Conradh na Gaeilge, also known as the Gaelic League, was founded by Douglas Hyde and Eoin McNeill in July 1893. Their aim was to keep the Irish language alive and preserve the Gaelic elements of Ireland’s culture. It was open to all creeds, was non-political, and accepted women on an equal basis. It used a broad approach, organising classes and competitions in Irish music, dancing, literature, and games. After a sluggish six years in existence, it suddenly morphed into a mass movement.
The Galway branch of the league was founded in February 1894 and proved to be a dynamic body in its first 10 years, successfully lobbying for the erection of bilingual street names and the appointment of bilingual Poor Law Union doctors. On February 19 1906 a meeting was held in the league rooms in Dominick Street to consider establishing a Coiste Chondae with Fr Considine presiding. It was decided to establish this coiste with two representatives from each branch in the county.
The first Oireachtas was held in 1897 and was modelled on the Eisteddfod in Wales and the Scottish Mod, and soon became the cultural highlight of the year. The first occasion that it was held outside Dublin was in July 1913 when it came to Galway. “A city that brings us, as no city can, into touch with the history and traditions of our native land,” as Douglas Hyde described it. By this time the fervour within the league had somewhat dissipated, and the leaders sought to use the Oireachtas as a means of invigorating the revivalist campaign in the Irish speaking districts in the west.
The mass influx of moneyed Gaels to the city via a fleet of special trains provided a welcome boost to local business, which, in order to maximise the dividends of these visitors, scheduled the Galway Races and the Citizen’s Bazaar to take place immediately after the Oireachtas. The city was festooned with Gaelic streamers.
The official opening was on July 26 and took place in the grounds of UCG with an aeriocht.
There was conflict within the organisation in the lead up to this Oireachtas as some members wanted to use the Irish language for political purposes. The league had attracted many nationalists, and indeed it was through the league that many future rebels and political leaders first met. Douglas Hyde and his group wanted to place the Irish language above all other considerations, but a number of slanderous articles about him began to appear in various newspapers.
About this time, in an important speech, Pádraic Pearse said: “The work of the Gaelic League is finished, it was the prophet, but not the Messiah. The Messiah is yet to come.” In early July Hyde resigned the presidency, and this left the organisation in a state of consternation. After much coaxing he agreed to attend the convention, and throughout the week his presence was met with rapturous applause. At the inauguration of the Ard Fheis in the rooms of the Mercy Convent on July 29 the delegates passed a resolution to invite Hyde to retake his position, which he did, and thus defused much of the tension. But some of it was still there with the Hyde camp being led by Dr Seán P Mac Enri and the republican opposition captained by Pádraic Ó Máille. Colm Ó Gaora wrote: “That Oireachtas was a rallying point for many of the Nationalists who later led the rebellion of Easter Week, 1916.” Seán Mac Diarmada swore Ó Gaora and others into the IRB at the Oireachtas.
Pádraic Ó Conaire was appointed co-ordinator for the various drama productions, there were outdoor public meetings in Eyre Square and Salthill with speakers like Pádraic Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, Thomas Ashe, Prof Tomás Ó Máille, and Úna Ni Fhaircheallaigh. Cathal Brugha organised an exhibition of arts, crafts, and other manufactured goods in the Temperance Hall which was off Lombard Street.
Our photograph today shows the delegates to the Oireachtas taken outside the Town Hall 100 years ago. The numbers relate to the key. We have been able to identify the following:
3, Holger Pederson; 6, Emily Weddall; 7, Fr. Considine; 8, Una Farrelly; 10, Pádraic Ó’Conaire; 11, Kate Ryan; 12, Seán T. O’Kelly; 13, Nell Ryan; 15, Colm Ó’Gaora; 18, William Gibson, Lord Ashbourne; 19, Nelly Ni Bhriain; 20, Douglas Hyde; 21, Eoin McNeill; 22, Claud Chevasse; 23, James Ennis; 24, Thomas Ashe; 26, Eamonn Ceannt; 27, George Nicholls; 28, Peadar Ó’hAnnracháin; 29, Nora Ashe?; 40, Bishop Gilmartin?; 42, Michael O’Hanrahan; 43, James Carter; 46, George Noble, Count Plunkett; 47, Josephine Cranny, Countess Plunkett; 48, Stiofán Bairead; 49, Piaras Beaslai; 51, Nora Ni Fhoghludha; 52, Seán McDermott; 53, Micheál Ó’Foghludha; 55, Padraic Ó’Máille; 56, AE, George Russell; 57, Stiofán Mac Enna; 58, Bulmer Hobson; 60, Máire Ni Chinneide; 61, Ada English; 62, John Sweetman; 64, Frank Gallagher; 65, Fr. Matt Maguire; 66, Mrs. Kathleen Clarke; 68, Risteard Ó’Foghludha; 69, Pádraig Ó’Dálaigh; 70, Valentine Steinberger?; 71, Seán Ó’Foghludha; 76, Diarmuid Ó’Cruadhlaoich; 91, Eamon De Valera; 94, Diarmuid Lynch; 96, Fr. Michael O’Flanagan; 98, Desmond Fitzgerald; 102, Fionnán Lynch; 106, James Casey; 107, The O’Rahilly; 112, Eibhlin Ni Dhonnadháin; 113, Eleanor Knott?;117, Denis McCullough; 121, An t-Athair Peadar Ó Laoghaire; 123, Pádraic Ó’Siochfhradha (An Seabhach ); 134, Ben Parsons; 135, Peadar Kearney; 139, J.J. O’Kelly (Sceilg ); 140, Cathal Brugha; 141, Risteard Mulcahy; 142, Willie Pearse; 145, Seán Moylan; 144, Michael Mulvihill; 103, P.T. McGinley (Cu Uladh ); 104, Pádraic Pearse; 105, Prof ssor Mary Hayden; 151, Shán Ó Cuiv; 153, Diarmuid Ó hEigeartaigh?; 156, – Geoghegan?; 164, Constance Markievicz.
If you can identify any further names, we would love to hear from you. Some of the unnamed delegates who attended from the west were Tomás Mac Toireadheabhuigh, Seán Seoighe Ó Malrae, Peadar Ó Gráinne, Sile Nic Fhloinn, Peadara Mac Brádaigh, Tomás Ó Máille, Caitlin Ni Ghabhann, and Tomás Ó Conchannain. From other parts of the country came Sadhbh and Deora Trinseach (Kerry ), Michael Ó Ruiseal from Liscannor, Nora Aghas from Charleville, Enri S Ó hAnluain from Blackrock in Dublin, etc.
This photograph was discovered in a box about three years ago by the Curran family in Dublin. It had been kept there by their mother who was a daughter of Micheál Ó Foghludha, who was later to become president of the Keating branch of the Gaelic League. They began to research the names of those involved, and in an act of true generosity they are presenting an enlarged copy of the photograph to the Town Hall tomorrow at 3pm, where it will be on permanent display. It is a wonderful gift to the city, and all are welcome to attend. It is rare to find a photograph with so many of the political, military, and cultural elite of the period, and I am sure it will become a major source of debate and discussion in the Town Hall.
Our sincere thanks to the Curran family and to Dara Folan, Jacki Ni Chionna, and Deirdre Ni Chonghaile for their help in compiling this article.