The Manuscripts

The Inveraray manuscripts – the seven Dewar volumes and the six MacLean tomes


To illustrate the nature of the collection, here is a selection of images from each of Dewar’s ten manuscripts, with a few from Hector MacLean’s translations. To enlarge, simply click on the image.


D1 Spine





D1 is rich in stories about the Campbells, MacFarlanes and MacGregors, and the districts of Appin and Cowal. Of its 516 pages, translations of the first 355 were published in John Mackechnie’s The Dewar Manuscripts Volume One of 1963. (Spine) ‘Traditional Popular History . . .’ These stories, it appears, were collected in 1862–66. (ii) John Francis Campbell of Islay interspersed his own notes and comments throughout the manuscripts. Campbell went to Eton, and his handwriting is terrible. John Dewar never went to any school at all, and his handwriting is excellent. What Campbell calls ‘duplicates and foul copies’ are now D8, D9 and D10. (1) Campbell explains the origins of the collection. One wonders what story it was that he translated and gave to Mr Douglas the Edinburgh publisher, ‘who did not think it credible or historical, or worth printing, or of public interest or amusing’. That is not our view of the collection as a whole. (36r) This is the beginning of the first story translated in Mackechnie’s book, where it appears as ‘Cailean Mor’. According to J. F. Campbell’s instructions, Dewar conscientiously noted the sources of his material. (385r) The beginning of Dewar’s long and detailed account of the feud between the MacGregors and Colquhouns, the battle of Glen Fruin (1603), and the persecution of the Clan Gregor.


D2 Spine





D2 is rich in stories about Campbells, Stewarts and MacLeans. (Spine) This volume is dated 1867–70. (57r) The beginning of the story of Caisteal na h-Ighinne Ruaidhe (‘the Castle of the Red-Haired Maiden’), for which see the Gallery page. (208r) The beginning of the story of Mary Cameron of Callart, for which see the article ‘The Plague and Mary of Callart’ on the Commentaries page. (301r) The beginning of a story whose title translates as ‘An Account of the MacLeans of Lochbuie and the Craignish Men in the Isle of Jura’, soon to be published in John Dewar’s Islay, Jura and Colonsay under the title ‘The Battle of Glen Garrisdale’. (359r) Like the rest of his generation, Dewar was a great believer in the historicity of Ossian. Since he had been asked to collect ‘popular history’, it is no surprise that nearly all of his manuscripts contain a few Ossianic ballads like this one. Its title translates as ‘The Lay of Laomann the Son of the Cave-Man’.


D3 Spine





D3 is rich in stories about Kintyre, Knapdale and Glencoe, also the Campbells, MacLeans and MacDougalls. (Spine) These stories were collected in 1868–69. According to a note in D2, p. i, the stories in D3 were collected in 1868, but did not reach Campbell until 1873, after Dewar’s death. (100r) In this part of the story of the Campbell hero Iain Beag Bhràigh a’ Ghlinne (‘Little John of Braglen’), we learn of the battle of Lagganmore in Glen Euchar, south of Oban (1646), and of how the victorious Alastair mac Colla gathered the surviving Campbells – men, women and children – into a barn and burned them alive. (127v) Dewar’s method was to listen carefully to stories while making some notes, write everything down from memory afterwards, then go back to the storyteller at least once to check that everything was correct. As a result, his manuscripts contain many additions or corrections on blank pages, such as this passage in his account of the siege of Skipness Castle. (411r) Three arch-villains seem to tower over Dewar’s stories – Sir Donald Campbell of Ardnamurchan (an entirely historical figure, c.1570 – 1651), Mac Iain Riabhaich (basically a mid-17th-century Campbell of Ardkinglas, but shading into other historical identities as well), and a mysterious MacDonald leader called Rìgh Fionnghall (‘the King of the Hebrides’). Perhaps we should add Alastair mac Colla (c.1610 – 1647), but to the MacDonalds he was a hero, and Dewar’s treatment of him is well balanced. This page describes the death and burial of Rìgh Fionnghall, tells us that he was ‘so evil that no mourning was done for him at all’, and names him tentatively as Angus. (422r) Most of the Dewar MSS are in Gaelic, but there are also some important texts in English which Dewar obtained in manuscript, such as an otherwise unknown history of the Campbells of Breadalbane.


