A brief history of the SGTS

Founded in April 1934, the Society published its first volume, Scottish Verse from the Book of the Dean of Lismore in 1937. This edition by Professor William J. Watson set the standards of scholarship for later publications, and like many SGTS volumes to come became a standard textbook for students of Gaelic in universities and schools.

World War II interrupted publication work but in June 1947 the Society was formally reconstituted and in 1952 pubished its fourth volume, The Songs of Duncan Ban MacIntyre edited by Angus MacLeod. This proved so successful that a reprint was necessary in the 1970s.

In 1996 the Society launched a parallel paperback New Series with the publication of Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair: Selected Poems, edited by Professor Derick S. Thomson. The second volume in this series, Màiri Mhòr nan Òran edited by Professor Donald E. Meek, was the Society’s first volume entirely in Gaelic.

To date (2017), 28 volumes have been published, the most recent being Laoidhean Spioradail Dhùghaill Bhochanain, edited by Professor Meek, and Còmhraidhean nan Cnoc: the Nineteenth-Century Gaelic prose dialogue, edited by Dr Sheila M. Kidd.

(For a fuller history, see below.)


A History of the SGTS

The formation of the Society jn 1934 attracted quite a satisfactory measure of interest and response at the time and the Society was able to publish its first volume in 1937. This was Scottish Verse from the Book of the Dean of Lismore, edited appropriately enough by Professor William J. Watson himself. It may seem to some a slow beginning, in the circumstances, to take three years to produce the first publication, but this interval is a useful reminder of what work for the Society can mean for its editors. Its first book represented the better part of a lifetime of study by an eminent scholar, and, as the first publication of the new Society, it could not have been bettered. It was concerned, as Watson himself had said in his inaugural address, with the virtual beginnings of recoverable Gaelic literature in Scotland, and it set standards of scholarship for the later publications of the Society which have been salutary and beneficial. The book became at once a standard textbook for students of Gaelic in university departments and schools. In addition to the full edition the Society also issued at the same time an edition of the Gaelic text only, without notes and for particular use in schools. The issue of such school editions of texts, when suitable, was a feature of the publication programme of the Society until 1964, when the practice was abandoned, mainly because schools seemed to prefer the full edition.

Before the Second World War the Society published two more volumes, both in 1939. Its second publication, The Songs of John MacCodrum, was edited by the late Mr William Matheson, for many years Hon. President of the Society, and has been out of print since 1965. The third publication, Heroic Poetry from the Book of the Dean of Lismore, was edited by the Rev. Dr Neil Ross, and did not actually appear until some time after war had broken out. It has been out of print since 1967. Revisions of both these works are currently in progress.

Understandably, the Second World War caused a complete cessation of the Society’s publishing programme, and its activities virtually ceased for six years, being revived again in late 1946. In June 1947 the Society was formally reconstituted, with Professor William J. Watson as Honorary President. Its first postwar publication and the fourth in its series appeared in 1952: The Songs of Duncan Ban MacIntyre, edited by Angus MacLeod, Headmaster of Oban High School. This book turned out to be a much lengthier and more expensive publication than the Society had anticipated, but it sold well and had to be reprinted in 1978.

Thereafter the publishing activities of the Society were resumed from 1947 on in a steady flow right up to the present day, with plenty more still to come in due course in fulfilment of its original and abiding purpose. In 1996 a parallel paperback series was launched with the publication of Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair: Selected Poems, edited by Professor D. S. Thomson. The aim of the New Series is to provide selections from the work of individual writers, or complete texts where only a small body of work survives, or a miscellany of items, and the texts will have introductory discussions, notes and glossaries where appropriate, but not full translations. The second volume in this series, a new edition of Professor Donald E. Meek’s 1977 volume on the work of the Skye poet, Màiri Mhòr nan Oran, appeared in 1999, and was the first SGTS volume edited entirely in Gaelic.

Since the founding of the Society in 1934 twenty-eight volumes have been published at time of writing (2017). In addition, there has been a certain amount of reprinting of books already published and rebindings of sheet stock. Analysis of the subject-matter so far covered shows nineteen volumes in the field of poetry compared to nine in the field of prose, which is as might be expected. In present circumstances the choice of subject matter for publication is an issue decided to a large extent by the editors available and willing. As might also be expected, the emphasis for a long time was on the 16th to 18th centuries; there have however been volumes dedicated to twentieth-century work, such as the songs and poetry of Donald MacIntyre or the modern prose writings of Donald MacKinnon, Donald Lamont, Kenneth MacLeod and Thomas Murchison; and the profile of nineteenth-century literature (oral and written) in the SGTS’s publications has also been rising.