The Irish Literary Society is formally founded at the Caledonian Hotel, The Strand, London on May 12, 1892, with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy as President and Evelyn Gleeson as its first secretary. Among its founders are William Butler Yeats, T. W. Rolleston, Francis Fahy and Douglas Hyde as well as other leaders of the Irish literary revival. The Society succeeds the Southwark Irish Literary Club.
Stopford Brooke gives the inaugural lecture to the Society on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue.” The lecture is published by Bloomsbury House on March 11, 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 is 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, is 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 features poetry by Rolleston, Hyde, Katharine Tynan, Lionel Johnson, George William Russell (Æ) and several others, with notes and an introduction by Yeats. In addition, the Society brings Irish actors to London in 1903 and 1904 to present plays by Lady Gregory, Yeats and others.
By 1910 the Society has grown to comprise nearly 400 members and helps to bring into existence the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The Society develops a proposal for a New Irish Library, a series of books to honor Irish culture, with Rolleston and Douglas Hyde as editors.
Its objects are ‘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 is originally available for those of other nationalities, today full membership is available to all.
Arthur Conan Doyle, of Irish descent, and with a keen interest in Ireland, chaired the Irish Literary Society’s dinner on February 13, 1897. He spoke on ‘The Irish Brigade.’
(From: The website of the Irish Literary Society, Cumman Éireannach na liteardhachta, irishlitsoc.org)