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Inauguration Address by President Cearbhail Ó Dálaigh 19th December 1974, Dublin Castle

A mhaithe agus a mhór-uaisle Éireann idir chléir agus tuaith, a thaidhleóirí eachtrannacha, a chomharsana cómh-Eórpacha, agus a mhuinntir na páirte. Dia annso isteach, Dia isteach, i dtighthibh Éireann! Agus i gcroidthibh Gael agus Gall-Ghael.

A Thaoisigh uasail, is ró-onóir liom, agus is rí-ualach dom an cúram atáim tréis a ghlacadh de láimh anois. Ar an gcéad dul síos glacaim buíochas leat féin, leis an dTánaiste, agus leis an iar-Thaoiseach is Ceannaire ar an bhFreasúra agus le baill an Oireachtais idir Dháil agus Sheanad, a thoiligh d’aon ghuth mé d’ainmniú le haghaidh Uachtaránacht na hÉireann,agus gabhaim orm féin gan aon dá leath a dhéanamh dem dhícheall ag comhlíonadh dualgasí na hoifige sin dom.

Adeir and Ghaeilge:Ná  h-iarr onóir agus ná h-ob í. Cé d’fhéadfadh glaoch ó Oireachtas Éireann d’obadh agus é theacht féin obann, gan choinne, mar a tháinig chun Cincinnatus fadó? Ni gan aithféala, bíodh a fhios agaibh, dfhágas slán lé mo chombhreithiúin , is dlúth-cháirde liom, i gCúirt Bhreithúnais na gComh-Phobal i Luxembourg, anois go rabhas, tréis réamh-achar dhá  bhliain, ag dul i dtaithí na cruaidhchéirde sin.

Gabhaim buíochas ó chroi amach lena Shoillse an Cairdinéal, Príomháidh, lena Ghrása an t-Ard-Easbog Simms, Príomháidh, leis an Urramach R.D. Morris, Uachtarán na hEaglaise Meitidistí leis an Dr Urramach  J.W. Orr ón Eaglais Phreispitéireach, agus leis an Uasal A.G. Pearson, ó Chumann na gCarad, as sinn do chur, mé féin agus mo bhean, fé bheannacht Dé agus fé ghuí Phobail Fodhla go h-iomlán comh fras fial san ar maidin. Go dtugaidh Dia a thoradh agus a thacaíocht-san dúinn anios agus riamh. Agus gabhaim buíochas roimh-ré lem shean-chara an Prìomh-Rabbi, an Doctúir Isaac Cohen, a chomórfaidh seirbhìs dom tráthnóna.

Ni-háit do ghliondar ná do ró- gháire inniu, halla so an té a tháinig chughainn anoir tá breis agus 1500 blian ó shoin ann , le caoin-theachtaireacht creidimh agus le dianreacht coinsiasa-ós annso a sheas Earascain Hamaltún Childers tá trì leith-bhliana ó shoin ann ag glacadh móid oifige an Uachtaráin fé mar do ghlacas-sa  inniu í. Is deimhin liom na hiarrfadh Earascain aon ní  ba mhó ná mar d’iarr Cúchulainn nuair a dúirt, sa tSean-Ghaeilge. ‘I would rather that my life would be the length of a night and a day, provided that my deeds be remembered by the men of Ireland’ Do fíoraíodh an achainí sin ina chássan- slán beo leis agus grásta na foidhne dá chaoinchéile agus dá ghaolta uile.

{Distinguished people of Ireland, both clerical and lay, foreign diplomats, fellow-European neighbours, and dear friends, God be with us here and in the households of Ireland; and in the hearts of the Irish old and new.

Taoiseach, the responsibility I have now undertaken is a great honour to me,  and a great burden on me.  First, I thank you, the Tánaiste the former Taiseach and leader of the opposition and the members of the Oireachtas, of both the Dáil and the Seanad,who unanimously agreed to nominate me for the presidency of Ireland, and I commit myself to do nothing by halves in fulfilling the duties of that  office.

It is said in Irish: don’t pursue an honour and don’t refuse one. Who could refuse a call from the Oireachtas which arrived suddenly, unexpectedly,  as happened to Cincinnatus long ago? It was not without regret,  let me tell you, that I left my fellow judges, and good friends, in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg,  now that I was, after my two preliminary years, becoming accustomed to that difficult craft.

