Hayes, Richard Francis (1882–1958), medical doctor, nationalist, historian, and film censor, was born in Bruree, Co. Limerick, son of Richard Hayes, local teacher, and Margaret Hayes (née Ruddle). Attending Bruree national school with his direct contemporary Eamon de Valera (qv), secondary school in Rathkeale, Co. Limerick, and the Catholic University of Ireland medical school in Dublin, he was intellectually and politically influenced by the ‘Land League priest’, the Rev. Eugene Sheehy (qv), parish priest of Bruree and member of a renowned nationalist family. Hayes qualified in medicine in 1905 with licentiates both of the RCPI and of the RCSI (of which he was later a fellow). From house surgeon of Dublin's Mater Hospital he became resident medical officer at Galway Central Hospital and was an extern of Dublin's Coombe maternity hospital.
Visiting Paris in 1906, Hayes was fascinated by French connections with nationalist Ireland, particularly the United Irishmen of 1798. His passion for Franco–Irish history eventually transcended his medical interests. Hayes became active in the IRB and joined the Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers (established 1913). Commanding the 5th (Fingal) Battalion in north Co. Dublin, he also served as dispensary doctor at Lusk House. He deferred battalion command to Thomas Ashe (qv) shortly before the Easter rising of April 1916. During the conflict, Hayes accompanied Ashe and Richard Mulcahy (qv) as intelligence and medical officer at the Ashbourne, Co. Meath, engagement with the RIC, treating the wounded of both sides. Sentenced to penal servitude for his part in the rising, he was imprisoned in Dartmoor, Maidstone, the Isle of Wight, and Lewes until the general amnesty of July 1917; he distinguished himself as a prisoner by insisting on adequate health and welfare provision.
On returning to Dublin, Hayes joined the Sinn Féin executive and worked as medical officer at the Earl St. dispensary. However, he remained unrecognised and unpaid by a hostile medical board until a board sympathetic to Sinn Féin redressed the situation in 1920. Mixing medicine with politics, Hayes demanded that Irish troops returning from the Great War be examined for venereal diseases. He was rearrested in 1918 and sent to Reading gaol. From there he was elected Sinn Féin MP for Limerick East in the December post-war general election. He thus became a TD of the first Dáil Éireann, established in Dublin 21 January 1919. He was not an enthusiastic politician but retained his seat and firmly supported the Anglo–Irish treaty of December 1921 as an honourable compromise. He was returned as a ‘coalition treatyite’ deputy for Limerick city and Limerick East in the June 1922 general election preceding the civil war. When the National Army C-in-C Michael Collins (qv) was killed (22 August 1922), Hayes took part in a provisional government emergency conference to replace him as chairman with William T. Cosgrave (qv). Having topped the electoral poll in Limerick for Cumann na nGaedheal in August 1923, Hayes retired from politics the following May to work as a doctor in Dublin's Donnybrook No. 2 dispensary and to indulge his scholarly interests.
In 1905 he had published Fóclóir an Leigheas, a brief dictionary of medical terms in Irish. He associated with literary people and was a close friend of Frank O'Connor (qv), who later recalled his diffidence and thoughtfulness in My father's son (1968). Although he was clearly identified with the Free State government, his religious and patriotic zeal endeared him to the ultra-conservative and anti-treaty Catholic Bulletin which favourably reviewed his books of Franco–Irish military history. In 1932, the year of his first full-length publication, he courageously defended the 1798 leader Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) against a disapproving Roman Catholic hierarchy, fearful of the protestant Tone's rakish example for young catholics. Hayes weathered the clash of opinion to become respected in a discipline where he had no formal qualifications but undisputed knowledge. He published successively Ireland and Irishmen in the French revolution (1932) with an Irish translation in 1933, Irish swordsmen of France (1934), The last invasion of Ireland: when Connacht rose (1937), Old Irish links with France: some echoes of exiled Ireland (1940), and his Biographical dictionary of Irishmen in France (1949).
Hayes was a long-serving director of the Abbey Theatre from 1934. When in November 1940 he succeeded James Montgomery (qv) as official film censor, he intended to resign from the Abbey. On the board's insistence he remained, enjoying the curious distinction of presiding simultaneously over the state's least and most censored public media. Since the Censorship of Films Act, 1923, banished every ‘indecency’ from the cinema, Hayes simply continued Montgomery's ‘clean screen’ policy. In his first official report of January 1941 he famously added ‘lascivious dances’ to his list of targets. Under wartime (Emergency) conditions, he was required to perform a neutralist excision of practically every visual or verbal reference to the belligerents, their leaders, and any imputation of bias, however tenuous. Special legislation allowed material he had passed to be recalled for banning on grounds of national security, public order, or its potential offensiveness to any foreign power. When the ban was lifted in May 1945 Hayes continued his relentless moral and theological vigil as film censor until retiring in 1954. However, he also attempted to broaden the narrow legal classification of films fit for adult and underage viewing.
He was elected to the RIA (1936), the Academy of Letters and the French Légion d'honneur. In 1941 he had received an honorary D.Litt. (NUI) and in 1949 was a founder member of the Military History Society of Ireland, of which he became vice-president. He wrote for several learned journals including the Society's Irish Sword. Hayes died 16 June 1958 at his Dublin home, Woodlands, Rochestown Avenue, Dún Laoghaire. Among many admiring tributes were three consecutive obituaries in the Sword from Richard Mulcahy, W. T. Cosgrave, and Charles Petrie (qv). He was buried at Dean's Grange cemetery in Dublin. In 1939 he married Hilda Shaw, a widow with a son and daughter.