National Gaelic resource complete


A major project to digitise hundreds of Gaelic items and make them available online has been completed by the National Library of Scotland in a move that will help to strengthen the language.

It is part of a revolutionary “digital transition” announced last month that will see a third of the National Library’s entire collection of 24 million items made available online over next 10 years.

Scotland’s Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, Dr Alasdair Allan, launched the new Gaelic digital resource at the National Mod in Oban.

It has resulted in every known out-of-copyright Gaelic item in the National Library’s collection being digitised. That amounts to some 600 newly digitised items dating back to the 17th century that will now be free to consult and download by anyone who visits the Library’s website. The items range from some of the first ever books published in Gaelic to a 19th century emigration poster and a translation of the Arabian Nights.

In addition, more than 600 items had already been digitised in a previous project taking the total number now available online to over 1200.

Dr Allan welcomed the contribution made by the National Library to support the Gaelic language. “This is very good news. I would like to commend Dr John Scally and his colleagues at the National Library for the welcome steps they have taken as part of their Gaelic Language Plan to raise the profile of Gaelic in Scottish public life. This digitisation of materials will improve access to a range of important Gaelic books, papers and documents and demonstrate again the key role that Gaelic has played in Scottish culture and history.”

The Library is represented at the Mod by a small team which will be explaining how Gaelic and local publications are collected today and encouraging people to contribute to the print and digital collections of the future.

National Librarian Dr John Scally said: “We have some of the best collections of Gaelic material anywhere in the world and we are delighted to be able to make so much of it available online. This is the model for what we aim to achieve with many more of our collections as we make the move to easier online access.”

Among the key items now available online are:

The second Gaelic book printed in Scotland, Calvin’s Catechism of 1631, of which the Library owns the only surviving copy. (The first Gaelic book printed in Scotland, Bishop Carswell’s translation of the Book of Common Order, Foirm na nurrnuidheadh of 1567, is not included in the new resource. The Library does not own a copy but surviving copies are in the Edinburgh University Library, British Library and Pierpoint Morgan Library.)

The first non-religious book in Gaelic - Alexander MacDonald’s Galick and English vocabulary from 1741.

The first book of Gaelic poetry - Alexander MacDonald’s Ais-eiridh na sean chanoin Albannaich of 1751.

A unique copy of an emigration poster enticing people to go to Ohio of 1822.

They can be seen at

Out-of-copyright material covers items from the pre-1900 period. The collections also include many 20th and 21st century print and digital items which are mostly available for consultation at the Library. These include a 1969 Gaelic translation of three of Mao Tse-tung’s speeches; a 2005 Gaelic text messaging guide and Gaelic manuscripts, including some of Sorley MacLean’s.

Last month, the Library published a strategy The Way Forward 2015-2020 which makes a major commitment to open up access to its internationally renowned collections. Part of that involves having a third in digital format by 2025.