Three Men and Their Gaelic Manuscripts in Kintyre, 1690-1698

Danielle Fatzinger (she/her) is a final year PhD researcher in Celtic & Gaelic at the University of Glasgow. She received her BA in English with a focus on writing and media from McDaniel College in Maryland, USA, before acquiring her MLitt in Celtic Studies from the University of Glasgow. Her research centres on the four Gaelic manuscripts of Eoghan MacGilleoin, written 1690-1698, and their contents and context. She is a proponent of interdisciplinarity in research, so she takes both literary and historical approaches, utilising thematic analysis and close-reading of texts alongside consolidating and interpreting archival resources. Particular topics of interest within her PhD research are matters of identity, language, literary transmission, and community connections within a period of significant social, cultural, and political change in Scotland.

You may contact her on Twitter @bonniecelt or LinkedIn and learn more about her on her website.

In the last decade of the seventeenth-century in Kintyre, Argyll, Scotland, three men produced the only known surviving Gaelic manuscripts from the area. These men were Eoghan MacGilleoin (Hugh MacLean) and his patrons, minister Lachlan Campbell and Colonel Colin Campbell of the Campbells of Kilberry. These manuscripts contain the earliest and in some cases the only Scottish copy of multiple prose tales and poems, and some of the poetry is unattested elsewhere.

The manuscripts are

  • National Library of Scotland (NLS), Adv.MS.72.1.36 – written for Col. Colin Campbell, 1690-1691.
  • Trinity College Dublin (TCD), MS 1362 – written for Col. Colin Campbell, 1691-1692.
  • National Library of Scotland (NLS), MS.14873 – 1692-1698
  • Trinity College Dublin (TCD), MS 1307 – written for Mr Lachlan Campbell, October 1698


Map of Argyll with Kintyre highlighted centre
Argyll with Kintyre highlighted centre
User:Hogweard, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My research into these manuscripts, their scribe, and his patrons focuses on answering larger questions of context to build upon the when, where, and basics of who: the what, the why, and the specifics of the who.

Who are Eoghan MacGilleoin, Mr Lachlan Campbell, and Col. Colin Campbell, and who are their families and connections?

What texts are contained in the manuscripts, what themes are present in those texts, and what were the events surrounding the manuscripts’ production?

Why did these men choose to engage in manuscript production, and why did they choose the specific texts contained within the manuscripts?


Eoghan MacGilleoin

MacGilleoin is also known as Hugh Maclean. His kinship relations are not known. We do know, however, that he was a schoolmaster in Kilchenzie in Kintyre around 1697-1699. He was also a correspondent of the Welsh antiquarian and Celtic scholar Edward Lhuyd, and seems to have been known for his abilities with written Gaelic. My research is the first to delve into MacGilleoin’s work as a scribe and place his scribal abilities within the cultural and linguistic context.

Map of Kintyre marking Kilberry, Muasdale, Belloch, Cleongart, Putechantuy, Kilchenzie, and Campbeltown.
Map of Kintyre marking Kilberry, Muasdale, Belloch, Cleongart, Putechantuy, Kilchenzie, and Campbeltown.

Mr Lachlan Campbell

Lachlan (1675-1708) was the son of John Campbell of Kildalloig (near Campbeltown). He began attending the University of Glasgow in 1690-1691, was minister of the Gaelic-speaking congregation in Campbeltown from 1703-1707, and was a minister in Dublin in 1707-1708. He was a correspondent of Edward Lhuyd and fellow minister, University of Glasgow librarian, and ecclesiastical historian Robert Wodrow. Although Lachlan has been considered by scholars in relation to Lhuyd and Wodrow, my research is the first to explore in-depth what Lachlan’s letters reveal about his relationship with the written Gaelic language and his motivations for wanting TCD 1307.

Col Colin Campbell

The identity of MacGilleoin’s patron ‘Colin Campbell’ was suggested but not fully confirmed or explored when I began my research, and my research confirmed his identity and established details of his life from archival records.

Colin was the brother of the 6th laird of Kilberry. He received tacks, or leases, for land in Kintyre in 1691 (Belloch) at the same time as his father, brother, and uncle (Muasdale, Cleongart, Putechantuy). After his father’s death in 1693, he took over the tack for Cleongart in 1694. Colin joined the Fourth Troop of Horse (or Life) Guards in 1708 under the Duke of Argyll, where he served until his death in 1714. Among the Campbell of Kilberry estate papers in the Live Argyll Archive are a group of letters known as the Berners Letters: 30 out of 64 letters survive, with most of them being to and from Catherine Bokenham, Lady Berners, Colin’s English great-aunt. Some of the surviving letters are from Catherine to Colin and others to Colin’s brother. These reveal some details of Colin’s life, such as his being stationed in England, the date of his death, the story behind his father’s birth, and his participation in the War of Spanish Succession.


Of the four manuscripts, NLS 72.1.36 has the greatest number and most diversity of texts.

