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2007-03, 353, Alasdair Taylor, Gaelic, History

Fairies in the Bookcase- A collection of collections of Scottish Gaelic storytelling

Fairies in the Bookcase

A collection of collections of Scottish Gaelic storytelling


Alasdair Taylor

WHEN I WAS FIVE YEARS OLD, my father embarked with his family on his first sabbatical leave. I had many adventures in what were then strange, foreign lands, and was thrilled to arrive in Scotland, where I met most of my mother’s family for the first time. I loved Edinburgh, where we based ourselves. Its old buildings, majestic sites, exotic smells and accents, and my grandmother’s morbid fascination with graveyards and suchlike made it an interesting place to be. I was dimly aware that my father was shopping for antiques and old books and kept talking about some guy called Donald MacCormick, whom I vaguely remember meeting. At the time this book collecting seemed terribly dull and I did not share my father’s interest in it at all.

In fact, my father was having the time of his life, studying Gaelic, amongst other subjects, at the University of Edinburgh, prowling wonderful antiquarian shops in the winding, cobbled streets of the Old Town and meeting all manner of interesting people. The excitement increased when he went to a Gaelic residential course at the newly-opened Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye, and he took us along with him. I did enjoy this mysterious new place, with its tiny villages, slow, narrow roads, lush vegetation, wild hills, torrential waterways and strange language. Indeed, to a lad just learning to read, Gaelic seemed quite bizarre: all these letters lumped together in improbable and inexplicable combinations, the pronunciation of which seemed to bear little relevance to their appearance. I was nevertheless intrigued by the sound of it, and learned to speak a few words. It seemed like an important thing in the life of the warm, friendly locals whom we met. Little did I know, however, that this island and its language would, in a few years’s time, hold my heart in a grip which may never let go.

I returned to Skye some seventeen years later, in 1990, and again in 1995, on the latter occasion to do a short Gaelic course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, and to buy MY first book from the Gaelic-speaking bookseller Domhnall MacCormaig (Donald MacCormick), a friendly fellow who helped me understand a thing or two about modern Gaeldom. In the intervening period (between the early ‘seventies and the early ‘nineties), the Gaelic language had retreated considerably in the community, but advanced in official status. I had by then completed a degree in History and Celtic Studies at the University of Sydney and given a paper at the International Celtic Congress in Edinburgh. While the latter covered some discoveries I had made of Gaelic manuscripts in Australia1, my passion lay in the folklore, spirituality and stories of the Gael. In 1997, I bought a one-way ticket to London and eventually ended up living on Skye for the summer of 1998, on the Trotternish peninsula there, now perhaps the last bastion of Gaelic language and culture on the island. There I learnt the everyday Gaelic of the pub and the shop, and was lucky enough to glean a few stories and anecdotes from locals who were surprised and a little comforted that at least one among the swarm of ‘incomers’ had bothered to learn their language.

Winter, however, came swiftly and without a house or a seasonal job, I couldn’t stay on Skye. So I returned to the noise and harsh accent of Edinburgh to start again. In trying to scrape together a living, I turned my hand to telling in public the stories which I had learned through study or through social intercourse. These performances, usually titled ‘An Evening in the Otherworld’, were a great success, and from there my profession as a story teller has advanced. So now, when I look at my father’s book case, I see not a dull collection of dusty tomes, but an absolute treasure trove, a Celtic story teller’s dream come true. My father, though still very much alive and well, has bequeathed me this collection, and while it is not an exhaustive one, it is voluminous and rich, so much so that it would probably take me the rest of my life to commit all that takes my interest to memory.

My aim in writing this article, then, is to outline a significant “collection of collections” of Scottish Gaelic folklore, ranging from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. We will look at the ways in which the material has been collected and presented, and the ways in which such collections may be viewed, by academia and by an ever-expanding ‘lay readership’.

