Gaelic ‘at Glasgow University for over 500 years’

The new study found that the Gaelic presence at the University of Glasgow dates back to the 15th century. Picture: Wiki Commons
The new study found that the Gaelic presence at the University of Glasgow dates back to the 15th century. Picture: Wiki Commons
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ONE OF Scotland’s oldest universities has had a continuous presence of Gaelic speakers for more than 500 years, a new study has found.

Researchers found that the Gaelic presence at the University of Glasgow dates back to the 15th century, 450 years before Gaelic was available as a subject of study at the institution.

The findings were made during research for the Sgeul na Gaidhlig aig Oilthigh Ghlaschu’ / ‘Gaelic Story at the University of Glasgow’ project which reveals the “untold history” of the language at the institution.

It found that Gaelic speakers educated at the university have contributed to a wide range of disciplines over the centuries, ranging from medicine, astronomy, mathematics and science, to philosophy and theology as well as Celtic and Gaelic Studies.

A new online resource containing findings from the study will be launched at a public lecture at the university tomorrow evening.


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Roibeard O Maolalaigh, Professor of Gaelic at the University of Glasgow, who led the study, 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 per cent 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.”

One of the first Gaels to attend the University of Glasgow shortly after its foundation in 1451 was Archibaldus Campbell (Gilleasbaig Caimbeul).

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.

The project also 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).

Iain Caimbeul, Chair of Bord na Gaidhlig, said: “The revitalisation of Gaidhlig is currently at the threshold of a significant step-change and such projects like Sgeul na Gaidhlig 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 Gaidhlig 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 Gaidhlig provides powerful supportive evidence that it is indeed possible to create the conditions for a new Gaidhlig enlightenment.”

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.


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