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The Dewar Project

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“The People’s History of the West Highlands”

John Dewar was a Gaelic-speaking native of Arrochar (Dunbartonshire) who lived from 1802 to 1872. Paid by the duke of Argyll, he spent the last ten years or so of his life wandering around the West Highlands taking down historical tales in Gaelic from the mouths of the people. These were collected by his principal patron, John Francis Campbell of Islay (the duke’s cousin) into ten manuscripts, seven of which are in the Argyll Papers at Inveraray Castle, and three of which are in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, consisting of altogether 4,337 pages of writing. Taken together, these form a chaotic but priceless collection of traditional stories that may be described as ‘the people’s history of the West Highlands, in their own language, from 1306 to 1752’.

As Dewar left it, the material is a complete hotch-potch. There is no overall scheme, and the stories, notes and fragments are in no particular order. Many stories are repeated, but none of the repetitions are quite the same as any of the others. All have value. It is the job of The Dewar Project to make sense of it all, reducing the material to a regular scheme without interfering with Dewar’s actual words, and publishing it all in Gaelic and English.

The Dewar Project was founded in 2017. It is collaborative, depending on the voluntary labour of a team of transcribers and others scattered around the world. As at 25 August 2022, the basic transcription and translation of 3,468 of the 4,337 pages has been completed, and during 2023 we will move into the next phase, beginning with the publication of our first book, John Dewar’s Islay, Jura and Colonsay, and concentrating as far as possible on the job of leth-druideadh (as it is called in Gaelic), that is, sorting individual page-files of transcription/translation into complete stories, told separately in Gaelic and English.

The purpose of this website is not to publish our work but to tell you about it. Our work will be published in our books, ten of which are planned, corresponding with the map above. If you want to find out exactly what is in the manuscripts, see the Story-List page. For an illustrated account of them see the Manuscripts page. If you would like to know who we are, see ‘The Dewar Team’. For details on how the work is coming along, see ‘Progress Report’. As the site develops, the ‘Commentaries’ page will bring you essays and other spin-offs, beginning with a published article about John Dewar and The Dewar Project. The ‘Gallery’ page will contain a miscellany of images of Highland scenes, old and new, explaining how they connect to Dewar and his stories. Please feel free to contribute to it. ‘Our Publications’ will describe our books, but if you want to order one on-line, a separate sales website is also planned, www.johndewarpublishers.com, which is expected to go live in September 2022. Finally, if you feel you can help The Dewar Project by volunteering, see the foot of the ‘Dewar Team’ page, and if you would like to help financially, see the ‘Sponsorship’ page.

We are grateful to His Grace the Duke of Argyll for permission to reproduce and quote from manuscripts in his possession (‘The Argyll Papers’). Likewise, we are indebted to the National Library of Scotland for permission to reproduce and quote from manuscripts in their care.