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Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh

In office
19 December 1974 – 22 October 1976
Preceded by Erskine H. Childers
Succeeded by Patrick Hillery

Born 12 February 1911(1911-02-12)
Bray, Ireland
Died 21 March 1978 (aged 67)
Dublin, Ireland
Political party Fianna Fáil
Spouse(s) Mairín Bean Uí Dhálaigh
Profession Barrister, judge, journalist

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (12 February 1911 – 21 March 1978; Irish pronunciation: [ˈcaɾˠwaɫ̪ oː ˈdˠaːɫ̪i]) served as fifth President of Ireland, from 1974 to 1976. He resigned in 1976 after a clash with the government. He also had a notable legal career, including serving as Chief Justice of Ireland.


Early life

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh was born in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland. He was the son of Richard Daly, who worked with McCabe's Fish and Poultry Shop. Eventually he came to manage the firm's shop in Bray.

Cearbhall had an older brother; Aonghus, and two younger sisters; Úna and Nuala. He went to St. Cronan's Boys National School.[1]. While attending University College Dublin, he became auditor of the Literary and Historical Society.[2]


A graduate of University College Dublin, Ó Dálaigh was a committed Fianna Fáil supporter who served on the party's National Executive in the 1930s, he became Ireland's youngest Attorney General in 1946 under Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, serving until 1948. Unsuccessful in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann elections in 1948 and 1951, he was re-appointed as Attorney General in 1951 and in 1953 he was appointed as the youngest member of the Supreme Court by his mentor, de Valera. Less than a decade later, he became Ireland's youngest Chief Justice, when selected by then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass.

Ó Dálaigh and Mr. Justice Brian Walsh adopted a more interventionist approach to interpreting the constitution, in a manner that was occurring in the United States but previously not used in more cautious Irish law interpretation. In 1972, Taoiseach Jack Lynch suggested to the opposition parties that they agree to nominate Ó Dálaigh to become President of Ireland when President de Valera's last term ended in June of the following year. However Fine Gael, which was confident that its prospective candidate, Tom O'Higgins, would win the 1973 presidential election (he had almost defeated de Valera in 1966) turned down the offer. However, Fianna Fáil's Erskine H. Childers went on to win the presidential election.

When Ireland joined the European Economic Community, Jack Lynch appointed Ó Dálaigh as Ireland's judge on the European Court of Justice. When President Childers died suddenly in 1974, all parties agreed to nominate Ó Dálaigh for the post.


President of Ireland

Ó Dálaigh proved to be a mixed success as president. While popular with Irish language enthusiasts and artists he had a strained relationship with the Coalition Government.

His decision in 1976 to exercise his power to refer a bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality brought him into conflict with the Fine Gael-Labour National Coalition. Following the assassination of the British Ambassador to Ireland, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 23 July 1976 the government announced its intention to declare a state of emergency. Ó Dálaigh referred the resulting bill, the Emergency Powers Bill, to the Supreme Court. When the court ruled that the bill was constitutional he signed the bill into law on 16 October 1976.[3] The same day an IRA action in Mountmellick resulted in the death of a member of the police force, the Garda Síochána. Ó Dálaigh's actions were seen by government ministers to have contributed to the killing of this Garda. The following day Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan, on a visit to a barracks in Mullingar to open a canteen, attacked the President for sending the bill to the Supreme court, calling him a "thundering disgrace"[4] Ó Dálaigh's private papers show that he considered the relationship between the President (as Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces) and the Minister for Defence had been "irrevocably broken" by the comments of the Minister in front of the army Chief of Staff and other high ranking officers.[5] Donegan offered his resignation but Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave refused to accept it. This proved the last straw for Ó Dálaigh, who believed that Cosgrave had additionally failed to meet his constitutional obligation to regularly brief the President[5]. He resigned on 22 October 1976, "to protect the dignity and independence of the presidency as an institution".[3] He was succeeded by Patrick Hillery.


Ó Dálaigh died in 1978, less than two years after resigning the presidency. He is buried in Sneem, County Kerry.


  1. ^ Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh at
  2. ^ Auditors of the L&H, UCD
  3. ^ a b Joseph Lee, Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society, Cambridge University Press, 1989, ISBN 0521377412 p. 482
  4. ^ Don Lavery, correspondent for the Westmeath Examiner, RTE This Week, 22 October 2006
  5. ^ a b Sunday Independent, 29 October 2006 - The many resignations of O Dalaigh

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Kevin Dixon
Attorney General of Ireland
Succeeded by
Cecil Lavery
Preceded by
Charles Casey
Attorney General of Ireland
Succeeded by
Thomas Teevan
Preceded by
Conor Maguire
Chief Justice of Ireland
Succeeded by
William Fitzgerald
Political offices
Preceded by
Erskine H. Childers
President of Ireland
Succeeded by
Patrick Hillery

Simple English

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