The material under discussion is a small part of a larger collection of 800 or so books on matters Celtic, most of which were published over a century ago. Of these, about 500 deal specifically with the Scottish Gaels and their language. They range from historical treatises to dictionaries and grammar books, from personal accounts of the Highlands to surveys of literature, from biographies to bibles and biblical commentaries, and anthologies which range from books of reading texts for learners of Gaelic to prose, plays, poems, songs, stories and folkloric anecdotes in Gaelic for native speakers and in English for those who ‘have no Gaelic’. This article will focus on collections of tales, though I hope at some future time to write a further one on other sub-collections in my library, such as collections and collectors of folklore and ‘superstitions’: the remnants of indigenous Gaelic spiritual life.

The collectors of Scottish Gaelic ‘lore’ are concerned primarily with two issues: the first is to preserve and circulate what is still known; the second embodies the intention of defending and enhancing the status of Gaelic language and culture by showing the mysterious, exotic, beautiful and sometimes bizarre array of customs and beliefs of the Highlands and Islands. This will be viewed in the context of perceptions of ‘authenticity’, and what ‘good folklore collecting’ could mean. For the reader’s interest, I will also profile some of the collectors themselves, as not only were they collectors of oral tradition and manuscripts, but also avid collectors of books.

There is no doubt that such collections have put Scottish Gaelic folklore ‘on the map’ in the modern western world, yet modern Celtic academia exercises a varying degree of caution in regard to overtly championing them as icons, flagships or jewels of Gaelic culture. This caution is partly a response to popular views of Celtic folklore and spirituality as a ‘survival of ancient wisdom’ originating in pre-Christian times, a fashion which has steadily gathered momentum since the eighteenth–century Romantic movement, which itself has often been led by self-appointed ‘experts’ whose direct contact with Celtic communities, and indeed whose knowledge of any Celtic language, has been at best tenuous.

However, the roots of such scholarly caution almost certainly lie in the ‘fallout’ from the publication of the first body of supposedly ancient Gaelic lore: the ‘Ossianic’ poems produced by the controversial James Macpherson. An overview by my father of Ossianic literature in this collection, along with observations about its cultural and historical context, and the reaction of academics appeared in the 316th issue of Biblionews (December 1997). Macpherson’s 18th-century magnum opus, now universally held to be largely a bold forgery of ‘ancient’ Scottish Gaelic poetry, is not therefore the main subject of this article, but it provides an excellent starting point for a number of reasons.


While earlier writers made note of some literature, customs and beliefs of Gaelic Scots2, Macpherson’s inventive collection of ‘discoveries’ was the first to gain international recognition. Its circulation stimulated seekers to travel the Highlands and Islands, collecting what lore they could, in written or oral form. This, of course, ultimately proved Macpherson’s undoing, but also began an era of searching and collecting for which anyone who loves and supports Gaelic language, literature and folkore can only be eternally grateful.

One of the greatest collectors of Gaelic lore was James Frances Campbell of Islay,known as Iain Òg Ìle (Young John of Islay) to his fellow Gaels. His four-volume Popular Tales of the West Highlands was first published in Edinburgh by Edmonston and Douglas in 1860. The Taylor collection contains first editions of vols. 1, 2 and 4, and I have had to find a much later edition of vol. 3. The four volumes contain a total of eighty-six stories, but Campbell’s thoroughness ensured that up to six versions of each story were included. The covers of the originals are beautifully embossed in gold, depicting a style of Celtic artwork common on tombstones in the Highlands and Islands in the later Middle Ages, with the words sgeulachdan gaidhealach [tales of [the] Gaels] in a script which seems to be a cross between Celtic half-uncial and Gothic (Illustration 1). The series was reprinted a number of times, most recently in paperback. I purchased a full set upon my arrival in Edinburgh in 1997 and was told I was lucky to get them as they were already out of print. This is only a small part of the testimony of Campbell’s work, as I have, over the years, found many of the tales he collected reproduced almost verbatim in later collections of Highland stories, albeit most of the latter give only the English versions. Aside from the English introduction and endnotes, Campbell’s work is meticulously bilingual. Their translation into English was, of course, a must, to ensure good sales and to enhance the status of Gaelic lore and culture among the wider public in the United Kingdom. However, Campbell insisted that “stories orally collected can only be valuable if given unaltered.”3 And of his sources who collected on his behalf he claims: “I begged for the very words used by the people who told the stories, with nothing added, omitted, or altered.”4 This is a refreshing break from the work of other collectors operating in the nineteenth century, many of whom ‘improved’ or ‘polished’ what they had collected in order to make such material palatable to themselves and their non-Gaelic audiences. This is particulary noticeable in the ‘operatic’ rendition of Gaelic songs, and the ‘balletic’ style imposed upon Highland dance, which has, ironically, been imposed on indigenous Gaelic Scots as well as their descendants, at the many Mods, eisteddfods and Highland games, where a standardised, perhaps even fosslised, staged and competitive version of Gaelic cutlure is paraded, not only in Scotland, but across the globe. James F Campbell would have none of this, saying: “…it seemed to me as barbarous to “polish” a genuine popular tale, as it would be to adorn the bones of a Megatherium with tinsel, or gild a rare old copper coin.”5

