn Féin Executive Council for the Dáil Éireann Constituent Assembly, which had been agreed at the party Ard Fheis in October 1918. Along with other Sinn Féin MPs he refused to take his seat in the UK House of Commons. Instead they set up an Irish Parliament, called Dáil Éireann, in Dublin. O'Kelly served as Ceann Comhairle (chairman) of the First Dáil. O'Kelly published the Democratic Programme, he himself had edited. It appealed to a wider mission statement for independence and separatism, which was not sanctioned by the electorate. In fact, it was a skeleton document borrowed on the back of Pearse's martyrdom, written in the late leader's style, from the Labour leader Thomas Johnson.
O'Kelly's approach to US President Woodrow Wilson to visit Dublin in 1919 on his way to Versailles, France, was roundly rejected. Wilson was already withdrawing from the Self-Determination League, making his critics label O'Kelly as 'pompous.' Despite the US Senate resolution in June, the President would not break his commitment to the Big Four for unanimity. He also served as the Irish Republic's envoy, demanding recognition of the Republic and its admittance to the post-World War I peace treaty negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference. While this request to Clemenceau was sincere, it naively ignored the fact that France and Britain had been allied for the previous four years. O'Kelly was followed to Paris as envoy by the eminently better-qualified George Gavan Duffy, who was from a titled family of barristers and diplomats. In 1920, O'Kelly relocated to Italy, where he met with Pope Benedict XV, briefing the pontiff on the political situation in Ireland. At the same time, O'Kelly met with the future dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, who helped the Irishman and other Sinn Féin emissaries to source weapons for use by the IRA.
O'Kelly was a close associate of Éamon de Valera, who served variously as President of Dáil Éireann (Prime Minister from April 1919 to August 1921) and President of the Republic (from August 1921 to January 1922). As with de Valera, he opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by representatives of the British and Irish governments in December 1921.
When de Valera resigned as President of the Republic on 6 January 1922, O'Kelly returned from Paris to Dublin, to try to negotiate a compromise, whereby de Valera could return to the presidency. A furious de Valera turned down the offer 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.
In 1926, when de Valera left Sinn Féin to establish Fianna Fáil, O'Kelly returned to Ireland and was appointed a vice-president of the new republican party. In March 1927, he became editor of The Nation and played a significant role building up support for the new party before the June 1927 Irish general election.
In 1932, when de Valera, having won that year's general election, was appointed President of the Executive Council (Prime Minister of the Irish Free State) he made O'Kelly his deputy, as Vice-President of the Council from 1933. He was also named Minister for Local Government. O'Kelly earned a controversial reputation over his key role in attempts to publicly humiliate the then 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 Defense Minister Frank Aiken storming out of a diplomatic function at the French Legation when McNeill, the guest of honour, had arrived, damaged O'Kelly's reputation and image, particularly when the campaign backfired.
McNeill published his correspondence on the issue with de Valera, making de Valera appear foolish, before resigning and leaving de Valera with the task of choosing a new Governor-General, an embarrassing situation for a politician who had tried his best to avoid any association with the office. To the surprise of many, O'Kelly's was not among the names considered for the office. It is not known for certain, but suspicion rests on O'Kelly's membership of a Catholic fraternal organisation, the Knights of Columbanus, which de Valera suspected had a source in the cabinet. O'Kelly matched the bill, perhaps through indiscretions rather than deliberate actions. However O'Kelly was not made Governor-General, the post instead going to the former Fianna Fáil TD, Domhnall Ua Buachalla from County Kildare, who would be the last Governor-General of the Irish Free State.
In 1938, again O'Kelly's position in cabinet became a focus for speculation, as rumours swept Leinster House (the seat of Parliament) that de Valera intended making O'Kelly the Fianna Fáil choice to become President of Ireland, the office which had replaced the governor-generalship in the new Constitution of Ireland. Again the justification for de Valera nominating one of his senior ministers for the presidency, were rumours that someone in cabinet was, either deliberately or accidentally, letting information slip to the Catholic Church through the Knights of Columbanus. It came as anger and surprise to De Valera to find out that O'Kelly was a member of the Catholic fraternal organisation.
De Valera had on a number of occasions ordered O'Kelly to resign from the Knights, only to find that he would rejoin later. However, the apparent entry of the popular Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alfie Byrne, into the presidential race (in fact he eventually failed to get nominated) and the belief that neither O'Kelly nor any other politician could beat Byrne (ironically a close friend of O'Kelly) led to all party agreement, on the opposition Fine Gael's suggestion, that the office go to Douglas Hyde, a Protestant, as an appreciation for his contribution to Irish society. An Irish language enthusiast, Hyde had founded the Conradh na Gaeilge, known in English as the Gaelic League, a cultural organisation promoting the preservation of the Irish language, music, dancing and traditions.
O'Kelly was appointed Minister for Finance in 1941. He secured the passing of The Central Bank Act in 1942. On 17 July 1942, at the fifth and final stage of the Dáil debate on the "Central Banking Bill", he argued that the owner of the credit issued by the Central Bank of Ireland, should be the private property of the joint stock banker and not the property of the people of Ireland. This debate was carried out when only five Deputies were present in the Dáil.