I offer heartfelt thanks to his Eminence the Cardinal , Primate, to his Grace Archbishop Simms, Primate, to the Rev R.D. Morris,  President of the Methodist Church, to the Rev J.W. Orr from the Presbyterian Church,  and to Mr. A.G Pearson from the Society of Friends, for putting us, myself and my wife, under God’s blessing and under the prayers of all the people of Ireland in such a fulsome and appropriate way this morning .May God favour and support us now and forever.  And I thank in advance my old friend the Chief Rabbi, Dr Isaac Cohen, who will celebrate a service for me this afternoon.

This is not a place for mirth or laughter today, this hall of the person who came to us from the East more than 1500 years ago with a lovely message of faith and with a hard rule of conscience-since it was here that Erskine Hamilton Childers stood three half- years ago to take the oath of office as President as I have taken it today. I am certain that Erskine would ask for nothing more than Cúchulainn asked for when he said, in Old Irish ‘I would rather that my life would be the length of a night and a day, provided that my deeds be remembered by the men of Ireland’ .  That request was fulfilled in his case- a fond farewell to him, and may the grace of endurance be with his dear wife and all his relatives}

Mais comment puis-je remercier suffisament la délégation très grande et fort distinguée des juges et des avocats généraux de la Cour de Justice des Communautés européens qui sont venus ici pour l’inauguration du cinquième Président d’ Irlande? Vraiment, ce n’est pas a cause de moi  qu’ils sont venus ici mais pour montrer leur amitié et leur estime pour notre pays. De votre part , je leur remercie de tout coeur, de leur très aimable présence ici aujourd’hui; et de ma part, je leur remercie de m’avoir conduit dans les coulisses du droit européen avec tant de soin et de compréhension.

Et comment pouvons- nous, ma femme et moi, remercier notre petit cousin européen Luxembourg qui a fait de notre séjour chez lui une véritable deuxième ‘voyage de noces’ , et qui malgré tout, a su maintenir son individualité linguistique, tour en parlant deux autres langues européennes? Voilà  le petit pays qui nous a accueillis si chaleureusement et qui nous a congédié la la semaine dernière en la personne de son Altessse Royale le Grand-Duc et de son Premier Ministre, M.Gaston Thorn.

{But how may I thank enough the very large and distinguished delegation of judges and advocates general from the Court of Justice of the European Communities who have come here for the inauguration of the fifth President of Ireland? Certainly, it is not because of me that they have come but to show their friendship and esteem for our country. On your behalf, I offer them heartfelt thanks for their kind presence here today; and on my own behalf, I thank them for having taken me behind the scenes of European law with such care and understanding.

And how may we, my wife and I thank our small European cousin Luxembourg, which has made our stay there a veritable second honeymoon, and which in spite of all has been able to maintain its linguistic identity , while still speaking two other European languages? Here is the small country which has welcomed us so warmly and which has sent us on our way last week through the person of his Royal Highness the Grand Duke and his Prime Minister M. Gaston Thorn.}

Voilà: má labhraim Fraincis- dá bhacaí féin í- biodh a fhios againn go mba shuaitheantas linn ar ár idirnáisiúnachas an teanga chéanna álainn sin ag an gcéad suí de Dháil Éireann i mbliain 1919.

{So, then: if I speak French- imperfect though it may be –we should know that the same beautiful language was a distinguishing mark of our internationalism at the first sitting of Dáil Éireann in the year 1919.}

This castle is full of memories, more unflagged, than flagged. It is now just 18 months since, standing in this place, Erskine Hamilton Childers entered on office as the fourth President of Ireland; in that brief period as a people’s grief has so recently and movingly testified, he won, in the hearts of his fellow countrymen, a very special place. My first duty today is again to tender to Mrs Childers, to her daughter and the members of her family, our respectful prayers and sympathy.

I always like to become prepared for a task. But how do you come prepared for the task of being President of Ireland? How do you follow such names as de hÍde, Ó Ceallaigh, de Valera, Childers? In time of difficulty our ancestors would say: ‘Nior dhún Dia doras riamh nár oscail  Sé ceann eile’ { God never closed one door without opening another} I pray God it may be so.

A lawyer looks at the Constitution (Article 12.1) and reads ‘There shall be a President of Ireland(Uachtarán na hEireann )who shall take precedence over all other persons in the State..’This, I see, is an impossible role. A judge, prima facie, would pronounce the section ‘void for impossibility’. But every statute and every constitution must be read as a whole; and Article 5 says ‘Ireland is a ....democratic State’. Here then we find the solution of our problem. The President is first, but primus inter pares, first among equals. This makes the office of President of Ireland a possible task, a task that can be grappled with. But nonetheless one needs the co-operation of the countless folk who rise every day to perform the simple, necessary tasks that eventually make a nation great.