Governed by such strict standards, Campbell’s undertaking was certainly no mean feat, as two major obstacles lay in his path. Firstly, Gaelic society in the mid-nineteenth century was still overwhelmingly monolingual and non-literate. Literacy was slowly making its way through the Highlands and Islands, but where it did so, it was brought by an evangelistic and iconoclasic ecclesiastical movement which was generally steeped in Calvinism. So places in which literacy had made inroads were also places where stories had been driven underground or purged from the newly God-fearing community. This is borne out by one of Campbell’s chief suppliers of story manuscripts, Hector Urquart, a gamekeeper in Ardkinglas, Loch Fyne.

The minister came to the village in 1830, and the schoolmaster soon followed, who put a stop in our village to [storytelling] gatherings; in their place we were supplied with heavier tasks than listening to the old shoemaker’s fairy tales. From that period till I collected the few in this collection, I have not heard a tale recited.6

So, it was often the case that, where collectors were lucky enough to meet those who were considered good sgeulaichean, or story tellers, the latter had not recited them to an audience for decades, and even their great memories sometimes failed them. This brings us to the second obstacle: the wariness of the reciters. Campbell and his colleagues observed that sgeulaichean were often cautious about being ridiculed by “any one [sic] with a better education”7, doubly so because “many have a lurking belief in the truth of the stories which they tell.”8 In those days, it was impossible for a non-Gael to collect orally much information from the local people. In Campbell’s time, there was still an indigenous culture in the Highlands and Islands which was largely inaccessible to outsiders. As Campbell eloquently and bluntly puts it: “…the want of a common language here as elsewhere keeps Highlands and Lowlands, Celt and Saxon, as clearly separate as oil and water in the same glass.”9

At the time, Campbell was collecting, the above regions were being visited by an increasing number of curious tourists from the south of Britain and continental Europe, seeking adventure in this exotic wilderness at the edge of their land mass and no longer at risk from broadsword wielded or musketball directed by wary natives of former times. Suspicion remained, however, and Campbell’s descriptions of voyages to remote islands, long journeys on wild roads, winter nights in ceilidh houses10 and drinking sessons in tinkers’ tents, and the gradual loosening of reciters’ monglot tongues when they realised Campbell himself was a well-meaning Gael, are tales in themselves. Sometimes, Campbell would come to a district where minister and schoolmaster had not exterminated the old customs, and

“there, in every cluster of houses, is some one man famed as ‘good at sgialachdan,’ whose house is a winter evening’s resort. I visited these and listened, often with wonder, at the extraordinary power of memory shown by untaught old men.”11

Campbell is not patronising towards these people:

I found them to be men with clear heads and wonderful memories, generally very poor and very old, living in remote corners of remote islands, and speaking only Gaelic; in short, those who have lived most at home, furthest from the world, and who have no source of mental relaxation beyond themselves and their neighbours.12

Nor did Campbell overly romanticise them. He had a sense of scholarly objectivity ahead of his time. He noted how similar were the various versions of stories collected by colleagues from different parts of the Highlands who had never met, and argued the case for a common origin of the tales and the people who recited them. He was also interested in comparisons with tales of other cultures, particularly Scandinavian (both Germanic and Lapp) and speculated on a common Indo-European origin or at least a geographically wide range of ancient sources for the diverse tales he collected. Campbell also noted that many tales were ‘fragments’ of original epics, or had been transformed and reincorporated in a new context, and likened them to the flotsam and jetsam found on the shores of his native land, re-used in different ways by his kinfolk.13


