Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (Irish pronunciation: [ˈcaɾˠ(ə)wəl̪ˠ ˈd̪ˠaːlˠə]; 12 February 1911 – 21 March 1978) was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician, judge and barrister who served as the fifth president of Ireland from December 1974 to October 1976.

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh
Ó Dálaigh in 1975
5th President of Ireland
In office
19 December 1974 – 22 October 1976
TaoiseachLiam Cosgrave
Preceded byErskine H. Childers
Succeeded byPatrick Hillery
Judge of the European Court of Justice
In office
10 March 1973 – 19 December 1974
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byEuropean Council
4th Chief Justice of Ireland
In office
16 June 1961 – 22 September 1973
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byÉamon de Valera
Preceded byConor Maguire
Succeeded byWilliam FitzGerald
Judge of the Supreme Court
In office
3 November 1953 – 22 September 1973
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed bySeán T. O'Kelly
9th Attorney General of Ireland
In office
14 June 1951 – 11 July 1953
TaoiseachÉamon de Valera
Preceded byCharles Casey
Succeeded byThomas Teevan
In office
30 April 1946 – 18 February 1948
TaoiseachÉamon de Valera
Preceded byKevin Dixon
Succeeded byCecil Lavery
Personal details
Carroll O'Daly

(1911-02-12)12 February 1911
Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland
Died21 March 1978(1978-03-21) (aged 67)
Sneem, County Kerry, Ireland
Resting placeSneem, County Kerry, Ireland
Political partyFianna Fáil
(m. 1943)
Alma mater

His birth name was registered in English as Carroll O'Daly,[1] which he used during his legal career[2][3] and which is recorded by some publications.[4]

He also served as a Judge of the European Court of Justice from 1973 to 1974, Chief Justice of Ireland from 1961 to 1973, a Judge of the Supreme Court from 1953 to 1973, and Attorney General of Ireland from 1946 to 1948 and from 1951 to 1953.

Early life


Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, one of four children, was born on 12 February 1911,[1][5] in Bray, County Wicklow.[6] His father, Richard O'Daly, was a fishmonger with little interest in politics. His mother was Una Thornton.

Ó Dálaigh had an elder brother, Aonghus, and two younger sisters, Úna and Nuala. He went to St. Cronan's Boys National School,[7] and later to Synge Street CBS in Dublin. While attending University College Dublin, he became auditor of An Cumann Gaelach and of the Literary and Historical Society.[8] He also became Irish language editor of The Irish Press.[9]


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 and Seanad elections in 1948 and 1951, he was re-appointed as Attorney General of Ireland in 1951.

Judicial career


In 1953, he was nominated as the youngest-ever member of the Supreme Court by his mentor, de Valera. Less than a decade later, he became Chief Justice of Ireland, on the nomination of Taoiseach Seán Lemass. He was a keen actor in his early years, and became a close friend of actor Cyril Cusack. It is commonly stated that Ó Dálaigh and Cusack picketed the Dublin launch of Disney's Darby O'Gill and the Little People in 1959, for what they felt was the film's stereotyping of Irish people.[10] However, there is no known contemporary reference to this having occurred.[11]

He was an opponent of the US bombing of North Vietnam.[12]

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 second term ended in June of the following year. Fine Gael, 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. Fianna Fáil's Erskine H. Childers went on to win the election that followed.

When Ireland joined the European Economic Community, Lynch nominated Ó Dálaigh as Ireland's judge on the European Court of Justice.[9]

When President Childers died suddenly in 1974, all parties agreed to nominate Ó Dálaigh to replace him as President of Ireland.[13]

President of Ireland


Ó Dálaigh's tenure as president proved to be contentious. While popular with Irish language speakers and with artists, and respected by many republicans, he had a strained relationship with the then government led by Fine Gael, particularly with Minister Conor Cruise O'Brien and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave.

