Art O’Connor. The President from Kildare
While we have had many presidential visitors to Co. Kildare it is not very well known that one of our own countymen was President of the Republic, albeit for a short time. Art O’Connor is better known as a judge than a president. Arthur James Kickham O’Connor was born on 18 May 1888 at Elm Hall, Loughlinstown, Celbridge, the second son among four sons and five daughters of Art O’Connor, farmer, and Elizabeth O’Connor, neé Saul. He was educated at Holy Faith School, Celbridge, and Blackrock College, Dublin, before attending Trinity College, Dublin. He graduated in 1911 with an engineering degree and was immediately employed by Kildare County Council.
O’Connor, an enthusiastic supporter of the GAA and an active member of the Gaelic League, joined Sinn Féin in 1914. The following year he was among a small number of individuals elected onto the organising committee of the Irish Volunteers in North Kildare. Art was arrested and imprisoned in Durham Jail in May 1918 in connection with the so-called ‘German plot.’ He served as TD for Kildare South in the first Dáil (1919-21), during which he served as Substitute Director of Agriculture, and Kildare-Wicklow in the second Dáil (1921-22), serving as Secretary of Agriculture. He took the anti-Treaty side in the civil war and after being captured during the fighting in Dublin city centre was interned in Mountjoy and Kilmainham for the duration of the conflict.
Having lost his seat in the June 1922 general election O’Connor was unlucky not to win a seat in Kildare (1923) and in a Leix-Offaly by-election (1926). In March 1926 Art O’Connor became President of the Republic when Eamonn de Valera resigned. This lofty position did not prevent his heavy defeat in the general election of June 1927. He never ran for office again. According to The Dictionary of Irish Biography Art was generally ‘regarded as a nice man but an ineffective figurehead …’ and ‘engendered bitterness when he resigned the presidency in 1927’. His departure became necessary when, on receiving a TCD law degree, he was called to the bar, which involved him recognising Saorstát Ėireann.
Leaving his political life behind Art O’Connor built up a strong practice on the eastern circuit and was called to the Inner Bar in 1944. He was appointed a Circuit Court Judge in 1947 for Cork city and county, resigning in 1950 when he was appointed chairman of the military services pensions tribunal. Art O’Connor was in this position for a matter of months when he died on 10 May 1950, at Elm Hall, where he had lived most of his life.
[In 1938 Douglas Hyde became the first President of Ireland under the new Constitution of Ėire (1937), which allowed for an elected Presidency and a two-house Parliament comprising a legislature (the Dáil) and a vocationally based senate.]
While we have had many presidential visitors to Co. Kildare it is not very well known that one of our own countymen was President of the Republic