Monday, 25th September 2017
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On Friday 30 June and Saturday 1 July Waterford Treasures hosted a conference to remember the career and achievements of Waterford-born civil servant, John Hearne, described by Eamon de Valera as the ‘architect’ of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland and who later served as Ireland’s first ambassador to the United States. A comprehensive programme of events has been organised, including a national conference on the Constitution, the launch of a biography, the opening of a permanent exhibition and the unveiling of a bust of Hearne.

Who was John Hearne?

Born at 8 William Street on 4 December 1893, Hearne’s father was Alderman Richard Hearne, co-owner of Hearne and Cahill Bootmakers, and who served as Mayor of Waterford from 1901-1903. John Hearne was educated at Waterpark College and the King’s Inns. He was called to the Bar in 1919 and in 1929 was appointed legal adviser at the Department of External Affairs. De Valera became head of government and Minister for External Affairs in 1932 and there developed between the two men a very close professional relationship, which shaped the history of modern Ireland. It was to Hearne that de Valera turned for advice as he advanced towards a new constitution. He became his confidant and advised him at every stage of planning and drafting. De Valera acknowledged his contribution when he described Hearne as ‘architect in chief and draftsman of this Constitution’ and stated that Hearne had a played a ‘fundamental part in framing the first free Constitution of the Irish People’.

In recognition of his services Hearne was appointed as Ireland’s diplomatic representative in Canada (1939-1949), and in 1950 he became this country’s first ambassador to the United States. It was he who began the practice of presenting the American President with a bowl of shamrock on St Patrick’s Day, an occasion which has become the iconic event in Ireland’s diplomatic and international calendar.

Waterford Treasures’ programme of events

In recognition of Hearne’s career and achievements Waterford Treasures planned a programme of events. The City of Waterford Brass welcomed guests to City Hall on Friday 30 June to the launch by Chief Justice Susan Denham of a biography of John Hearne written by former Mercy Secondary School principal, Dr Eugene Broderick. A permanent exhibition in Hearne’s honour was opened by Senator Paudie Coffey. On Friday night Chief Justice Denham also performed the official opening of a conference on the Constitution. The key note address was given by former Tánaiste, Senator Michael McDowell, SC. On Saturday the speakers included Judge Gerard Hogan, of the Court of Appeal, the country’s foremost constitutional expert; Senator Ivana Bacik; Judge Mary Ellen Ring, Chair of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission; Dr Michael Kennedy, Royal Irish Academy; and Dr Eugene Broderick.

A bust of Hearne was unveiled on Saturday by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan TD. It is located in the square behind the Bishop’s Palace Museum. Also participating in the weekend’s events was Ireland’s current ambassador to the United Kingdom, Waterfordian Dan Mulhall who has been announced as Ireland’s new ambassador to the United States; thus this Waterford -born diplomat will be following in the steps of John Hearne.

The weekend celebration offered an opportunity to honour John Hearne and to consider the capacity of the 1937 Constitution to continue to serve all the people living in Ireland. ‘Waterford Treasures Museum is determined to proudly celebrate the achievements of John Hearne, while contributing, in a significant way, to the ongoing discussion about the Constitution and constitutional change’, says Museum Director, Eamonn McEneaney.’

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