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Metadata for text 91
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Title Gaelic Names of Plants (Scottish and Irish): Collected and Arranged in Scientific Order, with Notes on their Etymology, their Uses, Plant Superstitions, etc., Among the Celts, with Copious Gaelic, English, and Scientific Indices
Author Cameron, John
Editor N/A
Date Of Edition 1883
Date Of Language 1850-1899
Publisher William Blackwood and Sons
Place Published Edinburgh and London
Volume N/A
Location National, academic, and local libraries (reference only)
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Various
Register Education, Prose
Alternative Author Name 23.1cm x 15cm
Manuscript Or Edition Ed. A revised and enlarged edition of this work was published in 1900. Editors should check forms against those in the second edition whenever appropriate.
Size And Condition 23.1cm x 15cm
Short Title Gaelic Names of Plants
Reference Details EUL, Celtic Library: LAG CAM
Number Of Pages ix, 130, followed by a 24 page catalogue from the publisher
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Cameron is styled ‘John Cameron, Sunderland’ on the title-page of this volume, and the List of Subscribers (pp. xiii-xv) contains the names of a number of subscribers from Sunderland and NE England in general. Beyond that fact, and the deduction that he had been happily married but was a widower by 1900 (see 2nd edition, Dedication, p. v), nothing has so far been discovered about Cameron. ‘Angus Campbell, Blair-Atholl’, who subscribed for two copies of this work, may have been a relation, and this in turn may offer a clue to Cameron’s place of origin. There are other hints of a Perthshire orientation in the work as a whole.

In the Preface, Cameron records that this volume arose out of a series of articles which were published in the Scottish Naturalist, and that these are being republished ‘at the request of many who wish to have them in a more convenient form’ (p. vii). While he accepts that such a work will be of use to few people, he believes it worth publishing as ‘no book exists containing a complete catalogue of Gaelic names of plants’ (p. vii). He also stresses the importance of collecting such terminology while it is ‘still used in the spoken Gaelic of Scotland and Ireland’ (p. vii), and it was for this reason that Cameron undertook the collection of plant terminology, at the request of Dr Buchanan White, editor of the Scottish Naturalist.

Cameron spent nearly ten years searching vocabularies in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, trying to ‘bring into order the confusion to which these names have been reduced partly by the carelessnesss of the compilers of Dictionaries, and frequently by their botanical ignorance’ (p. vii). He also spent a lot of time with Gaelic speakers, in order to clarify names and to collect unrecorded names. He notes that ‘it soon became evident that no collection would be of any value unless the Irish-Gaelic names were incorporated’ (p. viii), and he states that ‘when the lists supplied by Alexander M‘Donald (Mac-Mhaighster-Alastair), published in his vocabulary in 1741, are examined, they are found to correspond with those in much older vocabularies published in Ireland. The same remark applies, with a few exceptions, to the names of plants in Gaelic supplied by the Rev. Mr Stewart of Killin, given in Lightfoot’s ‘Flora Scotica.’’ (p. viii). The Irish Gaelic names are thus given alongside the Scottish Gaelic names.

Cameron also proposes that ‘Celts named plants often from (1), their uses; (2), their appearance; (3), their habitats; (4) their superstitious associations, &c.’ (pp. viii-ix), and claims that with this knowledge, he was often able to determine which plants were associated with which terms. A number of Welsh terms are also given ‘For the sake of comparison’ (p. ix). Cameron acknowledges the help of a number of people with this work, in particular the Rev. A. Stewart, Nether Lochaber, the Very Rev. Canon Bourke, Claremorris, and Mr. V. Brockie.
Contents This volume begins with a Preface (pp. vii-ix), for which see Social Context above.

The main body of the text comprises a large section entitled The Gaelic Names of Plants (pp. 1-120). Names of plants are given under different sections, and are ordered by tribe, e.g. Ranunculaceae and Loranthaceae, according to the standard order of botanical classification. The headword is the Latin name of the plant, given in bold type. It is followed by the name(s) in English and Gaelic. Irish and Welsh equivalents are usually given, and sometimes equivalents in other languages, e.g. Egyptian and Scots. Where more than one Gaelic name is known to the author, all are supplied.

Additional is given at the end of entries, where available. This can relate to etymology; the uses of the plant, e.g. the juice of the corn-rose as a sedative for children (p. 4); and other general information, including superstitions. Cameron often provides quotations from the literature to illustrate the use of particular terms. For example, the Gaelic names for Sinapis arvensis ‘wild mustard’ include mustard, which Cameron illustrates with the quotation: Mar ghrainne de shìol mustaird (p. 7).

