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Guide to the Gaelic Society of New York Collection AIA.025

Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY, 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive

Collection processed by Marion Casey and Rebecca Altermatt

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on July 23, 2015
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Edited by Rachel Searcy for compliance with DACS and Tamiment Required Elements for Archival Description  , September 2012

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Archives of Irish America.
Title: Gaelic Society of New York Collection
Dates [inclusive]: 1894-1977
Dates [bulk]: Bulk, 1894-1951
Abstract: The Gaelic Society of New York Collection consists of minute books, correspondence, legal documents, and a volume of poetry in Irish. The Society, founded in 1875, was one of the earliest American organizations established to promote Irish as a spoken language.
Quantity: 1.25 linear feet in 1 record carton and 1 manuscript box
Language of Materials Note: Materials are in English and Irish.
Call Phrase: AIA.025

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Historical/Biographical Note

The Gaelic Society of New York was one of the earliest American organizations established to promote Irish as a spoken language. It was founded in 1875, following the establishment of the Philo-Celtic Society of Boston (1873) and the Brooklyn Philo-Celtic Society (1874). The fist preliminary meeting for the Society was held on December 12, 1894 to consider the feasibility of organizing a group to promote further understanding of the language, history, antiquities, literature, music, and art of Ireland. The Society established its headquarters at 47 West 42nd Street and continued to operate in Manhattan, from offices at the City University of New York’s John Jay College, into the 1970s. Thereafter, its library moved to Mineola, New York, using space provided by the Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens.

Historically, Irish immigrants arriving in New York City in the 19th century were initially monoglot Irish speakers. The use of Irish in Ireland and areas of Irish immigration dramatically declined later in the century due to a variety of causes, including colonization and national education initiatives. Most first-generation New York Irish were bilingual at mid-century; thereafter English increasingly dominated, contributing to important social and economic advances among the immigrant population.

Starting around 1850, individuals and organizations began to make efforts to preserve the Irish language in New York City. Several publications, including weekly newspapers like the Irish American ran columns in Irish. In the early 1870s the  Irish World encouraged native speakers to teach classes to cultivate the spoken language. Among the first organizations founded to sponsor language classes were the Philo-Celtic Society of Boston, the Brooklyn Philo-Celtic Society, and the Gaelic Society of New York. These American organizations predate the establishment of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1876. In New York, teachers and scholars such as David O’Keefe, Michael Logan, and Daniel Magner provided instruction for students both Irish-born and Irish American.

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Scope and Contents note

The Gaelic Society of New York Records consists of meeting minutes, legal documents, correspondence, event programs, and financial records. The materials document the Society’s efforts to promote Irish as a spoken language and support the dissemination of knowledge about Irish art, music, history, literature, and industries. The majority of the collection dates from a period of renewed organizational activity in response to the Gaelic Revival of the late 19th century. Of note is receipt number one for the 1919 Bond Drive promoted in the United States by Éamon De Valera (1882-1975) to support the Provisional Irish Government. The Gaelic Society of New York contributed $1,000, raised by $0.25 admission fees to regular ceili dances. The Society preserved the receipt by pasting it into a minute book.


Collection is organized into one series, arranged alphabetically.

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Access Points

Document Type

  • Correspondence.
  • Minute books.
  • Minutes.
  • Poetry.

Subject Topics

  • Irish Americans -- Societies, etc.
  • Irish language -- United States

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Administrative Information

Custodial History Note

In 1999 Irish language teacher, author, and enthusiast Barra O Donnabháin (John “Barry” Donovan, 1942-2003) acquired this collection of papers and insured their survival by donating them to the Archives of Irish America. O Donnabháin donated additional materials in 2001. O Donnabháin was a native of Leap, County Cork who emigrated to the United States in 1963. The accession number associated with this collection is 1997.040.

Access Restrictions

Open for research without restrictions.

Use Restrictions

The Tamiment Library does not have information about who owns copyright to this collection. Materials in this collection are expected to enter the public domain beginning in 2014, depending on date of creation. The Tamiment Library is not authorized to grant permission to publish or reproduce materials from this collection.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Archives of Irish America, Tamiment Library
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

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Container List

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Annual Concert
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Correspondence
1951, 1975
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Cumann na Gaeilge (NY)
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Financial Papers
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Legal Papers (lease)
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Minutes (ledger book)
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Minutes (ledger book)
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Minutes (ledger book)
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Minutes
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Minutes
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Minutes
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Poetry (in Irish)

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