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Printed books in Irish in the Royal Irish Academy Library

The latest Library blog post looks at our collection of Irish language books.

The Royal Irish Academy library is well known for its collection of manuscripts in the Irish language – the largest such collection in the world. Alongside these treasures, the library’s holdings of printed books in Irish continues to grow, reflecting the strong growth in Irish language publications in recent times. Our collection includes some modern fiction and poetry in Irish, but it is essentially an academic research collection, specialising in editions of texts, research monographs and essay collections, together with linguistic and philological studies. The library has also received important bequests of specialist collections, a particularly significant one being the library of Osborn J. Bergin, MRIA (1873-1950).

Learned societies in the nineteenth century

The publication of books in the Irish language was extremely rare before the mid nineteenth century, and some early academic titles emerged out of the antiquarian interests of scholars associated with the Academy. Dual-language editions of texts were necessary to ensure the availability of the authentic Irish texts while increasing their accessibility to readers with little knowledge of Irish but with an interest in the sources for the history of medieval Ireland. Out of this cultural context there emerged the publications of the Irish Archaeological Society in the 1840s (including many editions by John O’Donovan), and the Celtic Society. These two later merged to become the Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society. The Ossianic Society began publishing in 1853, with an emphasis on sagas and tales rather than historical texts. The Royal Irish Academy’s own Todd Lecture Series commenced publication in 1889, and continued irregularly until 1965. The Irish Texts Society, a London-based organisation, commenced publishing scholarly editions of Irish texts with English translations in 1899 in a series that is still in progress. The library has comprehensive holdings of all these series. In addition, the Academy’s online shop sells the publications of the Irish Texts Society.

Twentieth-century publishers

The Library holds many of the publications of societies formed to promote the Irish language, most notably Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League), first established in 1893. Editions of texts in Irish published in the twentieth century include a ‘Leabhair ó Láimhsgríbhnibh’ series, edited by Gerard Murphy, and the publications of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, School of Celtic Studies from 1942 to the present.

Twentieth-century government-sponsored publications in the Irish language bearing the imprint of the Stationery Office (Oifig an tSolatháir / Oifig Díolta Foilseacháin Rialtias) are well represented, along with the output of the various commercial companies specialising in academic books in Irish. These include Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teo (FNT), M.H. Gill, Coiscéim, Clóchomhar, Cló Iar-Chonnachta. Former publishers of textbooks in Irish including Sáirséal agus Dill, and the Christian Brothers, as well as the government-sponsored publisher An Gúm, are also represented in the Academy’s holdings. Regional publications, including imprints associated with the universities, most notably the An Sagart imprint of St Patrick’s College Maynooth, also feature strongly.

Periodicals in Irish

The library’s holdings of periodicals in Irish range from the late nineteenth-century Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge (1882-1909) to current titles such as Léachtaí Cholm Cille. The library also holds a variety of academic periodicals with Irish subject matter containing articles in either Irish or English. Among the current titles in this latter category are Béaloideas, Celtica, Éigse, Ériu, Journal of Celtic Studies, Studia Hibernica and Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie. In general, the library does not collect newspapers and magazines, but does hold some current Irish monthly publications including Comhar and Feasta.

Bibliographies of Irish language and literature

Work towards a comprehensive, up-to-date bibliography of books and articles on Irish language and literature is in progress at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, School of Celtic Studies, and can be accessed online. This effectively supersedes the older printed bibliographies:

R. I. Best. Bibliography of Irish philology and manuscript literature: publications 1913-1941. Dublin 1969.
R. I. Best. Bibliography of Irish philology and of printed Irish literature, to 1912. Dublin, 1913.
Rolf Baumgarten. Bibliography of Irish linguistics and literature 1942-1971. Dublin, 1986.

Many periodical articles published prior to 1966 are also listed in the sources database created by the National Library of Ireland. This was originally published as: R.J. Hayes. Sources for the history if Irish civilization: articles in Irish periodicals. 9 vols. Boston, 1970.

Risteárd De Hae. Clár litríocht na Nua-Ghaedhilge: 1850-1936. 3 vols. Dublin, 1938-40 is still useful for tracing older literary works.

Check our holdings online

The library’s holdings of books and periodicals in Irish are itemised on our online catalogues. Books and periodicals are available for consultation by registered readers in the Library Reading Room.

Bernadette Cunningham
Deputy Librarian