Logan, Michael J. (Ó Lócháin, Micheál) (1836–99), editor, publisher, and ‘father of the Gaelic language movement’ in America (Ford, 1899), was born 29 September 1836 at Currach Doire (Curraghderry), Baile an Mhuilinn (Milltown), near Tuam, Co. Galway, son of Patrick Logan, a small farmer. Michael's mother was one of the Oisins (Hessions) from Garraí Mór an tSléibhte (Garrymore Mountain), Co. Mayo; she was a monoglot Irish-speaker. Logan was raised in an area where Irish was the everyday language.
He was probably educated at a local hedge school; but since he lived in the diocese of Tuam, he could also have attended one of the independent schools established by Archbishop John MacHale (qv), who opposed the national school system because he believed the schools proselytised their catholic pupils and were hostile to Irish culture, particularly to the Irish language. It is said that one of his teachers was a Maynooth seminarian, possibly Ulick Bourke (qv), a passionate advocate of the Irish language. Logan reported that he left school at eighteen in 1854; nothing is known about his life until 1871, when he emigrated to New York at the age of thirty-five with his family. Since he became principal of Our Lady of Victory School in Brooklyn within a year of arriving, Logan may have been a schoolteacher in Ireland. He was a teacher for five years and passed the examinations for teacher certification before he changed careers in 1878 and opened a real-estate agency in Brooklyn, which enjoyed some success. Census records suggest that he married his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown) in Ireland before 1862. Four of their five children were born in Ireland.
On 25 May 1872, a year after leaving Ireland, Logan wrote a letter signed ‘The Gael’ to the Irish World (an English-language newspaper), criticising the Irish-speakers living in America who denied their nationality and cultural heritage by abandoning their own language. Logan argued that a national language was essential to national identity, and identity was critical to self-confidence and pride, stating: ‘The Irish language should be cultivated in order to maintain Irish ideas and Irish nationality in their integrity.’ He followed with letters urging that classes be offered in the Irish language, and he himself taught at his home in Brooklyn and in a local hall.
Logan was not the first person to promote the Irish language in America. A branch of the Ossianic Society had been established in New York in 1858, with David O'Keeffe as one of its prime movers; however, its interests were primarily in Irish manuscripts and literature, not in Irish as a vernacular language. Logan's appeal struck a chord, and by 1886 his letters and those of supporters had inspired Irish-Americans to found some fifty Irish-language organisations, beginning with the Philo-Celtic Society of Boston (28 April 1873). Logan's learners’ group developed into the Brooklyn Philo-Celtic Society, founded 12 December 1874. The next year, across the river in Manhattan, the New York Gaelic Society was founded. They began offering classes in Irish in May 1878 (An Gaodhal, no. 8 (1899)).
In October 1881 Logan founded An Gaodhal. The Gael: a monthly journal devoted to the preservation and cultivation of the language and anatomy of the Irish nation. It was the most significant development in encouraging the language movement in America, and had an almost equal impact on Ireland. Logan's first editorial explained his purpose: ‘We place The Gael before the Irish people; it will give lie to those ignorant or envious persons who would try to make it appear that the Irish people had no cultivated language, insinuating thereby that they were uncivilised and unlettered.’ He claimed that it was the first newspaper in the world to carry material printed in Irish, and it used Irish typeface. Logan was editor of An Gaodhal; the publishers were the Nolan Brothers of Fulton Street. After three issues the paper was making a loss and the backers wanted to stop publication; Logan was determined to continue, and became sole proprietor. Not only that, to cut costs, he had to learn how to set up type and print. By June 1882 Logan had taken over the typesetting and printing. By the end of the first year, An Gaodhal had 1,257 subscribers; the editor declined an offer of a $5,000 subvention ‘because those supplying the money would naturally expect a share of its control’ (An Gaodhal, 1882, 54). The number of subscribers increased to 2,800, but Logan continued to print and distribute every issue and never took any profits from the project.
