Having come to the Irish language and literature by very different routes, Eoin MacNeill and Douglas Hyde proved a dynamic combination in founding the Gaelic League and driving it forward. MacNeill’s Ulster connections and Hyde’s involvement in the Anglo-Irish literary circles helped extend the geographic reach and cultural appeal of the Gaelic League which, they emphasised, was open to all Irish people. Long before their appointment to the NUI, their complementary scholarly interests highlighted the richness of the Irish heritage they sought to promote. Their shared enthusiasm and belief in the significance of the language bore fruit in their successful campaign for have Irish designated a requirement for entry to the newly formed National University of Ireland.
Nevertheless, some of their early pronouncements foreshadowed later diverging approaches. The Third Home Rule Crisis and the outbreak of the Great War posed new challenges. Though MacNeill sought to replicate elements of the League’s inclusiveness in the Irish Volunteers, the constructive ambiguity that had facilitated a wide appeal proved difficult to maintain in the new political movement. His early determination to counteract postcolonial humiliation through cultural activism evolved into more strident expressions of vehement anti-imperialism in the pages of the Irish Volunteer. For Hyde, the radicalisation of increasing numbers of Gaelic Leaguers constituted an unacceptable departure from the League’s initial inclusive stance. While the inevitable rift came in 1915 and political upheavals followed, the two retained respect for each other and continued to contribute much to Irish Studies scholarship in later life.