Building Irish identity in America, 1870–1915
The Gaelic Revival
Úna Ní Bhroiméil
The Irish language was the hook on which Irish cultural nationalism was hung in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. The foundation of the Gaelic League in 1893 focused on the revival of Irish as a spoken language. By 1916, the Irish language was at the core of Irish nationalism. There was also a flowering of Irish cultural nationalism in the United States at the time. The first Irish language class was founded in Brooklyn in 1872 and the first Gaelic society in Boston in 1873. The first popular bilingual newspaper, An Gaodhal, was published in New York from 1881 to 1898. There was a substantial body of Irish speakers in the United States but language maintenance was not a priority for them. Rather, the formation of Gaelic societies and the cultivation of the Irish language societies in the United States became a building block of ethnic pride.
This embracing of ethnicity in its most advantageous form became a tool of assimilation for the American Irish. To the Gaelic League in Ireland, the language movement in the United States was an inspiration and a valuable financial source. The missions of Douglas Hyde and others to America were primarily fund-raising tours. They nonetheless ensured a role for the Irish language and Gaelic societies in the United States as legitimate components of the Irish nationalist movement there.
Úna Ní Bhroiméil lectures in History at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.