Scottish Gaelic in the Collections

Thursday 23 February 2023

This week is World Gaelic Week (Seachdain na Gàidhlig) – an initiative to celebrate Scottish Gaelic across the globe. In this blog we highlight some of our collections across archives and rare books relating to the Gaelic language.

The University’s minutes of Senatus record the provision of Gaelic texts for students as early as 1710.

Principal of New College (St Mary’s) gifts a Bible in the ‘Irish language’ to be kept in the library for use by students, Minutes of Senatus, 11 September 1710 (UYUY452/2)
Gaelic books to be selected for students, Minutes of Senatus, 13 February 1847 (UYUY452/16)
Supply of Celtic literature for Gaelic students, Minutes of Senatus, 12 April 1884 (UYUY452/20)

In the rare book collections, texts span the centuries from a 1684 copy of the Psalms of David (Psalma Dhaibhidh a nMeadrachd) translated into the ‘Scottish-Irish meeter’ by Robert Kirk (student of St Andrews) to Gaelic translations of Beatrix Potter’s children’s stories, published in the 2000s.

Psalma Dhaibhidh a nMeadrachd : do reír an phriomh-chanamain, 1684 (TypBE.C84KK). The translation was by Robert Kirk, minister at Balquhidder. Kirk was a student in St Mary’s College, St Andrews in 1663-1664.
Psalma Dhaibhidh a nMeadrachd : do reír an phriomh-chanamain, 1684 (TypBE.C84KK).
From the Children’s Book Collection, Gaelic translations of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.

The MacGillivray collection of rare books and serials was donated in 1939 by Dr Angus MacGillivray whose extensive collecting habits focused on works in Gaelic or regarding Highland history and literature. One of the most fascinating objects in his collection is the annotated copy of Typographia Scoto-Gadelica, a catalogue intending to cover books printed in Scottish Gaelic from 1567 to 1914. MacGillivray marked which works he had collected, as well as recording his book discoveries which were not in the catalogue. This collection is a treasure trove of the Celtic Revival movement and has yet to be explored in detail.

MacGillivray Collection

The St Andrews University Celtic Society was founded in 1796. Reference to the foundation of the ‘Highland’ Society is recorded in the minutes of Senatus in 1800. The Society continues today as one of the oldest student societies in the University.

Reference to the foundation of the ‘Highland Society’, Minutes of Senatus, 11 January 1800 (UYUY452/10)
St Andrews University Celtic Society Constitution and Laws, ca. 1895

The constitution for the Celtic society, ca. 1895, states the objective of the society was to promote the welfare of the members and ‘foster an interest in Celtic matters generally’. By 1936, the constitution laid out the aims of the society as promoting ‘interest in the Gaelic Language and Literature to encourage Highland Music and Dancing, to foster an interest in Celtic matters generally, to encourage friendly relations among members and to promote their welfare’. In fact, Dr Angus MacGillivray (donor of the MacGillivray collection) delivered a lecture to the Society in 1932 on the subject of ‘Celtic proverbs’.

St Andrews University Celtic Society membership card and annual dinner ticket (UYUY911/Celtic)
Minutes of the University Celtic Society, 1815 (UYUY911/Celtic/1)

The minutes of the Society from 1815 to 1897 are entirely in Gaelic. It has been suggested that the Gaelic used in the earlier minutes is a Perthshire dialect. If any Gaelic speakers can confirm this, we would love to hear from you.

Some of the minutes are in English and record events such as the Gaelic spelling bee which took place in February 1939.

Minutes of the St Andrews University Celtic Society (UYUY911/Celtic/1)

The minute book from 1988-1996 has a note from the Secretary stipulating that the records had to be transferred to the library, with a warning that they had to buy a good sturdy minute book before depositing the old one in the Library, or they might ‘be visited in [their] dreams by haunting ghosts of past Celtic Society Secretaries!’ Perhaps the reason why Libraries and Museums has such an extensive archive for the society, including the chest that the records were stored in!

Wooden chest for storing the records of the University of St Andrews Celtic Society

The more recent transfers from the Society into the archive have been digital. These include floppy discs from the 1990s, and born-digital records such as Word documents and spreadsheets. We encourage student societies to get in touch if they have any records they wish to transfer to the archive, both paper and digital. Please do get in touch: [email protected]

Happy World Gaelic Week (Seachdain Na Gàidhlig)!

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