The Gaelic League was founded in 1893 by Eoin McNeill and others with Douglas Hyde as first President. It aimed at the revival of Irish as a spoken and literary language and to that end ran Irish language classes and social gatherings. Founded as an inclusive, non-political organisation, it attracted a wide membership at first, including nationalists, unionists, Protestants and lower middle class members. Although many members had traditional attitudes to women, the Gaelic League was the first cultural organisation in Ireland to admit women to membership on the same terms as men.
|And to the Gaelic League is due the credit of having established the first Irish national society which accepted women as members on the same terms as men.
Jennie Wyse Power in W.G. Fitzgerald (ed.), The voice of Ireland, Dublin, 1924, p.158.
Jennie Wyse Power pointed to the advantages women brought to the Gaelic League:
|From the beginning, women sat on its Branch Committees and Executive, and helped to carry out the programme. The work was of such a nature that women's help was essential. The study of the Irish language was for all; the social side was almost wholly in the hands of the women members.
Jenny Wyse Power in W.G. Fitzgerald (ed.), The voice of Ireland, Dublin, 1924, p.158.
Mary E. Butler, a journalist, was a member of the executive of the Gaelic League. She also became an active member of Sinn Féin and it was she who suggested the name for that organisation. She edited a woman's page in the Irish Weekly Independent and urged Irish women in the home to create an Irish atmosphere by speaking Irish, insisting on it being taught at school, encouraging the use of Irish prayers, music, song and literature. They should consider Irish names for children, visit Irish speaking districts and employ Irish speaking servants if possible. They should join the Gaelic League, support all things Irish and withdraw support from anything un-Irish. Sinéad Flanagan, a primary teacher who taught Irish language classes for the Gaelic League, married Éamon de Valera, one of her students. As Sinéad de Valera, she published Irish language dramas and Irish fairy and folk tales for children.
The Gaelic League had become so politicised by 1915 that Douglas Hyde, its first president resigned. Members were also active in Inghinidhe na hÉireann and the Irish Volunteers, while Agnes O'Farrelly, a lifelong supporter of the Gaelic League presided over the first meeting of Cumann na mBan. Members also took part in the 1916 Rising and in the development of Sinn Féin and the IRA.
Now known by its Irish name, Connradh na Gaeilge, the League remains active in the promotion of Irish culture.