Logan's concern about control no doubt reflected his sense of purpose for An Gaodhal: he wanted no dilution of its dedication to the Irish language. To that end, he published Irish lessons for beginners based on Easy lessons; or Self instruction in Irish, part 1 (1860) by Ulick Bourke (Uilleog de Búrca), and he printed letters, essays and poems in the Irish language. An Gaodhal was in every sense pioneering; it provided beginners with lessons before language textbooks were widely available. Learners would have to wait until 1894 for Simple lessons in Irish by Fr Eugene O'Growney (qv).
Logan served as secretary of his parish temperance society. Both Logan and Patrick Ford (qv) urged temperance, arguing that drink impeded the progress of the Irish in America and freedom in Ireland. It is possible that Douglas Hyde (qv) did not mention Logan in the diary he kept of his visit to New York in the summer of 1891 because Logan, as a teetotaller, would not have taken part in the evening entertainments when Hyde met members of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Gaelic Societies. After Hyde and Eoin MacNeill (qv) founded the Gaelic League in Ireland in 1893, Logan supported the work of that organisation in An Gaodhal, featuring the leaders and workers in a series of profiles, and covering the activities of League branches. In 1898 he served as secretary of the Gaelic League of America. Logan supported some aspects of Irish nationalism, but distanced himself from the extremist ‘gasbags of the Irish-American political societies’ (Leader, 10 Oct. 1942). He made a clear distinction between obeying the pope on spiritual matters and opposing him on political issues such as the land war and the Plan of Campaign (An Gaodhal, 1888, 807), and he was unforgiving about what he regarded as the Irish hierarchy's favouring of the English language over Irish (1892, 188). In 1890 Logan endorsed the Boycott League, an organisation pledged to fight England by boycotting English goods. Publishers of Irish or catholic books and journals were the main advertisers in An Gaodhal, and in 1898 Logan began to import a selection of Irish books, primarily Irish-language texts, but he also offered classics such as The pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne and Foras feasa ar Éirinn, by Geoffrey Keating (qv). He reviewed books of Irish interest in each issue of An Gaodhal.
An Gaodhal also encouraged other Irish-language newspapers and journals such as The Irish Echo (Boston) and the Gaelic Journal (Dublin). Articles, stories and poems from An Gaodhal were carried in Irish papers and journals. An Gaodhal featured Irish literature, music, history, topographical description and items on the arts. Logan's readers found prosperity and respectability in Irish-America at the turn of the century, but in some cases for the first time realised that they had something of their own that was of value when Logan invited his readers to send poetry, stories, and folklore in Irish or in English to An Gaodhal. By showing that he valued the contributions of Irish readers, Logan helped develop their pride in their own oral traditions. He has been credited with having been the first to visualise the possibilities of an Irish Ireland, and certainly his work helped form Irish-America.
Logan published An Gaodhal up to his sudden death on 10 January 1899 from apoplexy near his home at 267 Kosciuszko Street, Brooklyn. He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters; his eldest daughter, Mary, predeceased him in 1892. He is buried in Brooklyn's Holy Cross Cemetery. The obituary in An Gaodhal spoke of a lifetime of sacrifices to promote the Irish language. Patrick Ford described Logan as ‘fairly entitled to the proud distinction of being called the father of the Gaelic language’ (Irish World, 21 Jan. 1899). Tadhg Ó Donnchadha (qv) (‘Torna’) published ‘Tuiradh Mhichíl Uí Lógáin’ (The lament for Michael Logan') in An Gaodhal in August 1899. Publication of An Gaodhal resumed in March 1899 and continued until 1904 with Geraldine Haverty as editor, assisted by members of the Gaelic League.
The likeness of Logan that appeared in An Gaodhal in May 1891 shows a middle-aged man with a high forehead, deep-set eyes, an intent expression, and the walrus moustache fashionable at the time. Logan's photograph is included in the Gaelic Album (1891), and there is a small photograph with Seághan Ó Laighin's appreciation of Logan in An Gaodhal, no. 4 (1899). In January 2000 his native parish in Galway celebrated his contribution to the Irish language and culture with a lecture and concert.