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The next Waterford 1100 Talk to be given by the Chief Justice of Ireland, Susan Denham will be about John J Hearne a Waterford civil servant who is the author of Ireland’s constitution. We spoke to Eamonn McEneaney Director of Waterford Treasures who stated: ‘Hearne was an extremely important figure. This is the second last talk and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Liam and Ann Cusack of the Granville Hotel for extraordinarily generous sponsorship of the Waterford 1100 Talks.’

John Joseph Hearne was born in Waterford on 4 December 1893, one of seven children of Richard Hearne and Alice Mary Hearne (nee Power). Richard, mayor of Waterford twice in 1901-03, was one of the owners of Hearne and Cahill, boot manufacturers, with a factory in Broad Street.

John Hearne was educated in Waterpark College and University College Dublin during the years of the rise of Sinn Féin and the political mood of UCD reflected this. Hearne, however, continued to support the Irish Party, not entirely surprising given that the leader John Redmond represented Waterford City in the Westminster Parliament until his death in March 1918. He spent some years in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, training for the priesthood before leaving to study for the bar at King’s Inns.

With the outbreak of civil war in 1922 Hearne joined the Free State Army. He resigned in November 1923 and entered the civil service as assistant parliamentary draftsman in the Office of the Attorney General, a position which gave him the expertise later used to draft the constitution.

In the autumn of 1937 Hearne was made a senior counsel in recognition of his work on the constitution. From1939 to 1949 he was Ireland’s first high commissioner to Canada and from 1950-60 he served as ambassador to the United States. Retiring from the diplomatic service in 1960, he returned to the parliamentary draftsman’s office for a brief period in November 1960. Hearne died on 29 March 1969, aged seventy-six years. President Eamon de Valera attended his funeral mass and burial.

The new Irish constitution was drafted and adopted at a time when democracy was under threat in many European states and totalitarianism on the rise. In 1937 Hearne acknowledged the conflict between
two opposing systems of government:

‘This constitution is presented for the approval of the Dail and the country at a juncture in human affairs which has no parallel in the annals of mankind. The world is in the throes of a conflict of political philosophies which has divided it into two academies and bids fair to divide it into two camps.’

In the context of the spread of totalitarian government, an aspect of the constitution was the recognition accorded to the Jewish congregations in Ireland. This was a unique feature, the only constitutional provision in the world, then or since, to give such express recognition. And this was done ‘at a time in history when the greatest agony of that people had already begun in Europe’. It was certainly appreciated by the representatives of Dublin’s Jewish community, as was made clear in a letter to de Valera:

‘They note with the greatest satisfaction and due appreciation that the ‘Jewish congregations’ are included in the clause giving equal recognition to the religious bodies in Eire: and they respectfully tender congratulations on the production of such a fair and just document.’

John Hearne was one of the most distinguished civil servants in the history of the Irish state, who has left an enduring legacy to later generations. He played a fundamental role in the making of the 1937
constitution. His consummate skills and expertise facilitated the realisation of de Valera’s vision and the production of a document which enshrines principles of democracy and personal liberty. As a lawyer, he had a profound understanding and sense of what a constitution and laws mean in the life of a free people, writing in 1937 words that had meaning then, and still have meaning now, largely because they were written by a man who exemplified the best qualities of professional dedication and commitment in the service of the citizens of the Irish state. (Waterford Treasures is
indebted to Dr Eugene Broderick for this analysis of Hearne.)

Speaker: Chief Justice Susan Denham

Title: Waterfordian John J Hearne, maker of the Irish constitution

Venue: Medieval Museum

Date: Monday 10 November 2014

Time: 7.30pm

Admission: €5.00 (towards the Museum conservation fund)

Tickets available in advance from Bishop’s Palace Reception 051 849650/ [email protected] OR on the door

Waterford Museum of Treasures, Bishop’s Palace, Viking Triangle, Waterford.