The Skye based Gaelic Medium College, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, a partner institution within the newly designated UHI Millennium Institute of Higher Education, today announced its success in acquiring what is arguably one of the finest collections of Antiquarian Gaelic and Highland related books in existence.
The "MacCormaig Collection", the lifetime's work of the pre-eminent antiquarian bookseller and collector, Donald MacCormick, has been brought to Sabhal Mor following a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund with further assistance from the Dunfermline Building Society and UHI's own strategic development fund. This outstanding collection, totalling in excess of 1800 volumes, is in excellent condition and covers an impressive range of subject matter from the 17th,18thand 19th Centuries.
The excessive rarity of the collection can not be over-emphasised and many of the items are previously unrecorded. The Collection contains volumes which are not even to be found in the National Library of Scotland with numerous first editions which would be in high demand by collectors and include Queen Victoria's copy of "Carmina Gadelica", Andrew Carnegie's copy of "Sar-Obair nam Bard Gealach" and Martin Martin's "Description of the Western Islands of Scotland", 1703.
UHI Chief Executive Prof. Alasdair MacFarlane said today, "This magnificent Collection, when added to the previously acquired Celtica Collection, creates at Sabhal Mor Ostaig a resource of immense national and international significance, both in Academic Research and Cultural Heritage terms."
Commenting on the grant, the Heritage Lottery Fund's Manager for Scotland, Colin MacLean said, "Language provides a marvellous insight to a country's history and culture. In Scotland, we have a colourful diversity of language that allows us a glimpse at how ordinary people lived over the centuries. At the Heritage Lottery Fund, we recognise how important it is not only to protect and treasure this aspect of our cultural heritage, but also to make it accessible to everyone. Over the last year, we have been able to help make available to the people of Scotland, the Celtica Collection, which will be housed alongside this new acquisition, and the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue. The MacCormaig Collection is unique and of immense significance to the heritage of the Highlands and Islands so we are delighted to be able to give it our full support. It is particularly timely that this is the first HLF grant of 2001, the European Year of Languages, a year dedicated to celebrating linguistic diversity and increasing the awareness of the richness of Europe's languages".
Hugh Cheape, Curator of Scottish Collections at the National Museum of Scotland and a member of the panel of experts advising Donald MacCormick on the Collection's disposal said, "Sabhal Mor is best placed to offer the physical setting and the cultural context as well as the proper stewardship for this Collection. A high quality library,with professional management, supervision, environmental controls and security, already offers first class study and research facilities and the placing of the Collection there is congruent with a proper aspiration for a high status research centre for the Highlands and Islands. It is a national ambition to place within the Gaidhealtachd, the definitive collection of printed and published works in the Gaelic of Scotland, an ambition which in past generations would have seemed unrealistic and unattainable. The Collection will strengthen resolve to carry this process forward and further build the self-confidence and esteem of the Gaelic community"
Dr James Hunter, distinguished author, Historian and Chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, in recognising the importance of this initiative said today, "Bringing the MacCormaig Collection to Sabhal Mor Ostaig represents a very major breakthrough in reversing the trends of the past whereby virtually all of this vitally important material was inevitably removed to the metropolitan centres leaving these communities bereft of this crucial educational and intellectual resource.Sabhal Mor has shown how this outward flow can be reversed and when added to the resource that already exists at the College and the nearby Clan Donald Centre it creates within the Gaidhealtachd an internationally significant centre for study and research"
Such a high profile Special Collection represents an invaluable addition to Sabhal Mor Ostaig's resources providing a world class research centre for Celtic and related studies. The College's Head Librarian, Christine Cain, in recognising the uniqueness of the collection said, "Many of the volumes in the collection offer the opportunity to create exhibitions around them and this, along with a programme of digitisation, will ensure that we can maximise public access to them world -wide at the same time as conserving them for future generations."
The Collection, the result of many years of dedicated work by MacCormick, could not be replaced, not only because of the rarity of the material, but also because of the depth of knowledge and the time and expertise which it has taken to assemble it. It is widely recognised by experts in this field that MacCormick could have made a great deal more money by breaking up the Collection for sale but it was his firmly held view that he wanted to maintain the Collection's integrity and ensure that it could be properly placed within the Gaidhealtachd to, be enjoyed by future generations.
Minister for Highlands and Islands and Gaelic, Alasdair Morrison MSP, welcomed today's announcement saying, "I am delighted that this unique collection, with which I am personally familiar is to take its rightful place in the heart of the Gaidhealtachd and I pay tribute to Domhnall MacCormaig for his lifetime's work in creating such a rich resource and, in particular, for his determination to see it placed in perpetuity within the community of the Highlands and Islands"
As part of the purchase package, Donald MacCormick has agreed to continue his links with the Collection through sourcing future acquisitions on behalf of Sabhal Mor. This has been greatly welcomed by the College with Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr Farquhar MacIntosh today saying, "To have acquired this marvellous collection for the college is one thing but to also have the opportunity to add to it through the expertise and knowledge of Domhnall MacCormaig himself is a tremendous bonus for us all. The Collection, when added to the expanding critical mass of activity now centred around Sabhal Mor and its related projects and developments, affirms the great progress that is being made towards the creation of an international centre of excellence for the study of the Gaelic language and culture"