The National Library of Scotland holds nearly all of the surviving older Gaelic documents written or preserved in Scotland, representing both classical and vernacular Scottish Gaelic. Most of these manuscripts came to the Advocates Library, the forerunner of the National Library of Scotland, in the nineteenth century, when bodies such as the Highland Society of London and the Highland Society of Scotland (now the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland) deposited their manuscript collections to ensure their preservation for the nation. The greater part of these deposits was later turned into gifts or bought by the Library. Bequests of private collections of Gaelic scholars such as William F. Skene and John Francis Campbell of Islay were also added during the nineteenth century.
In 1925 the Advocates Library transferred its Gaelic manuscripts to the newly-founded National Library of Scotland, which has since continued to add to its Gaelic holdings. Papers of Scottish Gaelic authors, scholars, song collectors and Gaelic-related institutions and publishers were acquired in recent decades, and illustrate the breadth of the Gaelic cultural heritage.
Among the most notable early manuscripts are the Book of the Dean of Lismore, the 'MS 1467' with its famous genealogies of the clans, the Glenmasan Manuscript, and manuscripts of poets such as Alasdair Mac Mhaighistir Alasdair and William MacMurchy. Medical manuscripts form a strong element among the early collections; fifteen volumes were once owned by members of the Beaton family of hereditary physicians.
The manuscripts can be accessed through a variety of finding aids; further information can be found on our website at:
We are very happy to participate in the ISOS project and appreciate the improved access that it will provide to our collections. We hope that further manuscripts can be added to ISOS in the not too distant future.
The manuscripts were photographed by the National Library of Scotland and the images are © The National Library of Scotland or © The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland respectively. Copyright matters will be handled by the Manuscripts Division of the National Library of Scotland: