AIHS-LOGO

 

 A few weeks ago, the New York Times, in a glowing review of an immersive theatre version of James Joyce’s great novella “The Dead,” noted that the production “…makes for an unusually sparkling affair. Unless you glide among the upper echelons of New York society, you are not likely to attend a holiday gathering in a more sumptuous setting this season. This immersive theatrical adaptation of Joyce’s story is presented at the American Irish Historical Society, on a splendid stretch of Fifth Avenue, near the Metropolitan Museum…. The building, originally a private residence from 1900, is a grand one. The rooms on the second floor, in which most of the action occurs, are lit by chandeliers that shed mellow golden light on intricately molded wood and plaster.”    

AISH NYTIMES

 

WHO WE ARE

 

The American Irish Historical Society, founded to inform the world of the achievements of the Irish in,America, is today a national center of scholarship and public education. From its home on New York’s Museum Mile, the Society serves as a focal point of the contemporary transatlantic Irish experience, a place where current public issues are explored, and where the great renaissance of Irish culture is celebrated in lectures, concerts, art & design exhibitions, and an esteemed literary journal. Non-partisan and non-sectarian from its inception, the Society welcomes new members and is pleased to make its library and select events open to the public.

Martin Hayes Solo ConcertSean Tyrrell The Burren Co Clare

 

THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN IRISH HISTORICAL SOCIETY

 

TRThe American Irish Historical Society was founded in Boston in 1897 by fifty American Irishmen, including Theodore Roosevelt, who with the motto “That The World May Know,” dedicated themselves to telling the true story of the Irish in America. The principle of the Society as stated was: “To place the Irish element in its true light in American history, and to secure its perspective in relation to historic events on this soil…Its primal object will be to ascertain the facts, weigh them in relation to contemporary events, and estimate their historical value, avoiding in this process the exaggeration and extravagance of poorly informed writers on one hand, and the prejudice and misrepresentation of hostile writers on the other…”

Shortly after its inauguration, the Society moved its headquarters from Boston to New York City. The first New York headquarters of the Society was in the old Manhattan Hotel at 42nd Street and Madison Avenue. In 1908, the Society moved to the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, and here the Annual Banquet was held for many years. In 1921, the American Irish Historical Society acquired a building and permanent home of its own, a four-story home and basement brick building at 132 East 16th Street, which had been bequeathed to it by the late Dr. John T. Nagle. For nineteen years the home of the Society was at this address, but at the end of that time it had so grown that these quarters were inadequate. Other roomier ones were looked for and found, and on April 14, 1940, it moved into its handsome new home at 991 Fifth Avenue, opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Today, the Society is famous for its unmatched collection of rare Irish books, newspapers and memorabilia. But it is so much more than a library and research center. It is also a focus of contemporary Irish and American Irish experience, where current public issues are explored and the genius and vibrant cultural expression of the Irish people are presented and celebrated.

 

THE SOCIETY TODAY

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The American Irish Historical Society serves as a cultural center and event venue. It offers its members, as well as the general public, the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of a rich heritage and to come together in a place where a chance meeting so often becomes the basis of lasting friendship.

In the past year we have provided our members and visitors with fine arts and design exhibitions, plays, film, and concerts, as well as other cultural and historical activities.

 

 

THE BUILDING

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Home for the American Irish Historical Society is a magnificent five-story townhouse at 991 Fifth Avenue, just across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was built in 1900 on the trailing edge of the Gilded Age, when Fifth Avenue was called the “street of dreams” and the neighborhood included so many Vanderbilts, Astors, Carnegies, and other barons of industry and finance that it was known as “Millionaires’ Row.”

991 Fifth Avenue was built on speculation in 1900 by two brothers, John T. and James A. Farley. It was designed by New York architects James R. Turner and William G. Killian and praised by contemporary critics as an exemplary model of the Beaux Arts style. The first owner of the townhouse was a widow, Mary King, who was followed by a banking executive. In 1911, the interiors were redesigned by the leading American designer of the day, Ogden Codman. The most famous master of the premises, however, was William Ellis Corey, president of U.S. Steel, who kept the tabloids buzzing when he deserted his wife and carried on a highly visible affair with a showgirl. He lived at No. 991 from 1918 to 1934, eventually leaving it to his son.

The fourth and current owner of 991 Fifth is the American Irish Historical Society, who purchased the property with the support of the Irish Palace Building Association in 1940. In 1977, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission named 991 Fifth Avenue as a “designated building” possessing “a special historical, cultural, or aesthetic value” that made it “an important part of the city’s historical and architectural heritage.”

 

THE ONE HUNDRED YEAR RENOVATION

 

Early in the 21st Century, more than one hundred years after its construction, the building was in urgent need of repair and restoration. The deteriorating masonry in the beautiful stone facade needed to be re-pointed and repaired. The front door had to be restored. Windows facing the street required restoration, rebuilding, and re-glazing. Neo-classical leaded windows on the second floor needed to be restored to prevent further deterioration. The windows in the rear of the second and third floors were collapsing and in need of replacement. A crumbling steam vault in the basement was undermining the front sidewalk. Electrical systems, plumbing, and other fundamentals needed major work and upgrades. A complete installation of a modern HVAC system was undertaken in order to help maintain and preserve all of the historical artifacts housed in the Society.

The “heavy” part of the construction and renovation was conducted over a period of sixteen months between 2005 and 2007.  During that time, the amount of work that was done was enormous for a five-story townhouse, while painstaking attention was paid to the preservation and restoration of the original woodwork, marble, plasterwork, and skylights. The renovation of our beautiful home was a complete success and the Society was awarded the Lucy G. Moses Award of The New York Landmarks Conservancy as the best renovation in 2008 for a landmark building in New York City.

[VECTOR IMAGES OF BUILDING]

 

A PRICELESS LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES COLLECTION

Rare Books
The library houses the most complete private collection of Irish and American Irish history and literature in the United States. More than 15,000 books, among them Bishop Bedell’s Irish Bible of 1685 are preserved in temperature controlled rooms and are available for scholarly use.
The periodical collection includes copies of such rare publications as The Northern Star and The Belfast Newsletter dating back to the late 18th century, as well as and such early and mid-19th century newspapers as The Nation, The United Irishman, and The Dublin Penny Journal. Also preserved at the Society are letters from Patrick Pearse and Charles Steward Parnell, the archives of the Friends of Irish Freedom, and the personal papers of leading Irish and Irish American political and cultural leaders.
Paintings by Nathaniel Hone, John Faulkener, George Russell (A.E.), John Butler Yeats (father of the poet) and Aloysius O’Kelly, and a sculpture by Augustus St. Gaudens are among the works of art in the Society’s collection. An audio collection has the taped interview with Brendan Behan that became his Confessions of an Irish Rebel. Scattered through the building are busts of Edmund Burke, Robert Emmet, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and Admiral Richard Worsam Meade, the Society’s first President-General.
Following our re-opening in 2008, the Society has been working tirelessly to catalog our library and archives. The vast majority of the materials are now available through a digital catalog on our website, allowing for easier access for researchers. We welcome scholars of all ages to avail themselves of our extensive archives and library, from high school students to doctoral candidates, professors and authors.

[ PHOTOS OF OLD BOOKS AND COLLECTION]

 

ANNUAL DINNER

Every year in early November the Society hosts its Annual Dinner during which the Gold Medal, the Society’s highest honor, is awarded to an individual whose exemplary life highlights the continuing mission and purpose of the Society.

Recipients in recent times have included President Ronald Reagan, Senator George Mitchell, Bono, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Donald Keough, Wilbur Ross, Mary Higgins Clark, George Meany, and many other illustrious men and women of Irish extraction..

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[ PHOTOS OF NAOMI]