Visitors: Gaelic material on show for conference delegates

Psalter printed in Glasgow in 1659 containing psalms in Gaelic (Sp Coll BE6-e.24)

On 22 August, Special Collections were delighted to welcome delegates from all over the world who were attending ‘Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 7’ organised by Celtic and Gaelic, and show off some of our Gaelic holdings of rare books and manuscripts. The earliest item on display was a psalter, produced by the Synod of Argyll and printed in Glasgow in 1659. It was last in the possession of Archibald Kelly McCallum (1816-1893), a graduate of the University, a governor of Duke Street Reformatory Institution and afterwards a Minister at Millport who bequeathed to the University an annual sum for the endowment of a Lectureship on Celtic Literature, together with his Library.

A Galick and English Vocabulary, 1741 (Sp Coll 1599)

Also on display were items relating to language and literature. These included the 17th century Fernaig Manuscript (a collection of Gaelic verse compiled by clan chief Duncan Macrae of Kintail) and ‘A Galick and English Vocabulary’ (1741), the first secular printed book in Gaelic. Very much of its time, the section on dress includes terms for ‘Fan’ and ‘Beauty-Spot’ and, for a world without cars, trains and planes, there is a section on ‘Horse-Furniture, and Things relating to Travelling’. The author was Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair [Alexander MacDonald (c 1695-c 1770)], the most famous and innovative of the 18th century Gaelic poets. We also had on display manuscript and printed copies of his verse including his Jacobite songs.

There was particular interest in material from our Henderson collection. George Henderson (1866-1912) was Lecturer in Celtic from 1906. His papers reflect his research interests into Fionn mac Cumhaill including his assessment of James Macpherson’s influential but controversial ‘Ossianic’ poetry. There is also material collected from oral tradition. Some of the latter, including folk-tales, lullabies and waulking songs, was recorded on the island of Eriskay by Mgr. Ailean Dòmhnallach [Revd Fr Allan MacDonald (1859-1905)]

Letter to James McLagan, 2 January 1776 (MS Gen 1042/63)

We also displayed a couple of items from our McLagan collection. Rev. James McLagan (1728-1805), an avid collector of Gaelic poems and songs, was Minister at Blair Atholl and chaplain to the 42nd (Black Watch) Regiment, a role which saw him involved in the American War of Independence. He was given the freedom of the city of Glasgow in 1776. Perhaps it was at this time he received a letter addressed to him care of the Saracen’s Head (an inn on the Gallowgate in Glasgow.) This letter contains a humorous account in semi-phonetic Gaelic of ‘Sgeulachd air Mac Bàilidh Hiorta uair a chaidh e do Bhaile Ghlaschu [A tale of the Bailie of St Kilda’s son a time he went to Glasgow town]’. Professor of Gaelic, Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh, has recently edited the text and identified its Islay dialect.

Our display also included the first Minute book of the University’s Ossianic Society (from 1831), a first edition of Somhairle Mac Ghill Eathain Dàin do Eimhir, agus dàin eile [Sorley MacLean, ‘Poems to Eimhir, and other poems’], a key work of Gaelic modernist poetry published in 1943 and copies of talks broadcast in Gaelic and English on what was then the ‘Scottish Home Service’ in November 1959. They were written and spoken by An t-Urr. Tòmas MacCalmain [Rev. Thomas Moffat Murchison (1907-1984)], Minister in Glasgow and the most prolific Gaelic prose writer of the 20th century.

Our thanks to staff in Celtic and Gaelic for their collaboration with this display.

Categories: Special Collections

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