Article 12.2 continues:’The President shall be elected by direct vote of the people’. This is not all of Article 12, but for the moment let it suffice. I seem to have had a life-long difficulty in elections of the kind referred to in Article 12.2. But I did once have a handsome popular majority when, as a student at University College Dublin,  I was elected auditor of the Literary and Historical Society in 1931. My opponent was a better academic that I ever succeeded in being. We each had our own supporters. I was a little ahead of my opponent in terms of promises. But the decisive factor was going to be a third group, numerous, uninterested in office, much given to heckling, and as I then thought, the life, if not the soul, of the society; and whose much loved leader was Brian Ó Nualláin, afterwards alias Myles na gCopaleen , alias Flann O’ Brien, and, as it turned out, the most gifted bilingual genius of half a century. This group was known with undergraduate inelegance and accuracy as ‘the mob’.

I didn’t seek the suffrages of ‘the mob’  but I wrote an electoral address, emphasising the importance of the heckler’s role  (an immortal Irish Poet has said “doras feasa fiafraighe ) and  placed the only copy of this address (I have the MS copy still somewhere in my papers) I placed it in the hands of my right-hand man, himself now, for many years, a member of Dáil Eireann. He brought it to the notice  of Brian Ó Nualláin. In the result, I was, as I have said, elected.  I had a handsome, real and, as I believe, moral victory too; perhaps, a difficult ‘double’.

But the true point of this story is yet to come . Every auditor delivers and inaugural address which, with a bit of luck takes place in the Hilary term. The speakers at my inaugural were: Sir John Keane, whose family gave as a gift the land on which the Cistercian monks built Mount Melleray; Madame MacBride, mother of Ireland’s very recent Nobel Peace prize winner, author of ‘A Servant of the Queen’; Mr Eamon de Valera, then in opposition; and my professor of Irish, Dubhglas de hÍde an Craoibhínn Aoibhinn, later to be the first unopposed President of Ireland.

I still have, by the way, a recommendation [from] him, the kind of thing every graduate asks his professor for when he is faced with the problem, eventually of looking for a job. My first real job was in journalism, and my first assignment for the first issue of the paper I joined was a long interview (need I say in Irish) with Douglas Hyde, on his retirement from the Chair of Modern Irish in University College, Dublin. But, for fear I forget it, the title of my address was ‘Community Spirit’.

The press, in recent days, have repeatedly asked me: ‘What Mr President Elect, is  your policy going to be as President?’ I have invariably answered- and, I think, correctly – that presidents, under the Irish Constitution, don’t have policies. But perhaps a president can have a theme. If he can, then I have found the answer for my friends of the press. The theme of my septennat (más cead sin le Dia {God willing}) will again be that of my early student days,’ Community Spirit’  how sorely needed in part of this strife –torn island- with the new European dimension added and, never forgetting, our brothers of the Third World.

There was a very great American President, on whose birthday I was born, Abraham Lincoln, who permitted himself , on solemn and unsolemn occasions to tell a story. Last Saturday morning I sat in my old office in Luxembourg as two men from the local furniture removers packed a few pictures, and my law books. It was a scene reminiscent of the last act of Chekov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’ without the Orchard . The remover employs an international team of workers. The two men assigned to this job were English. One of the men spoke with a rich British brogue; he is a native speaker of Cockney, and has an Irish Mother. The three of us chatted desultorily; but the Cockney was the most vocal of the party. He asked what I was. I said judge. ‘But’,he insisted, you are going to be president of something? I explained.

He enquired how the President was elected and, answering in general terms, I said, ‘by the people’. Was I in politics? I shook my head and told him of my unsuccess (Senate and Dáil) of more than 20 years ago. ‘But’ he said ‘you weren’t good enough to be elected to Parliament, and (then interrogatively) ‘ you are good enough to be President’. After a pause, he added meditatitively:’It’s a bit strange, stood for Parliament four times and (beautiful verb) fell, and yet they let you...’His voice trailed off in perplexity. We both fell silent. I hadn’t the heart  to tell him, and I was too good a theatre man to say, that one can be perfectly validly elevated to the office of President , without election by the people, pursuant to Article 12, section 4 sub –section 5 of Bunreacht na hÉireann when only one candidate is nominated.

