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Collection of Professor Donald Mackinnon

Identifier: Coll-98

Scope and Contents

The collection of Professor Donald Mackinnon includes lecture notes on the Gaelic language and culture, copies of Gaelic songs and poetry, religious texts such as hymns and sermons, fragments of medieval manuscripts, newspaper clippings, and photographs. As the first Chair in Celtic at the University of Edinburgh, Professor Mackinnon was very diligent in his work to document and share Gaelic language, literature, and history. The collection not only includes primary and secondary sources, it also provides insight into the scholarly perspective on Scottish history and culture during the Victorian era and early 20th century, a crucial time in the development of the political system of the nation-state, and in the development of academic study. Many of the items, especially the primary sources, give insight into the religious and political nature of Gaelic Scotland during the period 18th – early 20th century, including the development of religious works and the translation of the Bible to Scottish Gaelic.

Some of the most important items in the collection would include:

  1. Medical manuscripts (especially important given the recent news of the discovery of Irish text in the Ibn S͏īna manuscript).
  2. Collection of religious texts and linguistic notes by Reverend John Smith, dating from c. 1810.
  3. Collection of religious texts, including sermons, hymns, and catechisms, that would have been used by speakers of Gaelic in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  4. Collection of songs (including ballads), prose and poetry from the 18th and 19th centuries.


  • Creation: 15th-19th century


Language of Materials

English, Gaelic

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Please contact the repository in advance.

Biographical / Historical

Donald Mackinnon was born in Kilchattan on Colonsay, in the Hebrides, on 18 April 1839. He was educated locally and then later, from the age of eighteen, at the Church of Scotland Training College, Edinburgh, which was a popular route to studying at Edinburgh University. Between 1860 and 1863 he was engaged as a school-teacher in Lochinver, Sutherlandshire, where he made a close study of the dialects and literature of the North Highlands. Mackinnon studied at Edinburgh University where he obtained the degree of M.A. in 1870. Earlier, in 1869, he had become Clerk to the Church of Scotland's Educational Scheme, and in 1872 he was Clerk to the Endowed Schools and Hospitals Commission. After the passing of the Education Act, and on the formation of the School Board of Edinburgh, Mackinnon was appointed as its first Clerk and Treasurer. This was a difficult time to hold such a position because Scottish Education was in the transition stage from control by the Churches to control by elected bodies. In 1882, he became the first Professor of Celtic at Edinburgh University, and he held the chair until 1914. His experience and acquaintance with the North Highlands served him in his capacity as member of the Crofters Royal Commission chaired by Lord Napier in 1883. Mackinnon's contribution to the Commission's Report was impressive enough to speed up subsequent legislation for the improvement of conditions for Scotland's crofters. Among his publications were theReading book for the use of students of the Gaelic class at Edinburgh University(1889), andOn the dialects of Scottish Gaelic. Professor Donald Mackinnon died in Balnahard on Colonsay on 25 December 1914.


28 boxes

Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H28; Another important finding aid is the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. Additions to the typed slips in sheaf binders were made until 1987.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers of Professor Donald Mackinnon were presented to by Miss K. Mackinnon in 1948. Some of the collection was presented to the Library in 1924 by Dr. Roger MacNeill, Medical Officer for Health for Argyll.

Related Materials

The Index to Manuscripts shows, at various shelfmarks, references to letters of, and letters to, Professor Mackinnon.

Processing Information

Original top-level description created by Graeme Eddie; updated top-level description and rest of the catalogue created in 2019 by Charles Wilson under the supervision of Aline Brodin. Placement funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Collection of Professor Donald Mackinnon (1839-1914)
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379