ACIS Logo New York’s Irish-American and the Irish Language Revival in the United States

On 25 April 1857, P.J. Meehan, editor of New York’s The Irish-American, announced that his newspaper would soon,”accomplish in America that which even Ireland fails to furnish‚ namely, the resuscitation in print of the Irish language‚ in the original Irish character.” On 25 July 1857, the first Irish-language column printed in the Western hemisphere appeared. “Our Gaelic Department‚” became a weekly feature in the paper for most of the next 50 years, offering “Easy Lessons‚” and songs, tales, and poetry taken from manuscripts. Alongside these columns appeared hundreds of Irish letters to the editor from notable language revivalists like Thomas O’Neill Russell, Thomas D. Norris, David O’Keefe, P.J. O’Daly, John O’Mahony, and Daniel Magner. This correspondence not only documented many issues related to the cultivation of the Irish language in the US–whether it be in relation to the Irish vs. Roman font controversy, points of grammar and orthography, or the progress of the Philo-Celtic Societies and Irish schools‚ but also offered valuable material for students of the language to study. While Ken Nilsen and others have pointed out the tremendous contributions the Irish-American made to the Irish language revival, their research was only able to scratch the surface; a more analytical approach with greater attention to the hundreds of Irish-language columns run over a 50+ year period needs to be undertaken. This paper will examine the Irish-American in greater detail, documenting some of the most vibrant and challenging periods for the editors of ‚”Our Gaelic Department‚” between 1857 and 1910.