D4 Spine





D4 is the most homogeneous of Dewar’s manuscripts. It consists almost entirely of the great seventeenth-century saga of Colla Ciotach of Colonsay and his son Alastair mac Colla, followed by a fine collection of stories from Arran. Alastair mac Colla and the marquess of Montrose defeated the Campbells at Inverlochy: the battle is described in detail, as are Alastair’s ravaging of Argyllshire and the massacre of Dunaverty. (Spine) These stories were mainly collected in 1871–72. (6r) Letters from Dewar to J. F. Campbell are bound into the manuscripts here and there. In this one Dewar displays an objective sense of the value of the collection: “I believe the whole to be as truthful as some of the histories which was wrote at the time that the events hapened.” (60r) Here is Dewar’s version of the well-known story about Colla Ciotach and the pìobaireachd ‘Fuaim na Tuinne ri Dùn Treòin’ (‘The Sound of the Waves against the Castle of Duntroon’). (214r) J. F. Campbell’s opinions unfailingly provide a starting point for debate about the collection. The Arran material is ‘very like truth’, the stories ‘purport’ to be told by people who live where the events happened, the ‘Ceantire’ (Kintyre) lot is ‘meagre’, Mac Iain Riabhaich is ‘Argyll’s butcher’. (230r) Once published, Dewar’s Arran stories will add immeasurably to our knowledge of the island’s history. Here he lists the island’s barons – small proprietors who owed their holdings to the gratitude of King Robert Bruce for the help given him by the Arran folk during the War of Independence.


D5 Spine





D5 is wonderfully diverse. It gives us the early days of Somerled (d. 1164), the adventures of Robert Bruce (1306) and of the earls and dukes of Argyll, and the battles of the Shirts (1544), of Tràigh Ghruinneart (1598), of Glen Fruin (1603), and of Culloden (1746), with much else on MacDonalds, MacLeans, MacGregors, Stewarts, Lamonts, MacPhees, MacIvers, MacRaes, Munros, MacFarlanes, etc., as well as (in English) a version of the ‘Manuscript History of Craignish’. (Spine) The stories in D5, like those in D4, were collected in 1871–72. (57r) Dewar devotes a great deal of space to listing and synthesising the stories he tells in this and other manuscripts. This, for example, is part of a synopsis of the Battle of Glen Fruin as told further on in D5. (114r) The murderous climax of Dewar’s account of the Massacre of Glencoe. (260r) How a galleon of the Spanish Armada was blown up in Tobermory Bay on 5 November 1588. Its wreck lies under the mud there to this day. (272r) Dewar held nothing back. This is his very circumstantial account of the rape of Argyll’s daughter by MacLean of Duart’s thugs, much earlier in the sixteenth century.

D6 and D7

D6 Spine

D6 Front







D6 and D7 consist of ten little pocket-books bound together, five in each volume. They are of huge importance. Being ‘raw’, they shine a light on Dewar’s personal life, travels, contacts and methods. They also contain many stories from the edges of ‘Dewarland’, areas hardly touched by Dewar’s more carefully-written manuscripts. D6 is rich in stories from Perthshire, Tiree and Arran; D7 in stories from Perthshire, Ardnamurchan, Moidart, Tiree, Coll, Mull, Lismore, Islay, Jura and Colonsay, and in Ossianic ballads. (D6 Spine) The pocket-books range in date from 1843 to 1872. The dates given on the spine of D7 (which is not in good condition) are the same. (D6 Front) This indicates the external appearance of all seven of Dewar’s Inveraray manuscripts. (D6.4–5) We know nothing about the drawing of the man’s head, except that it is there. Was Dewar an artist? The scribbles on these pages, and many others in D6, show him working as a shopkeeper in Rosneath during the 1840s. The first three items on p. 4 are ‘sho glasses’ (glass showcases), teacups and butter. The first few on p. 5 seem to represent a transaction by which Dewar gave his younger brother Donald £2 5s worth of butter and 15s in cash, so that Donald now owes him £3. Was Donald running a shop in Dumbarton? (D6.186–87) The first page here is actually written upside-down, as often happens in a pocket-book. It has been turned the right way up by the website designer. On it Dewar notes the names of some Tiree tradition-bearers, scoring out the ones he has visited. The second page is copied from Joshua Sturges’s Guide to the Game of Draughts (London, 1835). There are another eight pages of this. We have commissioned a study of Dewar’s interest in Sturges’s book for our ‘Commentaries’ page from Mark Hall of the Perth Museum. (D6.460–61) Dewar’s sketch of the King’s Cave in Arran. (D6.504) The beginning of ‘The Kerr Woman and MacAlister’, a poignant tale from Arran of female heroism and domestic violence. From a literary point of view, it is probably the best story in the entire ten manuscripts. (D7.26–27) Mastering the Irish script, Dewar carefully copied out passages that interested him from John O’Donovan’s edition of Annála Ríoghachta Éireann, The Annals of the Four Masters (Dublin, 1851), and translated them into Scottish Gaelic. (D7.691) He also invented a system of Gaelic shorthand to help him write down stories as they were being told.