His decision, in 1976, to exercise his constitutional prerogative 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, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), on 23 July 1976, the government announced its intention to introduce legislation extending the maximum period of detention without charge from two to seven days.[14]

Ó Dálaigh referred the resulting bill, the Emergency Powers Bill,[15] to the Supreme Court. When the court ruled that the bill was constitutional, he signed the bill into law on 16 October 1976.[16] On the same day, an IRA bomb in Mountmellick killed Michael Clerkin, a member of the Garda Síochána, the country's police force.[17] Ó Dálaigh's actions were seen by government ministers to have contributed to the killing of this Garda given his delay in signing the Emergencies Powers Bill into law having referred it to the Supreme Court. On the following day, Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan, visiting a barracks in Mullingar to open a canteen, attacked the President for sending the bill to the Supreme Court, calling him a "thundering disgrace"[18][19][20] (or possibly "fucking disgrace" or "thundering bollocks").[21]

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.[22] 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 on matters of state.[22] He resigned from the presidency on 22 October 1976, "to protect the dignity and independence of the presidency as an institution".[16] He was succeeded as President of Ireland by Patrick Hillery.



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

See also



  1. ^ a b "Births in the District of Bray No. 1 in the Union of Rathdown, 1911" (PDF). irishgenealogy.ie. Entry Numbers 272–281. Archived from the original on 12 September 2021. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  2. ^ The Irish Law Times and Solicitors' Journal, vol. 103 (1970), p. 289: "The Chief Justice the Hon. Carroll O'Daly".
  3. ^ Survey of Current Affairs (1974), p. 471: "IRISH REPUBLlC: NEW PRESIDENT It was announced on 29 November that Mr Carroll O'Daly was to be the fifth President of the Republic of Ireland. The inauguration is scheduled to take place on 20 December.
  4. ^ Lentz, Harris M. (2014). Heads of States and Governments Since 1945. Taylor & Francis. p. 421. ISBN 978-1134264902.
  5. ^ "Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh". Áras an Uachtaráin. Archived from the original on 18 September 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2010.
  6. ^ "Biography of O'Daly, Carroll (Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh)". Archontology.org. Archived from the original on 7 July 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
  7. ^ Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh at cuplafocal.ie Archived 27 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Auditors of the L&H, UCD" (PDF). University College Dublin. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Past Presidents". RTÉ. 19 October 2011. Archived from the original on 22 October 2011. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
  10. ^ "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". Irish Film Institute. Archived from the original on 15 July 2017. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  11. ^ O'Toole, Fintan (27 June 2009). "How 'Darby O'Gill' captured an Ireland rapidly fading". Irish Times. Archived from the original on 24 October 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  12. ^ McNamara, Robert (2003). "Irish Perspectives on the Vietnam War". Irish Studies in International Affairs. 14: 75–94. doi:10.3318/ISIA.2003.14.1.75. JSTOR 30001965. S2CID 153710978.
  13. ^ Western Europe 2003 (2002, ISBN 1857431529), p. 330: "Childers died while in office; he was succeeded by Carroll O'Daly, an all-party nomination."
  14. ^ Gráinséir, Seosamh (26 October 2018). "Irish Legal Heritage: President Ó'Dálaigh's resignation". Irish Legal News. Archived from the original on 24 November 2020. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  15. ^ "Emergency Powers Act, 1976". Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  16. ^ a b Joseph Lee, Ireland, 1912–1985: Politics and Society, Cambridge University Press, 1989, ISBN 0-521-37741-2 p. 482
  17. ^ "Programme 4: Garda Michael Clerkin". RTÉ News. Archived from the original on 16 October 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  18. ^ Don Lavery, correspondent for the Westmeath Examiner, RTE This Week, 22 October 2006 Archived 4 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Lavery, Don (6 January 2007). "My part in downfall of a President over the 'thundering disgrace' debacle". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on 17 October 2012. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  20. ^ O'Toole, John; Dooney, Sean (24 July 2009). Irish Government Today. Gill & Macmillan Ltd. ISBN 9780717155347. Archived from the original on 12 September 2021. Retrieved 25 November 2020 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ This Great Little Nation: The A-Z of Irish Scandals & Controversies Archived 27 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Gene Kerrigan, Pat Brennan, Gill & Macmillan, 1999, page 287
  22. ^ a b Fanning, Ronan (29 October 2006). "The many resignations of O Dalaigh". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on 8 October 2017. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
Legal offices
Preceded by Attorney General of Ireland
Succeeded by
Preceded by Attorney General of Ireland
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Justice of Ireland
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by President of Ireland
Succeeded by