Sgeul na Gàidhlig: The Gaelic Story at the University of Glasgow

Published: 8 December 2014

A project to research and record over half a millennium of Gaelic history at the University of Glasgow will present its findings today.

Researchers present the 550 years of Gaelic’s ‘untold history’

Academics working on the ‘Sgeul na Gàidhlig aig Oilthigh Ghlaschu’ / ‘Gaelic Story at the University of Glasgow’ project have traced evidence of a continuous Gaelic presence at the University back to the 15th Century, 450 years before Gaelic was available as a subject of study.

The team of researchers, led by Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh, Professor of Gaelic at the University of Glasgow, launched a new online resource containing findings from the study, at a public lecture at the University of Glasgow on 9 December 2014.

The project, funded by the Chancellor’s Fund at the University of Glasgow, Soillse, the National Research Network for the Maintenance and Revitalisation of Gaelic Language and Culture and the R. L. Thomson Endowment has been running for the past 14 months.

Prof. Ó Maolalaigh said: “This unique project has revealed the extraordinary contribution made by Gaels down through the centuries to society both at home and abroad. Although Gaelic is often hidden from view and silent in official records, Gaelic was a central part of the lives and identities of hundreds of thousands of people living and working in the West of Scotland throughout the ages. Gaelic is now spoken by 1% of the population but it was spoken by up to a half of the population when the University was founded in 1451 and the University of Glasgow has always had a Gaelic minority.

“This untold history deserves to be told not least for the outstanding role models it provides for younger Gaels. As we move further into the 21st century it is hoped that this project will encourage wider understanding and appreciation of Gaelic language and culture, and enable us to embrace more openly our Gaelic heritage which is often unacknowledged.”

Key research findings from the project include:

  • One of the first Gaels to attend the University of Glasgow, shortly after its foundation in 1451 was Archibaldus Campbell (Gilleasbaig Caimbeul). Gaelic poet Walter Kennedy, great-grandson of Robert III, from Carrick in Ayrshire, not now an area generally associated with Gaelic, graduated from the University twice, in 1476 and again in 1478.
  • Another notable Gael with a connection to the University was the arch-Jacobite and Gaelic poet and scholar, Alexander MacDonald (Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair), who was a student at the beginning of the eighteenth century. One of his original manuscripts is still kept at the University to this day.
  • Gaelic speakers occupied a variety of positions at the University over the ages from porters, janitors, administrators and lecturers
  • In addition to this, the project found that at least three Principals of the University were Gaelic speakers: Rev. Neil Campbell (1728-61), Rev. Duncan MacFarlan (1825-57), and Professor Sir Donald MacAlister KCB (1907-29) were identified as Gaels. 
  • Gaelic speakers educated at Glasgow University have contributed to a wide range of disciplines over the centuries, ranging from medicine, astronomy, mathematics, science, to philosophy and theology as well as Celtic and Gaelic Studies.
  • University of Glasgow-trained students have also been at the forefront of modern Gaelic scholarship since the seventeenth century, with almost all of the clergymen involved with the Synod of Argyll’s translation of the Gaelic Psalms, Catechism and the Old Testament in the seventeenth century being Glasgow graduates, highlighting the University’s close ties with the Gaelic world and learning throughout history.
  • More recently, Students at the University established the Ossianic Society (An Comunn Oiseanach) petitioned the Secretary of State in 1839 to campaign for Gaelic instruction. The first volume of the society’s Gaelic minute books (1831–49) has been digitised and provides an unparalleled view of the University experience of students during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Iain Caimbeul, Chair of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, said: “The revitalisation of Gàidhlig is currently at the threshold of a significant step-change and such projects like Sgeul na Gàidhlig are important beacons because they raise the profile of the language and provide evidence of the contribution of the Gael to society in Scotland and elsewhere. 

“This project illustrates what is indeed possible for a Gàidhlig speaker to achieve, whether in university or in Scottish civic life. We strive for the normalisation of the language in everyday life and Sgeul na Gàidhlig provides powerful supportive evidence that it is indeed possible to create the conditions for a new Gàidhlig “enlightenment.”

Media enquiries: / 01413307126

Notes for editors:

  • The project entitled Sgeul na Gàidhlig aig Oilthigh Ghlaschu / the Gaelic Story at the University of Glasgow is led by Professor Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh and Dr Katherine Forsyth, with Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich as the main researcher.

First published: 8 December 2014

<< 2015