This series consists of more than 4,600 files documenting the history of the Presidency and the administration of the Office of the Secretary to the President since the establishment of the former office under the Constitution of 1937. The files pertain to the six terms of office of the following four presidents: Dr. Douglas Hyde (Dubhghlas de hÍde) (1938-1945), Séan T. Ó Ceallaigh (1945-1959), Eamon de Valera (1959-1973) and Erskine Childers (1973-1975).
Files from the first and second presidencies of Douglas Hyde and Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh comprise the bulk of this series and are especially interesting as they document the establishment and development of the office of President within the parameters laid down by Articles 12, 13 and 14 of the Constitution, parameters whose scope and potential were expanded by subsequent presidencies.
The early files chart the definition of protocol and precedent in relation to presidential functions, such as the signing of bills into law and the promulgation of same, the summoning and dissolution of Dáil Éireann, the appointment of government ministers on the nomination of the Taoiseach and the vesting of supreme command of the Defence Forces in the President. Ceremony and hospitality are also common motifs running through the records as evidenced by the number of files relating to the administration of the Áras both as an office and as a home, the management of interaction with the foreign diplomatic corps and the hosting of receptions, official lunches, dinners and garden parties for visiting dignitaries.
As is to be expected, the records in this series reflect much of the personal pursuits and interests of individual Presidents. Douglas Hyde’s love of music and the Irish language, together with his own penchant for poetic composition, are much in evidence (PRES 1/P 1834). Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh’s personal history of participation in the struggle for independence, his strong religious beliefs (PRES 1/P 4235) and his previous political career as Minister for Local Government and Public Health, Minister for Finance and his position as Tánaiste are also reflected in the records relating to his presidency.
Eamon de Valera’s love of maths is apparent in the files concerning the purchase of books for his personal library (PRES 1/P 4575) while his previous career as political and revolutionary leader of international standing is evidenced in the correspondence received from statesmen throughout the world. As yet, the files transferred to the National Archives relating to the presidency of Erskine Childers are from the earliest phase of his short presidency, therefore conclusions about the themes of his tenure will only be drawn from the files to be released over the coming years.
Apart from documenting the exercise of presidential functions set out in the Constitution, the files also reflect the care taken by the first four incumbents of the office to forge close bonds with the Irish people at home and abroad and to associate themselves with many aspects of national life. The records detail presidential patronage of a wide variety of societies and associations such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Red Cross and the Royal Dublin Society (PRES 1/P 1131; PRES 1/P 1402; PRES 1/P 4312). Presidential support of community projects, recognition of individual and collective effort and achievement through awards ceremonies and participation in initiatives such as the presentation of bounties to centenarians (PRES 1/2002/7/13) and the parents of triplets (PRES 1/P 1216) are also documented in this file series.
That tumultuous world events are reflected through the office of President is borne out by the number of files on the impact of the Second World War on its daily functions and administration. Records are to be found in this series on the growing of crops in the garden of the Áras during the Emergency (PRES 1/P 2112) and the construction of a bomb shelter in its grounds (PRES 1/P 1753), the potential financial effects of the war on the Office (PRES 1/P 1353) and the letter from Theodor Heuss, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, to President Ó Ceallaigh, thanking him and the Irish people for their generosity to the German nation in the difficult post-war years (PRES 1/P 5026).
There are of course, many other topics and subjects covered in this large series, and cyber visitors are invited not only to search the online database which lists the collection in its totality but also to learn more about the other two series in the collection, PRES 2 which relates to the Visitors’ Books signed at Áras an Uachtaráin and PRES 3 which details the Register of Executed Documents.
PRES 1 – Registered Files
This series consists of bound volumes containing signatures of visiting foreign heads of state and government, foreign parliamentary representatives and foreign diplomatic representatives, all of whom were required to sign the visitors’ book in Áras an Uachtaráin when making a call on the President. The volume also includes signatures of representatives of social, cultural, religious, professional and vocational organisations, as well as those of Taoisigh and Government Ministers, and of senior Irish civil servants making courtesy calls, such as Irish diplomatic representatives serving abroad.
The vast majority of signatures in the books are those of visiting heads of state, such as the Monegasque royal family, who visited on 29 August 1963 (PRES 2/2003/19/1), and of foreign diplomatic representatives making routine courtesy calls, such as Eduard Hempel, the German ambassador to Ireland during the Second World War, who made a courtesy call on 1 January 1940, together with other members of the diplomatic corps (PRES 2/96/7/1).
The signatures of senior members of the main religious denominations in Ireland are evident, as are those of members of the literary and entertainment worlds; for example, the signatures of Leslie Howard (the actor who played Ashley Wilkes in the film Gone with the Wind) and John Betjeman (British Poet Laureate) were entered in the book on 13 April 1942 (PRES 2/96/7/1). Also to be found in the same visitors’ book is the signature of Count John McCormack, the Irish tenor, who visited on 7 October 1938 (PRES 2/96/7/1). In later years, the signatures of those prominent in the world of television feature in the visitors’ books, such as that of Eamonn Andrews, Director General of RTE and later presenter of the BBC television programme This is Your Life, who was received by the President on 29 July 1959 (PRES 2/96/7/3).
Each book is in columnar format, recording the date of visit and containing the visitor’s signature. Cross-references to any related office file were often also noted. These office files are now contained in PRES 1. There is an apparent overlap in dates between several of the volumes in the series, which can possibly be accounted for by the fact that two visitors’ books seem to have been simultaneously in use.
PRES 3 – Register of Executed Documents
This series consists of one bound volume recording details of instruments signed by the President or by the Presidential Commission. Entries in the register are in chronological order, recording details of the instrument executed, including serial number, ‘class of document’ such as army commission, warrant, minute of appointment or minute of resignation, and name of the person to whom the instrument refers. Also recorded are the relevant official file reference number of both the Office of the Secretary to the President and the Department of the Taoiseach, and the date of execution of the instrument. The volume includes two typescript sheets affixed to the flyleaf, which describe the nature of the documents registered, the manner of their registration and the type of instruments not recorded, such as bills.