Thursday 22 April 2010

Fr Allan McDonald’s Note to Alexander Carmichael

The latest discovery on the Carmichael Watson Project came as something of a pleasant surprise – a book sent by the compiler of Comh-chruinneachadh de laoidhean spioradail (Oban: H. Macdonald, 1893), a collection of Gaelic spiritual hymns, along with a dedicatory note to Alexander Carmichael. The compiler of this text was none other than Maighstir Ailein or Fr Allan McDonald (1847–1905) and, in all likelihood he should also be credited for composing some of the material to be found within this book's covers. Both men had been friends for a number of years for Carmichael and McDonald shared many common interests, especially their dedication for perserving Gaelic oral traditions in all their various forms.

8th July 1893
 Dear Mr Carmichael,
I have not been well
of late and have been orderd off
for 3 months by the Doctor. So sorry
about your manuscripts. I could
not aid you much. I tried to get
light thrown on them by consulting
the people, but failed.
What a terrible thunderstorm there
is here at present.

With best wishes,
Your truly
Allan McDonald

Fr. Donald is well
Please give the other copy to Mr Hend-
erson as I forgot his exact address.

As can be seen from the short note enclosed with the copy of the book, Fr McDonald suffered from chronic ill-health and he had been laid up in Moidart for the past three months. He also is also apologetic that he was not able to help his friend with regard to some manuscripts that Carmichael had sent to him. Neverthess, where McDonald could help he would and he is credited by Carmichael for his assistance that he managed to give him when he was compiling Carmina Gadelica:

The Rev. Father Allan Macdonald, Erisgey, South Uist, generously placed at my disposal a collection of religious folk-lore made by himself. For this I am very grateful, though unable to use the manuscript, having so much material of my own.

A letter from Fr McDonald to Carmichael appeared in Carmina Gadelica, vol. iii (140) about Michaelmas customs. Dr John Lorne Campbell wrote thus of the collaborative venture between the two men:

Nevertheless, it is a fact that Fr Allan’s MS. collections of folklore were frequently lent to Carmichael, whose practice seems to have been to dovetail different versions of traditional poems, etc., in order to produce the best possible literary version, and who used frequently to consult Fr Allan about variant readings and the meanings of particular words. The third volume of Carmina Gadelica reproduces part of a letter from Fr Allan on Michaelmas customs (p. 140). The fourth volume contains some anecdotes which bear a very close resemblance to material in Fr Allan’s papers. Alexander Carmichael, whose biography should certainly be written, collected Gaelic folklore on a remarkable scale and over a long period of years. He was helped by many friends and correspondents, and his papers could well form the basis of a Scottish National Folklore Archive.

Thus in no small part Carmichael was assisted by many different people and Fr Allan McDonald was but one of these who, in his short lifetime, managed to gather in much material, most of which still remains unpublished.

Black, Ronald, ‘Eriskay Business’, Scottish Book Collector (2004), 7–11  (
Carmina Gadelica, vols. i & iii.
Campbell, John Lorne, Fr Allan McDonald of Eriskay, 1859–1905, Priest, Poet, and Folklorist (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1956)
MacDonald, Fr. Michael, The Priestly Life of Fr. Allan MacDonald (
Image: Fr. Allan McDonald

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]