The painted likeness of the Church of Scotland minister, poet and scholar is found on an oval gold mount preserved in the collections of The Black Watch Museum, Perth.
It serves as a reminder of the significance of the University’s McLagan Collection to scholars of Gaelic language and literature and also to those interested in Scotland’s military history and eighteenth-century Enlightenment Scotland.
Dr Sìm Innes and Dr Geraldine Parsons, lecturers in Celtic and Gaelic at the University of Glasgow, are delighted to be able to put a face to the name of the focus of their research project.
They recently organised the first ever conference on McLagan and his collections, in order to stimulate new research into McLagan and his international networks, and early interest in folklore and Gaelic literature.
McLagan , a native of Perthsire, was ordained by the presbytery of Dunkeld in 1760 after studying at the University of St Andrews. He was appointed chaplain to the 42nd regiment (the Black Watch) and served in America, Ireland and the Isle of Man.
The McLagan Collection (University of Glasgow, Special Collections, MS Gen 1042) contains 630 items found on 1650 manuscript pages, produced in 47 hands. The collection is a key resource for many of the most well-known 17th- and 18th-century Gaelic poets such as Iain Lom MacDonald, Màiri nighean Alasdair Ruaidh and Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair.
It is a diverse collection, including but not limited to, satire, battle-poetry and Ossianic ballads from Highland Scotland and also from Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Dr Innes said: “It has long been known that James McLagan had an extraordinary career and that the collection of mainly Gaelic materials amassed by him are a remarkable asset for understanding eighteenth-century Scotland.
“James MacPherson’s Ossian publications and ensuing scandal are often seen as having given rise to the birth of Gaelic folklore collecting in Scotland. Yet McLagan collected before the 1750s and indeed supplied MacPherson with material. Indeed consideration of the Gaelic song and poetry collected by McLagan gives us further insight into Scotland’s Gaelic literary canon as we have it today.”