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Irish Literary Society

The Irish Literary Society was established in London in 1892. Among its founders were W B Yeats and Douglas Hyde and other leaders of the Irish Literary Revival.

The object of the Society is to promote the appreciation of Irish literature and culture and to provide a forum for intellectual and social activities in connection with these interests.

Image by Aaron Burden


The Irish Literary Society was established in London in 1892, succeeding the Southwark Irish Literary Club. Among its founders were W. B. Yeats, T. W. Rolleston, Francis Fahy and Douglas Hyde and other leaders of the Irish literary revival. The Society was formally founded with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy as President, at the Caledonian Hotel, The Strand, 12 May 1892. Evelyn Gleeson was its first secretary.

Stopford Brooke gave the inaugural lecture to the society on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue” (Bloomsbury House, 11 March 1893 -its delivery delayed to allow for the start of the National Literary Society in Ireland). Although the business of the ILS has always been conducted in English the Society was influential in nurturing the revival of the Irish language by programming language classes even before the Gaelic League was formed in 1893. It also sponsored the Petrie Collection of Irish Music and twelve-volume Irish library of history and literature published between 1893 and 1904.

A Book of Irish Verse, designed to publicise the new societies, was published in 1895, edited by Yeats and dedicated “To the Members of the National Literary Society of Dublin and the Irish Literary Society of London.” It featured poetry by Rolleston, Hyde, Katherine Tynan, Lionel Johnson, AE and several others, with notes and an introduction by Yeats. In addition, the Society brought Irish actors to London in 1903 and 1904 to present plays by Lady Gregory, Yeats and others. By 1910 the society had grown to comprise nearly 400 members and helped to bring into existence the The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The Society developed a proposal for a New Irish Library, a series of books to honor Irish culture, with Rolleston and Douglas Hyde as editors.

Its objects were ‘to afford a centre of social and literary intercourse for persons of Irish nationality, and to promote the study of the Irish language, Irish history, literature, music, and art.’ Honorary membership was originally available for those of other nationalities, today full membership is available to all.

Notable Members

In its 125 year history the ILS has had many members and guests notable for their artistic and political achievements. We will be filling out this section of the website with profiles of some of these key figures.


A painting by Bernard Canavan has been donated by the artist to the Irish Literary Society. The painting is titled ‘Early Irish Literary Society Figures’ and depicts some of these early notable members. The artist is a long time member of the Society. The work now hangs in the Seamus Heaney Library in the Bloomsbury Hotel.

Upcoming events and further information:
Irish Literary Society

Literary Figured.webp
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