Rewind - Seán T O’ Kelly

By Sean Heffernan

For this weeks piece we shall cross the road to get on the 15B bus at stop 1331 Rathfarnham Road-Butterfield Avenue.

We shall stay on board until stop 7582 Dame Street-Central Bank.

Rewind 1

Former President Sean T O'Kelly

We will then walk about 20 yards to stop 1359 College Green-Foster Place.

We will hop on the 16 bus to stop 1623 Swords Road-Omni Shopping Centre and from here we will hop on a 41 bus to stop 3679 Main Street Swords-Fingal County Council.

We are now in the epicentre of the Dublin North constituency, which once counted ex-President Seán T O’ Kelly as a local TD.

While last weeks subject Seán Lemass moved to Capel Street as a youngster, it was here that this weeks protagonist was born in August 1882.

It is said that his father was a shoemaker on Berkeley Road, a profession that while it did not pay enormous wages would still have provided an income that would just about see their heads above water.

He also ended up attending the same Christian Brothers School on North Richmond Street as Lemass  though the then future Taoiseach was only 1 year old when O’Kelly left O’Connell’s.

He was very lucky in that he managed to get a prestigious job as Junior Assistant in the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street (and next door to the building he would work in for a good chunk of his life later on, Leinster House).

At that stage what is now our national parliament was the home of the Royal Dublin Society, who would sell the building a quarter of a century later to the Free State Government in return for a new bigger premises in Ballsbridge and a large wad of cash.

In 1905 he would take up the same noble profession as I and began writing for the Sinn Féin newspaper the “Irish Nationalist” where all sorts of issues were discussed from the desire for independence from Britain to the need for farmers to embrace new technological advances and so forth.

He was to be one of the founding members of the party and three years later he took on the role of ‘Honorary Secretary’ a position he would hold until 1925.

In 1915 the man from the inner city of Dublin was to also take on the role of General Secretary of the Gaelic League, which was to take him across the Atlantic to raise funds to aid the battle for independence in Ireland.

In the 1918 election to the Westminster Parliament he ran for Sinn Féin in Dublin and won a seat, but did not travel to London as all the parties TD’s chose a policy of abstentionism – having no hand to act in the goings on in the British Parliament.

At the end of World War 1 a peace conference was held in Paris in 1919 with the aim of ensuring any future wars would be avoided and a letter from what has become known as ‘The First Dail’ to the delegates pleading the case for Irish Independence was hand delivered by O’Kelly, who also ensured all the journalists covering the event got a copy too.

His efforts were to be in vain as his pleas were to fall on deaf ears as Ireland’s cause was ignored by those present.

In 1922 he took the forth seat as an Anti-treaty candidate on the Four Seater “Dublin Mid” constituency with just under 2000 votes, with Independent Alfie Byrne elected for the same ward on the first count with almost 8000 votes with an impressive 27% of the vote.

The man who was a founder of Sinn Féin was also to become a founder member of Fianna Fail when it was created in 1926.

When Fianna Fail won the 1932 General Election and Eamonn De Valera became Taoiseach, he appointed O’Kelly as Tanaiste or second in command of the Free State Government.

He also assumed the role as Minister for Local Government and Public Health.

Nine years later he was to take on the very important portfolio of Minister for Finance where he had the tricky job of trying to manage the countries finances during the period known officially in Ireland as “The Emergency”, but World War II everywhere else.

He was to oversee the creation of The Irish Central Bank in 1943 in a major departure as to how the countries finances would be managed overall, with the creation of an entity separate to the Government to undertake actions that would seek to steady the economic ship of the country.

Four years later he was to accept Fianna Fail’s request to be it’s candidate in the upcoming Presidential Election which he duly won and saw him inaugurated as the second President of Ireland after Douglas Hyde.

Seven years later he was returned for a second term as Uachtarán na hÉireann uncontested as the other parties in the Dail agreed to him remaining in the role and thus avoiding the need for an election.

Seán T O’Kelly was to vacate The Aras in 1959 and five years later in 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising he was to depart this earth leaving a sizable legacy behind him.

So the next time you are going to a gig in the Three Arena and pass the new Central Bank Headquarters you might pause for a second and remember the man who was instrumental in it’s establishment.

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