When he died in 1885, Iain Òg  Ìle left behind him twelve bound volumes of manuscripts. These contained hundreds of tales and versions which remained unpublished. It was not until 1940 that more were transcribed, translated and published in John G Mackay’s More West Highland Tales, Volume 1.14 Mackay enlisted a formidable team of editors, headed by the esteemed Professor W J Watson. Although the latter volume lacks the gilt-embossed covers of the first edition volumes of 1860, and the extraordinary, cartoon-like frontispiece of Volume IV of that series (Illustration 2), I was pleased to find that one of Iain Òg’s clanswomen, Joan Campbell, had added to my copy her own bookplate, depicting an eighteenth-century style sketch of a Highland stately home, possibly one of the Campbell castles (Illustration 3). The list of illustrious subscribers in the endpapers shows just how popular among scholars Campbell’s work had become, and its more recent publication in paperback has further emphasised this.

Campbell’s work was indeed so meticulous and exacting, that he set a precedent for the collection of folklore for those who followed him, even into subsequent centuries, and his methods are seen as a basic benchmark for Celtic scholars in Scotland today. This has at times been to the detriment of other great collectors to whom he is compared, such as Alexander Carmichael, whose landmark six-volume work, Carmina Gadelica [(Latin for) Gaelic poems], also part of my collection, I hope to deal with in a future issue of Biblionews.


One notable collector in my collection is a man who appeared to follow in Campbell’s footsteps, the Reverend James MacDougall, who was collecting in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His rendering of each tale in colloquial ‘unpolished’ Gaelic, presumably as he heard it, his English translations, and his provision of comparative notes show he had similar goals to Campbell and this makes his material equally readable to Gael and non-Gael alike. MacDougall authored three monographs: Craignish Tales, Folk and Hero Tales and Folk Tales and Fairy Lore, only the last of which I possess.15 His scholarship was sufficiently respected to the point that he contributed to John Gregorson Campbell’s Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition,16 and the German Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie [Journal of Celtic Philology].

While MacDougall appears to follow Campbell’s methodological example, he also dispells a couple of perceptions which Campbell may give in his ‘scene-setting’ introduction. For a start, the latter mentions on several occasions how detrimental the clergy could be to the story telling tradition. Yet, MacDougall himself was a minister of the Church of Scotland, who was said to possess “great literary taste” and “the appearance of his library gave one the impression that he had a great love for his books.”17 The evangelical revivalists who, around the middle of the nineteenth century, eventually split from the established Church of Scotland to found, among others, the Free Church and the Free Presbyterian Church swept through the Highlands and Islands at a dark time in their history, when famine and poverty were rife and the Highland clearances were in full swing, ethnically cleansing the native Gael from the glens which they had inhabited for many centuries. Throwing their lot in with these latter-day Calvinists, the people reluctantly burned their bagpipes and their fiddles, and gave up dancing, story telling, games and many other traditional customs and beliefs.

On the other hand, the Catholic church continued as before, and it seems to be the Catholic areas of the country which have yielded the richest range of traditional lore. The Established Church was also more tolerant, if not always supportive, of the beliefs and customs of a population whose older generation believed in fairies and in the power of witchcraft. Indeed, MacDougall’s posthumous editor, Rev. Calder of Strathfillan, claimed of his own colleagues:

A whole world of poetry, tradition, superstition, anecdote, proverb and clever repartee, is familiar to the rank and file of the clergy within the sphere of their labour and recreation…18

For MacDougall, a keen angler, hunter and ‘outdoors man’, “his chief interest, apart form his life work, lay in books”19, and he himself was a great reciter of the stories he collected. His religious calling did not seem to constrain his identity as a Gael proud of his heritage and traditional way of life, as Rev. D MacFarlane, then Minister of the neighbouring parish of Glencoe, attests:

…one could not forget the exuberant welcome at Duror when we came to make a Cèilidh, and the insistence which made the afternoon call a 3 days’ visit.20

MacDougall also refined his search for lore to that of ‘fairy lore’, perhaps because he had covered other subjects in his earlier works, and possibly because it was his favourite area within the tradition. In doing this he also refutes another suppositon of J F Campbell: that fairy lore is chiefly to be found in eastern parts of the Highlands.21 He divides his book into two sections: ‘Folktales’, which contains tales of knights, heroes, dragons and the undead, and the more substantial ‘Fairy Stories’, which he subdivides into three categories: ‘The Social Fairies’, ‘Solitaries’ and ‘Water Sprites’. This section also contains the lyrics of two ‘fairy songs’.

MacDougall’s intimate knowledge of the countryside and the people whence he collected these stories means that many tales are given specific locations, and this makes the collection particularly interesting for myself, who spends a good deal of time in that area of northern Argyll. One of the finest aspects of this collection, sitting as it does in a house in suburban Sydney, is that it connects me with so many favourite places in Scotland (now my country of residence)—it brings to life in a rich and startling way that beautiful landscape, which is increasingly tramped over by backpackers, tour buses and English ‘white settlers’. I am also lucky enough to have heard lingering echos from some of this local lore from one of my former Gaelic teachers, Alasdair MacInnes, one of the last native speakers of the Gaelic of Glencoe.

From a folklore collector’s point of view, it is sad indeed that the preface (which shows just how meticulous the Rev. George Calder was in editing the Gaelic—perhaps stricter than James F Campbell himself!) and the introduction are posthumous. MacDougall died in 1906, but the book carries the publication date of 1910. Sadly, it is apparent in the Biographical Introduction that some of MacDougall’s manuscripts were not included in the work “in order to keep the present volume to a reasonable size”22, and that MacDougall himself had not committed to writing all the stories that he had heard in his earlier life. From a book collector’s point of view, another uniquely moving aspect appears in the form of a small-format (96 x 155mm), four-page handwritten letter, forgotten among the pages of the book. Dated 23rd November 1910 from 23 Park Circus, Ayr, it is written by MacDougall’s widow to a “Mr Ross”. It reads in part, omitting all the purely personal matter:

Dear Mr. Ross,

The Folktales and Fairy lore are at last published and as I had agreed to take several copies I am sending one to you for old friendship’s sake and because you and Mrs Ross will be able to appreciate the gaelic [sic]. […] We were at Strathfillan Manse during August and enjoyed our time very much there. […]      Yours sincerely

A.C. McDougall

Mrs MacDougall had apparently transcribed and edited the English text of the work in preparation for publication. I am not aware who Mr Ross was, apart from being the first owner of the book, since his signature “N. Ross” is on the front end paper, but he and his wife were obviously Gaelic speakers (which Mrs MacDougall was probably not, having her roots in the lowland township of Ayr ), but Strathfillan Manse was the home of the editor, Calder, to whom she seems to have remained close. Interestingly, Strathfillan is one of the few areas in Scotland where fairy belief has persisted into modern times, so much so that a local developer had, in very recent times, to radically alter his plans in order to conform to Scottish Executive Planning Legislation and escape the wrath of local community councillors who were up in arms about “disturbance to the fairies”.23

Other collections within this collection have netted a broader range of genres, but contain good collections of stories of varying antiquity and geographical origin, within the Gaidhealtachd, the Gaelic-speaking area of Scotland. These include: Reliquiae Celticae, Texts, Papers and Studies, in Gaelic Literature and Philology, by the Rev. Alexander Cameron, in two volumes.24 Again, these were published posthumously, edited by Alexander MacBain and Rev. John Kennedy. Volume I is, interestingly, subtitled Ossianica, but, unlike MacPherson’s offerings over a century before, they contain side-by-side genuine texts and translations of material pertaining to the ancient hero Fionn MacCumhail (known in English as Fin MacCoul or, more often, Finn MacCool), father of Oisìn (i.e. Ossian). The second volume, subtitled Poetry, History and Philology, contains an interesting mixture of legend, history, religion and politics andincludes as frontispiece a fine facsimile of a page from the 1688 Fernaig manuscript


