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This article about The Dewar Project by Ronnie Black appeared in Cànan is Cultar / Language and Culture: Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 10, edited by Wilson McLeod, Anja Gunderloch and Rob Dunbar (Aberdeen University Press, 2021), pp. 73–86. It is reproduced here with the editors’ permission. It tells you pretty much all you might want to know about Dewar, his manuscripts and the project. It reveals that, since it was written, our publication plans have slipped a little bit!

Click here to read Cànan is Cultar / Language and Culture: Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 10

 
     
 
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Even the most cursory glance at Dewar’s historical tales reveals an astonishing degree of casual violence. This topic, so fundamental to discussion of the Dewar MSS, is addressed in Ryan Dziadowiec’s pioneering Glasgow University MA dissertation from 2018, ‘Shifting Codes of Highland Masculinity in John Dewar’s (d. 1872) Gaelic Folklore Collection’. As systematic work on the Dewar MSS had scarcely begun in 2018, Ryan’s dissertation is not based on the manuscripts as a whole, but on John Mackechnie’s book The Dewar Manuscripts Volume One (1964), which consists only of Hector MacLean’s translations of the first two-thirds of D1. As more and more stories are made available, such interpretative studies of ‘the world of the Dewar MSS’ will flourish, opening up a huge array of questions and an entire field of debate. Ryan’s is the first.

Click here to read Shifting codes of Highland masculinity in John Dewar’s Gaelic folklore collection

 
     
 
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Ryan Dziadowiec’s work on ‘Themes in John Dewar’s Islay, Jura and Colonsay consists of an alphabetic list running from ‘Achilles’ heel (hero’s sole weakness)’ all the way through to ‘Tricksters/Femme fatale’, taking in some especially large items like ‘Battles’, ‘Campbell’, ‘Domestic architecture’, ‘Masculinity, codes of honour, implicit codes of conduct’ and ‘Place-Names’ along the way, in addition to specific surnames. This is a valuable key to the contents of the book, which will be published early in 2024. Ryan’s references are to pages of the Dewar MSS, not to the book itself, but as Dewar’s page-numbers will be cited throughout the book, it will be possible to identify the passages being referred to quite easily.

Click here to read Themes

 
     
 
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For a taste of Dewar, the man and his stories, have a look at these illustrated articles by Ronnie Black, contributed to the Newsletter of the Royal Celtic Society over recent years. They are reproduced here by permission of the society.

 
  1. ‘The Dewar Manuscripts’, Newsletter of the Royal Celtic Society, no. 8 (vol. 2, issue 4), Dec. 2017, p. 4.  
  2. ‘How the Campbells Came to Skye’, Newsletter of the Royal Celtic Society, no. 11 (vol. 3, issue 3), Oct. 2018, p. 8.  
  3. ‘The Brooch of Lorn’, Newsletter of the Royal Celtic Society, no. 17 (vol. 5, issue 2), Summer 2020, pp. 10–11.  
  4. ‘The Brooch of Lorn, continued . . .’, Newsletter of the Royal Celtic Society, no. 18 (vol. 5, issue 3), Autumn 2020, pp. 16–17.  
  5. ‘The Plague and Mary of Callart’, Newsletter of the Royal Celtic Society, no. 19 (vol. 5, issue 4), Winter 2020, pp. 12–13.  
  6. ‘Jura Burials: Was a Crime Committed Here?’, Newsletter of the Royal Celtic Society, no. 22 (vol. 6, issue 3), Autumn 2021, pp. 12–14.  
  7. ‘John Dewar: Collector of the People’s History’, Newsletter of the Royal Celtic Society, no. 24 (vol. 7, issue 1), Spring 2022, pp. 3–5.  
     
 
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  The following newspaper articles are mainly by retired Herald journalist and former Dewar transcriber Gerry Burke, Strachur. They nearly all touch on the Dewar MSS in one way or another. They appeared on the stated dates in the papers run by Argyll Media Ltd, the Dunoon Observer and Isle of Bute News. They may also have been syndicated to the Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser. They contain a good deal about General John Campbell of Strachur, who figures in the American adventures of Duncan Stewart of Ardsheil as told by Dewar (see ‘Stewart of Ardsheil, Duncan’ on our Story-List page).  
     
