Identity Statement for Dr P.J. Hillery

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P205
  • Title: Papers of Dr P.J. Hillery (1923–2008)
  • Dates: 1943–95
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 18 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use
  • Allied Material

Biographical History

Dr Patrick Hillery was born in Miltown Malbay, County Clare on 2 May 1923, the second youngest of four children. His father Michael Hillery was a successful and highly regarded doctor with a large practice in the county. Following his primary education in the local national school Hillery attended Rockwell College. In 1939, he undertook the matriculation exam for the NUI and entered UCD to study medicine graduating in 1947 with first class honours.

He began his medical career as a resident doctor at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, a further residency in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, and completed his medical training at Hotel Dieu, Kingston, Ontario. He returned to Ireland to take up a position in Peamount Hospital, Dublin in 1950.

In 1951 Hillery was nominated as a Fianna Fáil candidate for the Clare constituency winning the third seat to become a TD in the fourteenth Dáil Éireann. Initially Hillery continued to practice medicine combining this career with his constituency and Dáil commitments.

In 1959 Hillery was appointed Minister for Education where he was responsible for developing and facilitating a number of initiatives including the formation of comprehensive schools outside the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church; the OECD Pilot Study on Investment in Education; and the establishment of the Belfield campus by University College Dublin.

In 1965 Seán Lemass appointed him as Minister for Industry and Commerce and a short while later to a new Ministry for Labour. Here he faced considerable challenges involving the trade unions, strikes and industrial relations.

Following the general election in June 1969 Hillery was appointed as Minister for External Affairs, later Foreign Affairs. Within weeks of his appointment Hillery found himself facing a worsening security situation in Northern Ireland. He travelled to the UN in an attempt to gain agreement for a peacekeeping force in the North, a move strongly resisted by Britain and the US. From very early in his new ministry Hillery was involved in strenuous lobbying in diplomatic circles to further Ireland’s wish to become a member of the EEC. With Ireland’s economy so strongly linked with Britain, it was imperative that any negotiations for entry to the EEC being discussed with Britain should also include Irish interests. It was Hillery who led the negotiations for Irish accession, and the successful constitutional referendum resulting in the signing of the Treaty in January 1972.

In 1972 Hillery was offered, and accepted, the position of Ireland’s first Commissioner to the EEC. He resigned his Dáil seat in January 1973 to take up his new post as Vice President of the Commission and Commissioner for Social Affairs.

Following the resignation of Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh as President in October 1976 and the decision by the Cosgrave government not to reappoint Hillery as Commissioner, intense speculation gave rise to the idea that Hillery was interested in becoming President. Despite his protestations and desire to return to medical practice Hillery was put under enormous pressure by his party leader Jack Lynch and other members of Fianna Fáil and he finally accepted the nomination. The government parties had already announced that they would not contest an election and Hillery was declared elected as Ireland’s sixth President on 9 November 1976. He went on to serve a second term as President, re-elected unopposed in November 1983.

Hillery retired from office in November 1990 marking the end of an extraordinary public career as government minister, European Commissioner and President of Ireland. He remained energetic in his retirement, participating actively in the hobbies and interests that he had maintained throughout his busy career. He maintained a strong interest in European affairs.

Hillery died on 12 April 2008, a few weeks before his eighty-fifth birthday.

Archival History 

This collection was deposited in UCD Archives by Dr Hillery in 1991 and 1997.

Scope and Content

Papers relating to Patrick Hillery throughout his career in public office.

Elected to Dáil Eireann in 1951 as running mate of Éamon de Valera in the Clare constituency. Correspondence, notes, photographs relating to the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis 1971

Correspondence, speeches, development of policy as Minister for Education 1959–65. Includes notes, reports, correspondence relating to the 1960 OECD pilot study, the development of the Belfield Campus by UCD, and the 1960 and the 1964 exam strikes.

Correspondence, speeches as Minister for Labour including a document on the newly formed Department of Labour outlining its achievements, 1966–9.

Material relating to his period as Minister for Foreign Affairs including a comprehensive series of files of confidential memoranda (mostly from Eamon Gallagher), 1969–72, concerning Northern Ireland and the worsening security situation. Memoranda, notes, speeches, and correspondence relating to Hillery’s efforts to include Northern Ireland on the agenda of the General Assembly and General Committee of the UN, 1969. Confidential memoranda on the staffing and structure of the DFA, 1971. Series of files concerning negotiations in the areas of fisheries, motor assembly, export tax reliefs, and sugar quota, for Ireland’s entry to the EEC, 1971–2. File on the signing of the Acts of Succession, 1972.

Letters of congratulations to Hillery following his appointment as Commissioner for Social Affairs 1972–3. Notes, memoranda, correspondence concerning the organisation and staffing of his cabinet in DG V, 1972–7, including a file on the Director General Michael Shanks, 1974–6. Notes, memoranda, drafts of policy documents on the Social Action programme 1973–4. Detailed set of memoirs, dictated and transcribed, providing a comprehensive personal commentary on his position as Commissioner, his dealings with the Commission and Irish politicians 1973–6. Files of speeches 1973–6.

Departure from the Commission, nomination and inauguration as the sixth President of Ireland, 1976.

Notes, memoranda, correspondence relating to his private office during both terms in office as Uachtarán na hÉireann, including communications from his private secretary Micheál Ó hOdhráin. Series of notebooks used as diaries during the first three years as President recording a detailed account of the role of the President, functions attended, dealings with the Government as well as his personal feelings and thoughts, 1977-9. A second series of personal observations (dictated to cassette tape and transcribed) described by Hillery as memoirs, again detailing events attended, personal observations and recollections of his political career, 1979–89. 
Correspondence, notes, itineraries concerning Hillery’s state visits during both terms in office 1977–90.

Notes, drafts of speeches, itineraries, correspondence relating to the Papal visit 1979.
Comprehensive files of speeches delivered by Hillery during his two terms as President, 1977–90.

Notes and copy of pages from the ADC journal concerning the night of 28 January 1982 and phone calls made to Áras an Uachtaráin by members of Fianna Fáil.

Arrangements for his retirement, 1990. Letters congratulating him on his two terms as President, 1990–1.

Large number of photographs covering all aspects of his public career as government minister, European Commissioner and President of Ireland 1961–90 as well as photographs of his family and early career as an intern and doctor, 1920s–40s.

  • Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in microform.
  • Language: English, occasional Irish and French
  • Finding aid: Descriptive catalogue

Papers of Eamon de Valera IE UCDA P150

Fianna Fáil Party Archives IE UCDA P176

Papers of Garret FitzGerald IE UCDA P215

Publication Note

John Walsh, Patrick Hillery: The Official Biography (Dublin: New Island, 2008)

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