Cameron occasionally refers to other dictionaries, e.g. those compiled by Shaw and Armstrong, for meanings or for information about plants. Although he refers to numerous authorities, Cameron usually refers to them by surname only. The footnotes do not supply bibliographical references either, and there is no Bibliography. In some instances, Cameron refers to particular informants. For example, the only Gaelic name he gives for ‘White dryas’ is machall monaidh. Here he records that ‘The name was given by an old man in Killin from a specimen from Ben Lawers in 1870’ (p. 19).

There follows an Appendix (pp. 105-09) containing a list of ‘Additional Gaelic Names’. The author explains that ‘These names were either unintentionally omitted, or did not come under my observation until too late for insertion in their proper botanical order’ (p. 105). Headwords are given in bold in Gaelic, followed by the Latin (i.e. scientific) name in brackets. The English equivalent is then usually given, along with any etymological or other information. The following entry (on p. 105) may serve as an illustration: ‘Biodh an ’t sionaidh (Sedum anglicum). (Sionaidh, a prince, a lord, chief; biodh food.) From the name it is evident that the plant was formerly eaten, and considered a delicacy.’ Where items have a place within the main body of names, the relevant page number is given. The Appendix is followed by Notes on entries in the main text (pp. 109-20).

The volume ends with an Index (pp. 121-30), which includes both an index of ‘Gaelic Names’ (pp. 121-26) and an index of ‘English and Scientific’ names (pp. 126-30). As the plants are presented in scientific rather than alphabetical order, the index is useful in order to find specific plants by their Gaelic or English names.
Sources This volume has been compiled on the basis of a series of articles published in the Scottish Naturalist over a period of four years prior to its publication.
Language This volume is a useful source of words for plants and information about their uses. Most, if not all, of Cameron’s Gaelic terms for plants can be found in Dwelly, who acknowledges Cameron as a source. However, Cameron also gives etymology, cognates and equivalents in Irish, Manx and Welsh, quotations in which plant-names are used, information on the uses of the plants, and other additional information, as, for example, when they are associated with a particular clan. For example, we are told, regarding Pyrus malus ‘apple tree’, that the term cuairt[e]agan was used for ‘crab apples’. Cameron then quotes ‘M‘Intyre’ (Donnchadh Bàn): ‘’San m’an Ruadh-aisrigh ah’fhas [sic] na cuairtagan’ (p. 23). He also tells us that ‘This plant is the badge of the Clan Lamont’. Regarding Allium ursinum ‘wild garlic’, he records that Feisd chreamh, the ‘feast of garlic’, was ‘an important occasion for gatherings and social enjoyment to the ancient Celts’ (p. 79). Such information requires to be checked in other sources. Spellings should also be compared with those found elsewhere: e.g. Dwelly notes that Glaodhran (p. 107 of this volume) can also be spelt Gleadhran.

The entries are fairly easy to follow, although some of the longer entries require careful reading to determine the relationship between the words associated with the plant in question, and the credibility of each item of information given. For example, an entry on p. 78 reads:

A[llium] cepa (cep, Gaelic: ceap, a head) — The onion. Gaelic: uinnean. Irish: oinninn. Welsh: wynwyn. French: oignon. German: önjön. Latin: unio. Gaelic: siobaid, siobann. Welsh: sibol. Scotch: sybo. German: zwiebel, scallions or young onions. Cutharlan, a bulbous plant. In Lorne, and elsewhere along the W. Highlands, frequently called Srònamh (probably from Sròn and amh, raw in the nose, or pungent in the nose).

An entry on p. 4 reads:

Papaver rhœas — Poppy. Gaelic: meilbheag, sometimes beilbheag, a little pestle (to which the capsule has some resemblance).
“Le meilbheag, le noinean, ’s le slan-lus.”—M‘LEOD.
With a poppy, daisy, and rib-grass.
Fothros, corn-rose,—from ioth (Irish), corn; ros, rose. Cromlus, bent weed. Paipean ruadh,—ruadh, red, and paipean a corruption of papaver, from papa, pap, or pappo, to eat of pap. The juice was formerly put into children’s food to make them sleep. Welsh: pabi.
Edition First edition. The second edition (see above) integrates the words in the Appendix of this edition into the main text, corrects many (but not all) spelling mistakes, sharpens some definitions and adds some fresh information. As indicated previously, editors should check forms against those in the second edition whenever appropriate.
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