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Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive logo

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

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.