All this comes of my having discovered at an early stage that I wan born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln. May I say simply, I would like to think I might try to fill Lincoln’s role too in another respect: in trying to bind up the wounds of this troubled land.

I once had a small part in a John Drinkwater play. Among other plays he also wrote one on Lincoln, But  my part was in his Trojan war play algebraically named ‘X=O’ a play about the tragedy and futility of war. I saw it done I think in the Gate . It could be a very relevant revival.

I am always anxious to know what the young people are thinking. One of my God-children is a second- year university student. A few days ago I was in his bedroom and on the wall in large print together with a great deal of other illustrative matter that need not be specified – was a quotation from the American author, Thoreau. I wrote it down. Here it is: ‘if a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away’.

I have chosen to repeat the quotation here today because it seems to me that Thoreau is relevant to the modern world in several always. But no less I have chosen to repeat the quotation because of its imagery; and that of course means the particular musical instrument on which Thoreau sounds out his idea.

Does anyone now read Standish O Grady’s ‘Bog of Stars’?.The story is set in the years when ‘the golden times of great Eliza was drawing to a close’. In a word as drummer boy heroically asserts his ancient allegiance- what that allegiance was in unimportant- court -martialled, his wrists pinioned he is pitched into Mona –Reulta- Bog of stars.

‘Then the sun sets, and the still night increased, and where the drummer boy had gone down a bright star shone, it was the evening star, the star of love which is also the morning star, the star of hope and bravery’.

As we look at history, let us admire courage and conviction-wherever we can find them. And, in respect of the latter, peacefully let us argue the case for change. It was Cromwell, a republican who sojourned in this city on unrepublician business who in a scriptural phase wrote to Scottish friends. ‘I beseech you in the bowels of Christ; think it possible you may be mistaken’.

Ag druidim chun deire dom, ceadaighidh dhom, más é do thoil é beannú do bheirt shaenóirí atá anso inniu, go ndeaghaidh a n-iompar agus a n-uais-leacht i bhfeidhm orm go láidir ó laethe m’óige amach. Uinmhir a haon, bean-naím le hómós d’Eamon de Valera, iar-Uachtarán na hÉireann, atá ina Óisín i ndiaidh na Féinne, acht nach lugha-de san a éirim agus a aigne. Uimhir a dó. Beannaím, mar an gcéadna, do iar-Thaoiseach Éireann, John A Costello-now at 84 still a very active Father of the Bar (agus féadaim a rádh gan áidbheil) whose friendship and kindness I have known since my first faltering steps in the Four Courts more than 40 years ago. A beannú don bheirt sheanóir seo (Dia go deo leo) beannaím don il-uimhir sean- sheadairí, idir fheara agus mhná, ar fuaid na hÉireann go bhfuil misneach na hóige riamh ina gcroí.

{As I conclude, permit me, please, to salute two elders who are here today and whose conduct and nobility had a big impact on me from the days of my youth. First, I am honoured to salute Eamon de Valera , former President of Ireland, who is a survivor when others have passed away, but whose talent and mental powers are none the weaker for this. Second I similarly salute former Taoiseach of Ireland John A Costello- now at 84 still a very active Father of the Bar (and I may say this without exaggeration) whose friendship and kindness I have known since my first faltering steps in the Four Courts more than 40 years ago. In saluting these two elders (may God be with them forever), I salute a big number of elderly people, men and women, all over Ireland, who retain the courage of youth in their hearts.}


A single personal note; we, my wife and I , are simple people, and we would like to be able to retain some of the simplicity of life in the new office which we are now to fill. May I put in a sentence; if kings may ride bicycles, why then, a fortiori, presidents may pedal too. Is there a better way to reduce oil needs and improve national health?

We approach the feast of the Prince of Peace. Can we –could we- may we, find truce in Ireland as we approach that Day of Days. And if this be granted, is it too bold to hope thereafter for a temporary extension- to be prolonged indefinitely and to eventuate at last, one day, in a durable, just peace among all who live in our beloved sea-girt land.


Dia go deo le hÉirinn

Agus le pobal Fodhla

I gcéin gus i gcomhgar

Pé áit go bhfuilid

Pé bocht, saidhbhir

Pé lag, láidir

Pé  sean, óg

Dia dár stiúradh-na uile

Ar chomhgar na siothchána agus an chirt



{God be forever with Ireland

And with the people of Ireland

Abroad and at home

Wherever they be

Whether poor or rich

Whether  weak or strong

Whether  old or young

May god guide us all

On the path of peace and justice.}