Tomhas na Teanga, March/April 2005


Many people do not know that the Irish language, and the revival movement, have a long and important history in the USA.  Servants in the 17th century spoke Irish here (Goodie Glover of Salem among them).  A great many, maybe most,  19th century immigrants from Ireland spoke Irish as their first language.  Even today, many who come from Ireland come from the Gaeltacht.  All who come from the Republic have learned Irish in school (or were supposed to!).  Many from the North wish they’d had that chance.


In the 1872 the Irish World, a New York publication, published a series of letters by ‘Gael,’  calling for the revival and preservation of the language.  This ‘Gael’ was Mícheál S. Ó Lógáin (Michael J. Logan), from Galway, and now living in Brooklyn as an American.    He began an Irish language class in 1872, which became the Brooklyn Philo-Celtic society.  Between 1878 and 1886, more than 50 Irish language societies were founded in the US, some of them other Philo-Celtic societies (Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco…).  In 1881, Ó Lógáin began publishing An Gaodhal (the Gael, in the older spelling), a monthly (mainly) Irish language paper. 


When Douglas Hyde (Dúbhglas de hÍde, An Craoibhín Aoibhinn) came to America for a visit in 1891, he was so impressed that he went home and in 1893 helped found the Gaelic League (a name used first by a learning community founded by  Ó Lógáin in America), or Conradh na Gaeilge.


There were many branches and rival organizations across the country in America.  Conradh na Gaeilge (which of course still exists  – see learned from this and was designed as one organization with member branches.  Little by little, the American organizations lost their focus on the language, and turned into picnic clubs, or disappeared entirely, especially after the early 20th century.  Philo-Celtic almost died out completely.  There were several attempts at reviving it, always with direct links to prior members.  Unfortunately, since the emphasis was no longer on the language, these attempts also petered out.


I am pleased to announce that the Philo-Celtic Society has been revived again, with the emphasis on the language, by former members, teachers and students at the Gerry Tobin Irish Language School, and other friends.  Jerry Kelly is the driving force behind this.  If you would like to learn more about this, please have a look at


The AOH has supported the language in many ways, especially by hosting classes.  Scoil Ghaeilge Ghearóid Tóibín is hosted by division 2 in Babylon, and I know many other divisions host classes.  If anyone has any information about these classes, or any historical information about the AOH and the language, please contact me.  I would like to learn more about our own history.


The name of the Philo-Celtic Society in Irish is Cumann Carad na nGael – which is not exactly standard Irish.  ‘Cumann’ is a community or society (Cumann Lúthchleas Gael is the Gaelic Athletic Association).  ‘Carad’ is the genitive singular of ‘cara’ (friend).  The genitive case is the ‘of the’ case, by the way!  ‘Carad’ is also a variant plural genitive, according to the standard, and the only plural genitive in the (older) Dinneen dictionary.  That is what it is here.  ‘Na nGael’ is ‘of the Gaels,’ another genitive plural.  After ‘na’ (the plural article (the)), the genitive plurals are eclipsed, or an ‘n’ is prefixed to words beginning with a vowel.  There’s a radio show called ‘Ceol na nGael,’ which means ‘The Music of the Gaels.’  And how about ‘Ord Ársa na nÉireannach’ – The Ancient Order of the Irish (Hibernians)!


In standardized Irish, multiple nouns in the genitive in a single noun phrase would behave a little differently than in Cumann Carad na nGael.  Sometimes older names, or names in a particular dialect, will not behave the way you expect – but they are not wrong.  This name in official standard Irish would be ‘Cumann Chairde na nGael.’  You may have noticed, that in all of these phrases, we often will translate them with more than one ‘the’ in English.  In the Irish, there will never be more than one article (the last one).


Conradh na Gaeilge – ‘Conradh’ is another organization name (‘league’).  It can also mean ‘contract’ or ‘treaty.’  ‘Na’ here is not the plural article, but the genitive singular feminine.  Gaeilge (the Irish language) is a feminine noun.  So this is ‘League of the Irish Language.’


There are only two forms for ‘the’ in Irish – ‘an’ and ‘na.’  ‘An’ is always the masculine singular (all cases) or the feminine singular not in the genitive case.  ‘Na’ is either the plural (all cases) or the feminine singular genitive.  Remember, the genitive is the ‘of the’ or ‘belonging to’ case.  Poblacht na hÉireann – the Republic of Ireland.  If you look at that, you can identify the number, gender and case of ‘Éireann’ from what you’ve just learned.  (Hint- ‘na’ before a vowel may prefix an h if it’s not busy doing something else!)


Most words in modern Irish have only two possible cases, the genitive, and everything else.  Occasionally you still see a dative (the ‘to the/for the’ case).   ‘Ireland’ is one of those words.  ‘Éire’ is the primary form.  But ‘to Ireland’ is ‘go hÉirinn.’  You’ve already seen the genitive form (above).


The definite article (remember, there is no indefinite article (‘a’) in Irish) does not have a fada – ‘ná’ is not the definite article!  The word ‘an’ can be other things besides ‘the.’  It can also be a question word.  If it is attached to another word, often with a hyphen, it is an intensifier (very).  So don’t assume it’s the article unless it is followed by a noun!


Even if you can’t read the next bit, see if you can find the definite articles, or other words you know (like ‘agus’ – ‘and’).  We all start out as “’agus’ counters!”


Fuair mo chara Clare Curtin alt a bhí sa New York Times in 1903.  Scríobhadh é faoin nGaeilge I Nua-Eabhrac ag an am sin.  Rinne duine geall air dá chara go mbeadh sé in ann freagra a fháil as Gaeilge ó dhuine faoi cheann leathuair an chloig, áit ar bith sa chathair.  Ghlac a chara leis, agus chuaigh siad á lorg.  Fuair!  Bhí Gaeilgeoirí ag obair ag na dugaí, i siopaí, agus ar fud na háite.


Insítear san alt faoi ghluaiseacht athbheochan na Gaeilge, agus Conradh na Gaeilge.  Luaitear  áiteanna mar a raibh grúpaí éagsúla ag cruinniú chun Gaeilge a fhoghlaim.  Ceann díobh ab ea áit i mBrooklyn, ar Court St. agus Atlantic Ave.


Tá grianghraf de mo sheanathair agam, ón uair go raibh sé ina bhuachaill beag, faoi cheithre bliana d’aois.  Rugadh in 1899 é.  Tógadh an ghrianghraf sin doras amháin síos na sráide ón gcúinne céanna sin!  Ní dóigh liom go raibh a fhios aige go raibh ranganna Gaeilge ar siúl ann.  Bhí breis agus nócha bliain eile thart sula raibh Gaeilge ag duine dár muintir.  Nach ait an mac an saol.