D8, D9 and D10





What we in The Dewar Project call D8, D9 and D10 are in fact National Library of Scotland MSS Adv. 50.2.18, 50.2.19 and 50.2.20. They were fully catalogued by John Mackechnie (editor of The Dewar Manuscripts Volume One) in his Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts in Selected Libraries in Great Britain and Ireland (Boston, Mass., 1973), vol. 1, pp. 91–98. In fact, D8 is little more than half a manuscript, because the first part of Adv. MS 50.2.18 (99 folios out of 267) consists of a draft of J. F. Campbell’s introduction to his Popular Tales of the West Highlands (1860), which has nothing directly to do with Dewar, though he is mentioned. D8–D10 consist of a mixture of Dewar’s papers retained by Campbell at the point when he had the rest bound and sent to Inveraray. Many are rough copies of material written out more formally in what is now D1–D5, but Dewar never wrote the same story in the same way twice, so much of what is in D8–D10 may be more authentic than what is in D1–D5.

D8 is rich in stories of Campbells, MacFarlanes and Appin families (Stewarts, MacColls, MacCombies etc.). D9 is rich in stories of Campbells, MacLeans, MacDonalds, MacDougalls and Appin families, and was the source for Angus Matheson’s very substantial ‘Traditions of Alasdair Mac Colla’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Glasgow, vol. 5 (1958), pp. 9–93. D10 is rich in stories of Campbells, MacFarlanes and MacDougalls, also material from Arran and another version of the Breadalbane History (see D3), but its most distinctive feature is a large collection of verse, including Ossianic ballads. (D8.107r) Campbell’s description of D8–D10 as a whole. By ‘fair copy’ he means the contents of D1–D5. He appears to see the entire collection only in terms of translation. (D8.139v) In this little addition to his account of the Appin Murder (1752), Dewar names the assassins very clearly as the laird of Fasnacloich and Donald Stewart, nephew to the laird of Ballachulish. This was published in 1939 (Angus Matheson, ‘A Traditional Account of the Appin Murder’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. 35, pp. 343–404, at p. 379), so all subsequent speculation, of which there has been a great deal, has been pointless. Dewar’s source, Gilleasba Mac a’ Chombaich (Archibald MacCombie or Colquhoun), Port Appin, was completely reliable. (D9.182v) This messy page is typical of much in D8–D10. It contains the end of the biography of one Appin informant, Iain Òg MacSholla (‘Young John MacColl’) and the beginning of another, that of Archibald MacCombie himself. Dewar scored it through after copying it out. It is noteworthy that Dewar writes ‘This book was copied in 1870’, as there are many indications in D1–D5 (footnotes, running heads, etc.) that he considered himself to be writing a book. (D10.196v) Part of a little-known traditional MacGregor song ‘Air Sròn Beinn nan Luibhean’ (‘On the Spur of Beinn nan Luibhean’), into which the poet pours all the pain of his tribe’s recent proscription by Act of Parliament (1603).

Hector MacLean Manuscripts

During 1879–81 Hector MacLean, schoolmaster at Ballygrant in Islay, was paid by the duke of Argyll to translate D1–D7 under J. F. Campbell’s supervision. He sent in his work in nineteen batches, now called volumes. These were bound into six tomes; some supplementary material at the end was called vol. 20. MacLean’s translation is no longer fit for purpose, being old-fashioned, bowdlerised, gapped and sometimes even quite hard to understand.




