An Cumann Gaelach, QUB

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An Cumann Gaelach
Ollscoil na Banríona
An Cumann Gaelach QUB.PNG
Formation 30 January 1906
Type Irish Language Society
Official language

An Cumann Gaelach is the Irish Language Society at Queen's University Belfast (Irish: Ollscoil na Banríona). Established in 1906, it is the third oldest society still in existence at the University, after the BMSA and Christian Union. The first meeting of the society was held on 30 January 1906, with William Mac Arthur being elected the first president.[1] The society is part funded by the University, through the Students' Union.


Early years[edit]

The Irish Language Society, An Cumann Gaelach, was founded on 30 January 1906 and was the first language society at the University. Prior to its establishment, there had been several athletic clubs, along with the Literary and Scientific Society, Belfast Medical Students' Association and the Christian Union, making the Society the third oldest still active in the University, and even predates the University itself, which was not founded until 1908 (previously it had been one of three Queen's Colleges established in 1848, the other two being in Galway and Cork, now part of the National University of Ireland).

The establishment of An Cumann Gaelach was part of a movement that had been taking place across Ireland and the Irish communities abroad from the second half of the nineteenth century, which aimed to celebrate traditional Gaelic culture and sport. This period saw the establishment of Conradh na Gaeilge (known as the Gaelic League in English), a body for the promotion of the Irish language, in 1893 and the Gaelic Athletic Association (Irish: Cumann Lúthchleas Gae]), which promoted traditional sports such as gaelic football and hurling, in 1884. Like most of these groups at the time, An Cumann Gaelach was founded by Protestants, indeed only 25 Catholics attended the University out of a total student population in the region of 400.[2] Although the Society had only been set up in 1906, the founding members had been giving Irish lessons for several years previous.

Sir William Porter MacArthur (1884-1964)[edit]

William MacArthur, was the first President of the Society, having learned Irish in Cloch Cheannfhaolaidh in west Donegal. MacArthur, like many Queen's students at the time, studied medicine and was later to go on to serve in the British army, earning the title of Lieutenant General during his career. While serving in the army he was stationed for a time at the Queen Alexandria Military Hospital.[citation needed] While in London he published a 'landmark' paper called 'Cysticercosis [a parasitic disease] as seen in the British army, with special reference to the production of epilepsy’[3] in 1934. MacArtur served in several positions throughout his career before retiring in 1941 with the title of "Lt-Gen. William MacArthur, DSO, OBE, CB, KCB, MB, DPH, MD,DTM&H, DSc, MRCPI, FRCPI, FRCP."[4]

In addition to his military career, he was also an author writing on topics such as the Great Famine and wrote medical entries for Encyclopædia Britannica.[5]

1920s & '30s[edit]

In 1920 the island of Ireland was partitioned with the six north-eastern counties becoming Northern Ireland, with Belfast as its capital. Although a majority of the population of the new state supported it, a significant minority were opposed to it, leading to clashes on the streets during the 1920s. This led to a polarisation in society at the time, with the Irish language becoming politically associated with Catholic Nationalists who rejected British rule in Ireland. The growing tensions greatly affected the Irish language movement throughout Northern Ireland and people's opinions of the language became tainted with sectarianism. This had a knock-on effect to An Cumann Gaelach and the University's Protestant community were not as involved in the Society has they had been previously. Between 1925 and 1929 the Society had more or less died out until an Irish language revival movement in the University around 1930.

In 1936 the Comhchaidreamh (interrelationship in English) was formed, an organisation that sought to create links among all University Irish societies. Queen's University's Irish Language Society had close ties with their counterparts around Ireland until the 1970s, with regular debates and plays organised by students, however, in recent years these strong links have weakened significantly.

1950s & '60s[edit]

The Society grew between 1950 and 1970 due to an increase in the student population and a cultural revival of the Irish language throughout Ulster at this time,[citation needed] particularly in Belfast, Lurgan, Portadown, Armagh City and Downpatrick.[citation needed] This increased interest reflected to some extent the rising influence of Comhaltas Uladh, the Ulster Council of Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League). The Society's magazine, An Scáthán (The Mirror), was formed in 1950 and was published three or four times a year. To mark the golden anniversary of the establishment of the Society, a publication was made, entitled Fearsaid (the root of the word Feirste, the river after which Belfast was named).

During this period, the Society strengthened its relationship with the Donegal Gaeltacht, which exists to this day. In the 1960s and 1970s, the members of An Cumann Gaelach often traveled to Ballinamore in County Donegal, providing the members with an opportunity to see Irish in use in everyday life. While in Donegal, they also helped the community by doing voluntary work, including in the construction of the local community centre.[citation needed]

The Troubles[edit]

The 1970s saw an increase in membership, with more than 300 members for most years in that period; high relative to 21st century membership levels. The 1970s also saw the Cumann organise monthly céilís in what is now the Mandela Hall in the Students' Union, as well as continuing the classes and trips to the Gaeltacht.

The popularity of the language was reflected with most University signs been in both Irish and English during this period.

As the Troubles dragged on, the membership of the Society began to dwindle year on year and many events were either abandoned, such as the regular céilís, or downscaled, like the trips to Donegal.

Present day[edit]

The Good Friday Agreement brought peace to the streets of Northern Ireland for the first time in thirty years and led to a gradual reduction in sectarianism. The suspicions that had previously surrounded the Irish language also began to fade, seen through the growth of Irish medium schools over the past decade. An annual survey of Cumainn across Ireland by Irish language daily, Lá Nua has shown growth in the society's number since the start of the decade, rising from 25 in 2003 to 168 in 2007, making it the largest in Northern Ireland and the fifth largest on the island.[6]

2006 marked the centenary of An Cumann Gaelach with a Céilí Mór in Belfast's Wellington Park Hotel, and the publication of a second edition of Fearsaid, edited by then president, Sorcha Nic Lochlainn. The society continues to run weekly Irish classes and trips to the Gaeltacht, as well as other cultural events such as traditional music sessions, talks and film showings.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ History of An Cumann Gaelach
  2. ^
  3. ^ 'Taenia Solium Cysticercosis: From Basic to Clinical Science' by Gagandeep Singh and Sudesh Prabhakar
  4. ^ Roger Blaney (2012). Presbyterians & the Irish Language. p. 184. 
  5. ^ Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  6. ^ Lá Nua, '"Glúin TG4" ag teacht in aibíocht ar champais olscoile na hÉireann', 10 December 2007

External links[edit]