Learning Irish in Late-Eighteenth – and Nineteenth-Century Belfast: the Antiquarian Influence


  • Ciaran McDonough National University of Ireland, Galway


Antiquarianism, Nineteenth-century Ireland, Irish Language


While learned societies and individuals in the rest of Ireland were interested in Old and Middle Irish literature and creating translations of them, individuals and institutions in nineteenth-century Belfast differed by being interested in Modern Irish and attempts to keep it as a living vernacular. It was home to the first organisations to promote Irish learning and saw the publication of materials and aids for Irish language education. Despite the efforts made by Belfast based scholars to keep the language alive, they were all done in the spirit of antiquarian enterprise. Irish was seen as a suitable subject for antiquarian investigation as it was on the decline and there was a sense of recording things for posterity and also as the non-sectarian, inclusive nature of antiquarian societies could be applied to language classes. This article looks at why Belfast differed from the rest of the country and how efforts to learn the language can be equated with antiquarian research.