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Gaelic Society of New York Collection

Call Number



1894-1977, inclusive
; 1894-1951, bulk


Archives of Irish America


1.25 Linear Feet in 1 record carton and 1 manuscript box

Language of Materials

Materials are in English and Irish.


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.

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.


Collection is organized into one series, arranged alphabetically.

Scope and Contents

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.

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.

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.

Collection processed by

Marion Casey and Rebecca Altermatt

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:28:41 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English.


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012