M16 Spine


(M1.1r) MacLean copied Campbell’s instructions into his manuscript, as he had been told to do. To anyone unfamiliar with Dewar’s prose, these instructions seem self-contradictory, but they remain the guiding principle for today’s translators. Dewar’s nouns often have to be turned into pronouns and his repetitions eliminated, but one should never ‘add or omit a single idea or incident’. (M4.7r) Campbell had invited MacLean to add notes at the bottom of the page if he had anything to say. He often took advantage of this privilege, but tended to concentrate on matters of pronunciation, as here. Mostly he failed to discuss problems of meaning and interpretation. Sometimes his translation is useful, but just as frequently it is not. (M8.93r) Here is a case in point. As MacLean indicates, this is a translation of D3.100r, an image of which is shown at D3 above. Following the battle of Lagganmore (1646), Dewar tells us of Donald Campbell of Lochnell: “Domhnall Gorm managed to escape up the hill behind Laggan, and Alastair mac Colla’s men were making fun of how his taichce (taice, ‘support, underpants’) came further down than his kilt. The name they had for him was Sgàthann (‘Modesty, Knickers’).” Dewar’s stories are priceless for their insights into Highland diet, clothing, housing, customs, etc. in times past, but MacLean, embarrassed, translates the passage as: “Donald Gorm managed to escape by the way of the moor of Laggan. Alasdair Mac Colla’s men derided him and called him Timidness.” (M16 Spine) All six MacLean tomes bear the same basic inscription, which dates the collection rather misleadingly to 1860. Confusingly, the numbers on the other five tomes are simply ‘VOL. I’, ‘VOL. IV’, ‘VOL. VII’, ‘VOL. X’, ‘VOL. XIII’. The translation was commissioned by the duke as a gift to his son Lord Lorne, who had married Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise in 1871. Aged 33, he had gone with Louise to Canada as Governor-General in 1878. MacLean sent his volumes of translation to him there. (M19.iv–iir) MacLean provided each volume with a useful list of contents. The nineteenth and last arrived in June 1881 as Lorne was setting out on the journey to the west which was to be the highlight of his career, if not of his life. He brought it with him, and used the blank pages for notes, sketches, paintings and poems. Here we have an account of birds, beasts and fishes seen (and frequently shot, or caught) from 10 August to 29 September 1881.




(M19.iiv–1r) ‘Matters to talk to Govr. about’. These notes, clearly arising from Lorne’s journey through the North-West Provinces, are divided into eight sections, headed (1) ‘Northern Boundary’, (2) ‘Indians everywhere’, (3) Land offices along Saskatchewan’, (4) ‘Telegraph lines’, (5) ‘Metis Reserve Question’, (6) ‘Grandees/Graudue’s(?) letter’, (7) ‘Pioneer settlements’ (8) ‘Mounted Police shd be increased to 500 – 200 new men’. There are also a few words of memoranda at 1r: ‘Indian Schools / Industrial in Each Reserve / Rewards Instructors’. MacLean’s text on the right is a translation of what is now D7.461 (the pages of D6 and D7 were not numbered until 2013). There are supernatural elements in this story, which is unusual for Dewar. With very few exceptions, his stories are free of fairies, ghosts, giants, monsters and witches. (M19.4v–5r) Lorne’s notes for a speech given in Winnipeg. He subsequently published the speech in his Memories of Canada and Scotland: Speeches and Verses (Montreal, 1884), pp. 297–98. MacLean’s text on the right is a translation of D7.465–66. (M19.33v–34r) Lorne was a man of many talents. Here we find a watercolour, captioned ‘Elbow River . . . (?) Calgary Spt. 12 1881’, with a pencil sketch of a similar scene underneath. MacLean’s text on the right is a translation of D7.613 – a complete story, with the beginning of another at the bottom.




(M20.14v–15r) Lorne’s intention had been to turn MacLean’s translation of Dewar into epic poetry in celebration of the Clan Campbell. This is the nearest he came to doing exactly that. On the left is the beginning of his rough draft of ‘The Death of the Boar’, which he later published in Memories of Canada and Scotland, pp. 132–47. He describes it in the book as: “Taken from ‘Leabhar na Feinne,’ and a prose version written down from oral recitation by J. Dewar.” As can be seen on the right, he had asked MacLean to translate ‘Bàs Dhiarmaid’ from J. F. Campbell’s Leabhar na Feinne (1872), pp. 158–61. Each stanza of Lorne’s draft is written roughly opposite the corresponding stanza from Leabhar na Feinne. Dewar’s prose version, set around Srontoilleir in Lorn, is in D2.39–45, and MacLean’s translation of it is in M5.74–84. (M20.29v–30r) This watercolour of Lorne’s is captioned ‘March from Calgary / Rocky Mountains 40 miles off’. Note the mounted policemen in the foreground. (M20.75r) M20 has basically nothing to do with Dewar. It is a collection of items in English about Diarmad, the Argyll family, Tiree, etc., sent to Lord Lorne by other individuals, including MacLean and D. C. MacPherson. Here for example is the beginning of an interesting but eccentric account of the traditions of Inveraray, contributed by a native of the burgh who was a friend of Dewar’s – George Clerk, Argyll’s gamekeeper at Rosneath.