Born in Milltown, County Galway in 1836, Mícheál Lócháin was fluent in both Irish and English and attended a local school until 1854.
He emigrated to America and may have acquired his first job there as a teacher in 1870. In 1872, he wrote letters to The Irish World, an Irish-American journal, suggesting “the necessity of preserving the Irish language in order to preserve Irish nationality” and recommending that classes and societies be founded to accomplish this. In that same year he himself established a “Philo-Celtic” Irish language class for adults at the Catholic school in Brooklyn where he taught. From this came the Philo-Celtic Society of Boston, followed by those of Brooklyn and New York.
In 1881 Ó Lócháin founded An Gaodhal, the Philo-Celtic Society’s bilingual journal. It lasted until 1904 and was revived intermittently thereafter, until a successor, entirely in Irish and called An Gael, was founded in 2009. Ó Lócháin wrote a good deal for An Gaodhal, his style being described as lively and pugnacious.
Between 1878 and 1899, Philo-Celtic societies were established throughout America, though Ó Lócháin was increasingly dissatisfied with the way in which they gave priority to social activities at the expense of Irish.
In 1891 the prominent Irish language scholar Douglas Hyde visited the United States. He visited a Philo-Celtic class in the Bowery and found it full of fluent Irish speakers. What he saw there may have influenced him when he helped found the Gaelic League in Ireland in 1893.
The Gaelic Society of New York was one of the earliest American organizations established to promote Irish as a spoken language. It was founded in 1875, following the establishment of the Philo-Celtic Society of Boston (1873) and the Brooklyn Philo-Celtic Society (1874).