McLagan Manuscripts

Gaelic manuscripts collected or transcribed by the Rev. James McLagan (1728-1805) and presented to the Library in 1910. McLagan served as chaplain to the 42nd Regiment of Foot (the Black Watch) from 1764. During his time with the regiment he served in America, Ireland and the Isle of Man. From the 1780s he was the minister for the parish of Blair Atholl and Strowan in Perthshire.  These roles allowed McLagan to cultivate an international network of informants for Gaelic poetry and song. John Leyden’s Journal of a Tour in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland in 1800 (published 1903), notes that McLagan claims to have been collecting Gaelic song while still at school and college. This would mean his collecting pre-dates the 1750s and the publication of James MacPherson’s Ossianic works.

Some 250 manuscripts contain 630 items, primarily Gaelic song and poetry. John Mackechnie’s Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts (1973) notes that there are at least 47 different hands represented in the collection. It is a key resource for many of the most well-known 17th- and 18th-century Gaelic poets such as Iain Lom MacDonald, Màiri nighean Alasdair Ruaidh and Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair. The contents are diverse, including but not limited to satire, battle-poetry and Ossianic ballads from many areas of Highland Scotland and also from Ireland and the Isle of Man.

How to find material in the McLagan Collection