1859 - Recording Gaelic tradition (Campbell of Islay)

By the mid-19th century, Gaelic was being eroded and the cultural riches of Gaelic Scotland were being neglected or disparaged. It was was Iain Og Ile, John Francis Campbell of Islay (1821-1885), who restored the cultural self-confidence of the Gaels by gathering traditional stories and verse 'hitherto despised by natives and unknown to strangers', thus revealing the richness of Gaelic culture. In this manuscript, Campbell records 'Cath nan Eun' (The Battle of the Birds) in both Gaelic and English.

Campbell had learned Gaelic as a boy, and loved the Gaels and their language, marvelling at 'the extraordinary mass of stuff, which is stored up in these old Highland minds'. He used a small group of collectors to draw on a still living reservoir of oral tradition in the West Highlands and Islands. While he himself usually wrote down or summarised stories in English, he told his collectors to 'write the Gaelic of the people who tell the stories' - a practice of literal recording that is still adhered to by collectors of oral tradition.

Campbell of Islay Papers. Adv. MS. 50.1.1, f.48 and Adv. MS. 50.3.1

Recording Gaelic tradition (Campbell of Islay)


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