O'Kelly's most famous faux pas occurred during a state visit to the Vatican City, when in a breach with standard protocol, he told the media of Pope Pius XII's personal opinions on communism. The resulting row strained relationships between Pope Pius XII and Joseph Stalin.
O'Kelly was reelected on 25 June 1952, this time unopposed. During his second term he visited many nations in Europe and addressed the United States Congress in 1959. He retired at the end of his second term in 1959, to be replaced by his old mentor and former Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera.
O'Kelly did not refer any Bills to the Supreme Court, under Article 26 of the Constitution of Ireland while he was in office. He convened a meeting of the Council of State in 1947, to consider whether Part III of the Health Bill, 1947 - which provided the basis for the Mother and Child Scheme -- should be referred, but he decided against doing so.
He dissolved the Dáil on four occasions (in 1948, 1951, 1954 and 1957). On each occasion the Taoiseach who advised him to do so (de Valera in the first and third cases, and John A. Costello in the other two) had not been formally defeated in a Dáil vote in a manner showing a loss of support by a majority of TDs. Therefore, under Article 13.2.3° of the Constitution, O'Kelly had no discretion to refuse to act on their advice to dissolve. A more complex case occurred however in 1949, when the First Inter-Party Government was defeated in a snap Dáil vote on a financial measure due to the absence of a number of Government TDs. O'Kelly was advised by the Secretary to the President, Michael McDunphy, that had Costello requested a dissolution, he could have refused it-thus forcing Costello to resign. However Costello considered that the vote failed by accident (due to a mistake by the party whips), and opted to reintroduce the measure the following morning, rather than seek a dissolution. With all TDs present this time, the vote carried. McDunphy later changed his mind and in the files on the event concluded that O'Kelly could not have refused a dissolution because the loss had merely been a technical loss, not an actual decision by the Dáil to vote against the government.
O'Kelly was the first President of Ireland to visit the United States of America, when from 16-31 March 1959, he was the guest of President Dwight Eisenhower. He was invited to address both houses of Congress. This was important to Ireland as it showed that the new republic and its head of state were recognised by the United States. Historian Joe Lee has stated that the visit signified an end to a period of distrust between Ireland and the United States, following World War II. Both Ireland and America had been neutral countries when the war began, but the US joined the conflict in 1941. But Ireland continued to remain neutral, which annoyed American politicians during the war, and afterwards. The invitation to President O'Kelly to address Congress meant that Ireland had been forgiven by the larger power.
O'Kelly was known to be a devout Catholic. At key times he was criticised by de Valera of being the "Church's man" in the cabinet, either deliberately or accidentally leaking information to the Knights of Saint Columbanus. O'Kelly made a point of ensuring that his first state visit, following the declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, was to the Vatican City to meet Pope Pius XII, a visit which, as mentioned, created controversy when the famously talkative O'Kelly inadvertently revealed the Pope's private views on communism. Consequently, he was not awarded the papal Order of Christ which he coveted.
Éamon de Valera worried about O'Kelly's drinking habits, which were much commented on during his career. O'Kelly drank a lot, and often, yet his behaviour remained dignified and above reproach and he never caused any scandal. The author, Monsignor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, reported that President O'Kelly kept barrels of draught Guinness stout on tap in Áras an Uachtaráin.
O'Kelly was a short man with a tall second wife. When attending a football match once in Croke Park, he was on the field to throw in the ball. A member of the crowd shouted, "Cut the grass, we can't see the President!"
On his retirement as President of Ireland in 1959, he was described as a "model President" by the normally hostile Irish Times newspaper. Though controversial, the diminutive O'Kelly was widely seen as genuine and honest, albeit tactless.
He died on 23 November 1966, at the age of 84, fifty years after the Easter Rising that first brought him to prominence. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
In 1918, O'Kelly married Mary Kate, known as Kit, the daughter of John Ryan, a farmer of Tomcoole, near Taghmon, County Wexford. Kit was an assistant professor of modern languages at the National University. They remained married until her death in 1934, aged 55. They had no children. In 1936, O'Kelly married his late wife's younger sister, Philomena Frances Ryan (1895-1983), known as Phyllis, after gaining a papal dispensation to do so. A chemist and public analyst, she was forty-three when they married. She lost her first child and was unable to have any more.
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
John Dillon Nugent
| Sinn Féin MP for Dublin College Green
|New constituency|| Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Dublin College Green
|New constituency|| Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Dublin Mid
|New constituency|| Sinn Féin (Anti-Treaty) Teachta Dála for Dublin North
O'Kelly joins Fianna Fáil as a founder member
O'Kelly was previously a member of Sinn Féin
| Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin North
|New constituency|| Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin North-West
Vivion de Valera
| Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann
| Vice-President of the Executive Council
Himself as the first Tánaiste
Himself as the last Vice-President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State
| Minister for Local Government and Public Health
P. J. Ruttledge
| Minister for Finance
| President of Ireland
Éamon de Valera