One of the most charming collections, which includes not only songs and stories, but also prayers, folk remedies and recipes, is Margaret Fay Shaw’s Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist.25  As well as containing some unadulterated local tales, the book also contains black and white plates of some of the reciters and the places in which they lived. Born and bred in the USA, Fay Shaw is the only non-native Gaelic-speaking collector in my collection, but was brave enough to settle down on a remote island and get to know the locals, then managing to win the hand of John Lorne Campbell, himself a great Gaelic bard, scholar and folklorist of the early twentieth century.

Another unusual anthology is Leabhar nan Cnoc [The Book of the Hills]26 by the Rev. Norman MacLeod. It is the sole work covered in this section that is in Gaelic only (with the singular exception of the table of contents!); it was designed to be a reading text for those wishing to advance their knowledge of Gaelic and learn more of Gaelic culture, spirituality and lore. It covers a range of a nineteenth-century Gaelophone minister’s knowledge: historical anecdotes about chiefs, sermons on keeping the wrong company, histories of druids and saints and, of course, fairy stories. My copy has an inscription on the front end paper saying that a Robert Mackay received it as “1st Prize for Gaelic Reading”, Senior level, from the Clan Mackay Society in 1901.

Other monographs contain edited and translated versions of single stories. These are again diverse in nature. They include Alexander Carmichael’s bilingual Deirdire and the Lay of the Children of Uisne. This tale is known to have been written down as early as the 9th century AD., but Carmichael’s version was “Orally Collected in the Isle of Barra” (a Catholic island) some years before publication in 1905.27 This book impresses not only because it proves the durability of ancient poetry in Gaelic oral tradition; it also contains the characteristically beautiful Celtic artwork of all Carmichael’s publications, and, apart from his fine title page, of particular note is the stunning and unique frontispiece which depicts a weeping Deirdire in a fin-de-siècle style of Celtic interlace


Perhaps the most ancient version of any story in the collection is Togail Bruidne Dà Derga [the destruction of Dà Derga’s hostel].28 This is a 1975 reprint of an Old Irish text first published in 1936 and edited by Eleanor Knott; it is well-annotated and explains that although the tale was known among Gaelic bards of the seventeenth century, the language of this version predates 1000 AD. At that time, the written language of Scotland and Ireland was identical, only diverging in the sixteenth century.

Another ancient curiosity, in the form of a card-covered A6-size pamphlet, is Fingal in the House of the Blar Buidhe, A Weird Highland Tale with Gaelic and English on Opposite Pages, translated and edited by James MacLaren.29 The cover declares it “A Boon to the Learner of Gaelic.” It carries the modest price of sixpence. However, a sticky label indicates that my father got it for the bargain price of 5p (new pence, that is!) some twenty-five years later. (In fact he seems to have taken advantage of the minuscule price to buy about a dozen copies.) A note on the last page says that the tale “was written down by the late Mr Donald C Macpherson, of the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, and the reciter was Mr Macpherson’s own grandmother” and goes on to say it was first published by J F Campbell in 1870 in the journal “Revue Celtica” (probably meaning Revue Celtique) and subsequently by others.

And finally, the for me most aesthetically-pleasing piece is The Tale of the Cauldron.30 This tale first appeared in J F Campbell’s collection,31 but this version was translated by John G Mackay (editor of More West Highland Tales above) and is reproduced in big bold-type English with interlinear tiny italic Gaelic and with footnoted “literal translations” for the Gaelic learner. Its most striking feature, however, is the inclusion of sixteen colour plates reproduced from oil-on-canvas paintings of incidents in the story by a certain Gordon Browne, R.I., and it is definitely one of my most treasured books


While the books themselves are the main subject of this article, I cannot, as a professional storyteller, understate the value of their contents. While they preserve a treasury of lore now lost to oral tradition, their revival as stories told by contemporary reciters is inspiring and intriguing many a modern listener and connecting them with a heritage that would otherwise be inaccessible. Only last week I told a number of tales from these collections to a sympathteic audience in the back room of a bookshop in Willoughby, Sydney. I can only hope I did something towards fulfilling a wish penned in 1860 by J F Campbell:

Celts have played their part in history, and they have a part still to play in Canada and Australia, where their language and character will leave a trace if they do not influence the destiny of these new worlds. There are hundreds in those distant lands, whose language is still Gaelic, and to whom these stories are familiar, and if this book should ever remind any of them of the old country, I shall not have worked in vain in the land which they call “Tir nam Beann s’ nan gleann s’nan ghaisgach” [The land of mountains, glens and warriors]32


1 This may be dealt with in some future article for Biblionews.

2 Donald Monro, Description of the Western Isles of Scotland; called Hybrides By Mr Donald Monro, High Dean of the lsles, who travelled through most of Them [sic] in the year 1549. Edinburgh: Constable, 1805 (Sir George McKenzie had first published it with other accounts in 1774); Martin Martin, A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (undertaken in 1695), 2nd ed., London, 1716; Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland and a Voyage to the Hebrides in 1772, Chester, 1774; Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland, London, 1775; and James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., London: Printed by Henry Baldwin, For Charles Dilly, in the Poultry, 1785. I possess only the last in its 2nd edition also of 1785; it contains a few handwritten comments on the text by a former owner (one of: Ann Moule, 1806, Alexander Napier of Holkham Vicarage, or NM Terren(?) of Gonville & Caius College, Oct. 22. 1887, who have all entered their names etc.?)


3 John F Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, vol. I, p.xi.

4 Op. cit., p. xxi.

5 Op. cit., p. xi of his Introduction. His “Contents” is also numbered in Roman nurmerals, from i to xiii.

6 Cited in op.cit., p. xv.

7 Op. cit., p. xxii.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 The Gaelic word céilidh (pronounced roughly “kayli”) means ‘visit’; the visits by neighbours and others to a house usually developed into a kind of party at which songs were sung, poems recited and stories told. These céilidhean ‘visits’ were till relatively recent decades virtually the only kind of entertainment in rural Gaelic communities.

11 Op. cit., p. xxvii. As Scottish Gaelic was not yet a fully standardised language, spelling could fluctuate; thus sgeulachdan and sgialachdan for ‘tales’.

12 Op. cit., p. xxxi.

13 Op. cit., pp. ix-x.

14 Published for the Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society by Oliver and Boyd,Edinburgh.

15 Folk Tales and Fairy Lore, in Gaelic and English, Collected from oral tradition by Rev. James MacDougall, sometime minister of Duror, edited with introduction and notes by Rev. George Calder, B.D., minister of Strathfillan. Edinburgh: John Grant, 1910.


16 Two volumes, published London: David Nutt, 1891 and 1895. This was once in theTaylor collection, but seems to have gone astray in the meantime.

17 Calder’s Biographical Introduction in MacDougall, op. cit., pp. ix and x.

18 MacDougall, op. cit. p. ix.

19 Ibid.

20 Cited in op. cit. p.x.

21 Popular Tales, p. xxxi.

22 MacDougall, op.cit., p xi.

23 The Times newspaper, 21/11/2005, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article592514.ece

24 Inverness: The Northern Counties Newspaper and Printing and Publishing Company, 1892 and 1894 respectively. Unfortunately, each of my volumes shows evidence of two bookplates on the front endpapers having been torn out; erasures on the spines suggest that one at least in each case may have been a library plate.

25 Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1955.

26 “Northern Chronical” Office, Inverness, 1898.

27 Norman Macleod, Edinburgh.

28 Published by the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies.

29 Glasgow: Alexander MacLaren and Sons, 1949.

30 Malcolm MacLeod, 183 Blackness Rd., Dundee, 1927.

31 Popular Tales Vol II, no. 26.

32 Op. cit., p. xxxii. I find Campbell’s Gaelic a bit odd here and would expect Tir nam beann‘s nan gleann ‘s nan gaisgeach. Also, nam beann means ‘of mountains’ rather than ‘of hills’ as in his footnoted translation ‘the land of hills, and glens, and heroes’ (cf. Ben Lomond etc).



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