The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (Irish: Cumann Buan-Choimeádta na Gaeilge), a cultural organisation which is part of the Gaelic revival of the period, is formed in Dublin on December 29, 1876.
Present at the initial meeting are Charles Dawson, High Sheriff of Limerick City, Timothy Daniel Sullivan, editor of The Nation, and Bryan O’Looney. Writing in 1937, Douglas Hyde also remembers himself, George Sigerson, Thomas O’Neill Russell, J. J. McSweeney of the Royal Irish Academy, and future MP James O’Connor as being present. Its patron is John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, its first president is Lord Francis Conyngham and its first vice-presidents include Isaac Butt and Charles Owen O’Conor.
Unlike similar organisations of the time, which are antiquarian in nature, the SPIL aims at protecting the status of the Irish language, which is threatened with extinction at the time. Its mission statement says that it is “possible and desirable to preserve the Irish Language in those parts of the Country where it is spoken, with a view to its further extension and cultivation.” Hyde writes that the formation of the society can truly be said to be the first attempt made to recruit the common people to the cause of the Irish language. The society succeeds in having Irish included on the curriculum of primary and secondary schools and third-level colleges in 1878.
The membership of the SPIL includes Protestant Ascendancy figures such as John Vesey, 4th Viscount de Vesci, and Colonel W. E. A. Macdonnell. Horace Plunkett represents the Society at the 1901 Pan-Celtic Congress in Dublin. It takes a conciliatory approach to the British government and civil service in pursuing its aims, in contrast to the later Gaelic League, which is anti-British in character.