Cearbhall O’Dalaigh


1911-1978; b. 12. Feb. 1911, Bray, Co. Wicklow, son of a shopkeeper; ed. Synge St., CBS, Dublin; ed. UCD; auditor of Cumann Gaelach and L & H; appt. Irish language ed. to Irish Press, 1931-40; studied law at Kings Inns; called to bar, 1934; joined Inner Bar, 1945; appt. Attorney Gen. by de Valera, 1946-48; following failure to take seats in the Dail in 1948 and 1951, re-appt. Attorney Gen., 1951; became youngest judge in Supreme Court, 1953; appt. Chief Justice by Sean Lemass, Chief Justice of Ireland, 1961-73; appt. Irish Judge at the European Court by Jack Lynch, 1973;

chaired Cultural Relations Committee (DFA); appt. Irish president, 1974-76, succeeding Erksine Childers on the latter's sudden death by cross-party agreement; made state visits to France and Spain; questioned the constitutionality of the Emergency Powers Bill, 1976, and referred it to the Supreme Court, and signed it into law on the back of their decision; referred to by Coalition Minister of Justice Patrick [Paddy] Donegan as ‘a thundering bollocks [polite var. disgrace]’ in the wake of the killing of a garda by the IRA;

resigned on 22 Oct. 1976, in response to those remarks, in spite of Donegan's apology and after a call for the minister’s resignation in the Dáil had failed; called his decision ‘as the only way open to assert publicly my personal integrity and independence as President of Ireland and to protect the dignity and independence of the presidency as an institution’; d. 21 March 1978; bur. Sneem, Co. Kerry.

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Relations with Govt. - Draft letter to Liam Cosgrave: ‘I would however be failing in my duty if I did not record here - for history - that since I entered on the presidency ... on none of the ocacsions of your infrequent visists ... did you, in your conversations with me, saying anything to me that could be construed even remotey to aount to keeping the president generally informed on matters of domestic or international policy.’ (Quoted by Diarmaid Ferriter in The Irish Times, 10 Nov. 2012, p.13, “Opinion” [column].

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Scanall [Screen]: An RTE edition of Scannal (23.08.2017) dealt with the episode in which Patrick Donegan (FG), then Minister for Defence, made a drunken speech in an Army canteen in which he denounced the Irish President as a "fucking disgrace" because the president had referred the Emergency Powers Bill to the Supreme Court to be tested for its constitutionality. The word "fucking" was modified to "thundering" in the letter of apology later issued by Donegan and, when Fine Gael refused to sack the Minister, the President resigned in order to assert his own dignity and to defend the dignity of the Presidental office. (Posted by Hugh McFadden on Faceboo, 23.08.2017.)