  1. Gerry Burke, ‘Technology to the rescue of the forgotten “people’s history”’, Argyll Media Limited, 22 November 2019  
  2. Gerry Burke, ‘An untold tale of a sunken cargo of sacred artefacts: Scotland’s cradle of Christianity tomb-raided by aristocratic guardians?’, Argyll Media Limited, 10 Jan. 2020  
  3. Gerry Burke, ‘A “shipwrecked” cargo looted from sacred Iona dumped on the seabed on a Loch Fyne laird’s doorstep’, Argyll Media Limited, 17 Jan. 2020  
  4. Gerry Burke, ‘Part 2: A lost chapel, its clan graveyard evictions, and a confusion of ancient stones’, Argyll Media Limited, 17 Jan. 2020  
  5. Gerry Burke, ‘Argyll Clan and Iroquois tribe – DNA blood brothers’, Argyll Media Limited, 15 May 2020  
  6. Gerry Burke, ‘More than “blood-brothers” – the Campbell clan and the Iroquois tribe’, Argyll Media Limited, 22 May 2020  
  7. Agnes MacPhillimy, ‘The Lady of Strachur – Helen Campbell’, Argyll Media Limited, 22 May 2020  
  8. Gerry Burke, ‘”God’s punishment – judge’s final verdict on “sacred” stones?’, Argyll Media Limited, 29 May 2020  
  9. Gordon Neish, ‘Seabed search for sacred history in Loch Fyne’, Argyll Media Limited, 7 May 2021  
  10. Gerry Burke, ‘The “drowned tombstones” of Iona – in Loch Fyne’, Argyll Media Limited, 7 May 2021  
     
 
 
 

“The vessel containing the crosses and graveslabs sank between Strachur and Creggan.” Unfortunately this is all Dewar has to say on the subject (at D6.336), but Gerry Burke manages to squeeze the last ounce out of it. In his Tour through the Highlands of Scotland, and the Hebride Isles (1787), John Knox tells how stones were purloined from Iona and carried mostly to mainland Argyll, where they were laid over the graves of the leading inhabitants. One went to Campbeltown, he claimed, and others to Kilmartin. See The Celtic Magazine, vol. 11 (1886), p. 39.

 
     
 
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The following article about John Dewar and his work, written by Leslie Maxwell and Alistair McIntyre, appeared in The Helensburgh Advertiser on 1 September 2020. It is entitled ‘Eye on Millig: Rhu Man John Dewar’s Collection of Gaelic Stories’. Dewar’s birthplace at Craggan is only a couple of miles south of Arrochar, but lies in the parish of Rhu (Rubha, Row), which includes Helensburgh.

https://www.helensburghadvertiser.co.uk/news/18690531.eye-millig-rhu-man-john-dewars-collection-gaelic-stories/

 
     
 
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Here is the seminal article that kick-started work on the Dewar MSS in the twenty-first century, Andrew Wiseman’s ‘The Dewar Manuscripts: An Overview’. It was published in Litreachas & Eachdraidh, Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 2, Glaschu 2002: Literature & History, Papers from the Second Conference of Scottish Gaelic Studies, Glasgow 2002, ed. by Michel Byrne, Thomas Owen Clancy and Sheila Kidd (Glasgow, 2006), pp. 161–82.

Click here to read the article

 
     
 
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Dewar at play: a passion (?) for draughts

Read an article by Dr Mark A. Hall about John Dewar's passion for the game of draughts.

John Dewar and Draughts

 
     
 
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The Appin Murder

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Gerry Burke, Strachur, is a former Dewar Project transcriber, but he has been a fervent admirer of Dewar’s work since before the project existed, as you can see from his article ‘Kidnapped – The True Story’, published in the Dunoon Observer, 13 September 2013. It’s a splendid article, but it has brought home to us how much we have all learned from the project since it began:

  • John Mackechnie’s The Dewar Manuscripts Volume One is a very confusing book. It doesn’t make it clear what the Dewar MSS actually are (there are ten of them, and we call them D1 to D10). Mackechnie doesn’t say so, but his book simply consists of Hector MacLean’s translation of two-thirds of D1, i.e. a mere 6.6% of the total of the Dewar MSS
  • Gerry says that The Dewar Manuscripts Volume One was published in 1961, but we only remember seeing copies dated 1963 or 1964, so we think it must have been published at the end of 1963
  • Gerry speaks of ‘John Dewar of Rosneath’. The Dewar Manuscripts Volume One does indeed give the impression that Dewar was a native of Rosneath, but it turns out he was from Arrochar
  • Dewar’s material on the Appin Murder is contained in D1 and D8, of which D8 is more detailed. Angus Matheson published the D8 material, in the original and in translation, in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. 35, in 1939. John Mackechnie published the D1 material, in Hector MacLean’s translation only, in The Dewar Manuscripts Volume One in 1963. So by 2023, the true story will have been known for 84 years
  • the Dewar MSS seldom provide more than half the answer to any historical question – everything Dewar tells us has to be checked against all other available evidence
  • specifically, Gerry says that there was just one actual assassin – Donald Stewart, nephew of the laird of Ballachulish, with James Stewart, younger of Fasnacloich, merely as his accomplice. We believe that Dewar’s evidence in D8 as well as D1, combined with the important forensic evidence of the 2013 retrial (which Gerry mentions), shows that both men fired and hit the target. That is the line taken by Ronald Black in The Campbells of the Ark (2017), vol. 1, pp. 397–401.

 

 
     
 
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Caving

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As you may have seen elsewhere in this website (Home Page, Dewar Team Page, Gallery Page), the Dewar Project is looking for a speleologist to undertake research and exploration of the 50+ caves that are described or otherwise mentioned in Dewar’s stories. Our search began with this article by Ken Wardrop, our co-editor for Arran, in a recent number of the Mountain Bothies Association Newsletter.