TCD 1362


  • Táin Bó Cúailnge
  • Cath Ruis na Ríg
  • Oidheadh Con Culainn

NLS 14873


  • Táin Bó Cúailnge
  • Cath Ruis na Ríogh for Boinn
  • Cernach Ui Dhomhnaill
  • Murchadh mac Briain & an Díthreabhach

TCD 1307

Metrical Glossaries (vocabularies in the form of poems)

  • Forus Focal (knowledge of words)
  • Deirbhsiur (sister)

NLS 72.1.36

Poetry Prose Other
– Ni me tenga lem let
– Triath na nGaoidheal Giolla Espag
– Rug eadrain ar iath nAlban
– Bregach sin, a bhen
– Go mbenuigh Dia in tighe ’s a mhuinter
– Na maoi h’uaisle oruim fein
– Innis disi giodh be me
– Soraidh slan don aoidhche reir
– Mairg ni uaill as óige
– Súd í in tshlatog mheduigh m’aicid
– Is fuath liom óinsach gan óiran
– Ni bfuigheadh misi bas duit
– A dhuine, cuimnigh an bas
– Is maith mo leaba, is olc mo shuain
– Innis disi giodh be me
– Bruighion Bheg na hAlmhain
– Bruighion Chéisi Coruin
– An Ceithearnach (O Domhnullan)
– Murchadh Mac Brian 7 an Dirioch
– Eachtra Chonaill Ghuilban
– Sgéala Muicce Mhic Dá Thó

– Lay of the Heads
– Lay of Dearg
– 2 Proverbial Quatrains
– 11 Single Stanzas

The orthography here is from the manuscripts.

As part of my research, I completed a thematic analysis of the manuscripts for Colin: NLS 72.1.36 and TCD 1362. This allowed me to consider the manuscripts as a whole within a limited period of time and a limited thesis word count. The themes of the texts I identified are:

  • Religion
  • (Christian) Death / Afterlife
  • Body – Impermanence
  • Praise of God
  • Nature – Providing
  • Jesus / Crucifixion
  • Virgin Mary
  • Blessing
  • Women
  • Boasting Woman
  • Deceptive Women
  • Supernatural Women
  • Foolish/Difficult Women
  • Physical / Body
  • Love
  • Sexuality / Pleasure
  • Warriors
  • Battle
  • Pursuit/Rescue
  • Valour
  • Morality
  • Danger of Sexuality / Lust
  • Danger of Pride
  • Responsible Drinking
  • Patience / Restraint

There are also allusions to other Gaelic literature and heroes.


It is difficult to answer the question of the men’s motivations. Eoghan MacGilleoin seems to have been involved in Gaelic literary culture, and his production of these manuscripts were likely not to have been his only work, although they are all that survive.

Col Colin Campbell’s motivations are also difficult to pin down, because nothing written by him survives. The timing of the manuscripts provide a clue to possible motivations, however. In 1690, with William and Mary taking the throne, the Clan Campbell was restored to estates and power that they had lost after the Earl of Argyll’s failed rebellion in 1685. The manuscripts were written shortly after this, and around the time that Colin became a tacksman. Patronising manuscript production may have been a way to demonstrate his position and renewed wealth, as it was historically the elites that were able to offer patronage to scribes and poets.

It is easier to identify probable motivations for Mr Lachlan Campbell. His views on Gaelic and his relationship with written Gaelic are the subject of his letters to Edward Lhuyd and some of his letters to Robert Wodrow, which means we have some of his opinions and reasonings survive. His motivations are related to history, his family, personal interest, and religion.

  • History – He knew that there was a rich intellectual culture in Ireland, and he thought that older Gaelic texts were one way that could be accessed, although he was not sure what exactly he might learn.
  • Family – His family were Gaelic-speaking, and many members of his family were learned ministers. Some of them were involved in the translation of religious texts into Gaelic. His interest in the written language might, then, have been tied to one day participating in this family legacy.
  • Personal Interest – He writes of the loving the language, and he created his own vocabulary of the most difficult words he came across.
  • Religion – In addition to his family’s religiosity, Lachlan wrote that he saw knowledge of Gaelic as necessary for the ministry in Argyll, due to the number of Gaelic-speakers.

It is easiest to answer the question of why I have chosen to engage in this research. Besides a personal interest in Scotland and the history of Gaelic Scotland, I pursued this research because it was a clear gap in existing scholarship. Lachlan has been discussed individually in relation to other individuals, and MacGilleoin has been discussed as a scribe in relation to individual texts. However, MacGilleoin, Lachlan, and Colin have not yet been explored in depth in relation to all of their manuscripts, and the manuscripts have not yet been considered as a whole, but rather when considering individual texts. My research fills this gap. It considers MacGilleoin’s scribal abilities in their cultural and linguistic context. It explores Lachlan’s letters for his motivations, thoughts about Gaelic, and connections. It establishes the identity of Colin Campbell and key details of his life. It provides details on the manuscripts’ place within the wider context of Gaelic manuscript production, highlighting these manuscripts’ importance within the surviving corpus. And it highlights some of the individual texts, noting peculiarities and key poems or groups of poems ready for further research. It is a key and very important step for giving MacGilleoin and his manuscripts the place they deserve in Celtic and Gaelic scholarship.