Reference Number188
Title(1) Sailm Dhaibhidh A Meadar Dhàna Gaoidheilg, Do rèir na Heabhra Agus na translàsioin is fearr a Mbéarla agus a Nlaidin, do thionnsgnadh le Seanadh Earraghaoidheal san Bhliadhna 1659, agus anois air a ntabhairt gu crích, do chum gu dèanta an seinn a Neaglaisaibh agus a dteaghlachaibh a ghnáthuigheas an chánamhain sin. (2) Foirceadul Aithghear Cheasnuighe, ar ttùs ar na òrdughadh le Coimhthionol na ndiàghaireadh aig Niàrmhainister an Sasgan.
AuthorN/A (Translated work)
Date Of Edition1694
Date Of Languagemid and late 17c
Date Of Language Ed17th c.
DateMacro17th c.
Date Of Language Notes
PublisherThe Heirs of Andrew Anderson (‘le Oighreachaibh Aindra Ainderson’)
Place PublishedEdinburgh (a Ndùn-Edin)
Geographical OriginsVarious
Geographical Origins EdVarious
Geographical Origins Notes
Register(1) Literature, Verse (Religious) (2) Literature, Prose (Religious)
Register EdReligion, Prose and Verse
MediumProse & Verse
Contains (1) the Psalms of David and (2) the Shorter Catechism followed by the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.
Psalms 1-50 first published in 1659, Psalms 51-150 newly translated.
The Shorter Catechism first published in early 1650s (no copy extant), first published along with Psalms 1-50 in 1659.
Successive translations, revisions and editions of the Psalms and Catechism represent landmarks in the representation of vernacular Scottish Gaelic and the emergence of Modern Scottish Gaelic orthography.
Alternative Author NameN/A
Manuscript Or EditionEd.
Size And Condition13cm x 7cm
Short TitleSailm Dhaibhidh
Reference DetailsNLS: F.7.g.8(1)
Number Of Pages(1) [6] + 275
(2) 33
Gaelic Text By(Teams of ministers appointed by the Synod of Argyll)
Social ContextThe following account is heavily indebted to MacTavish (1934), to which work editors should refer for further details.

The 1659 edition
In 1653 the Synod of Argyll began discussions on a Gaelic translation of the Psalms. In 1655 they appointed six ministers to translate the first eighty psalms, the work to be completed by May 1656. The first two translators were Ewen Cameron, who was to translate the first twenty psalms, and Dugald Campbell, who was to translate the second twenty. Although more translators were enlisted, and the number of psalms to be translated was increased, by 1657 the work was still incomplete. The first fifty psalms were finally completed by Dugald Campbell, John Stewart (minister of Kingarth), and Alexander MacLaine (minister of Strachur and Strathlachlan), and, after revision, their translations were approved by the Synod. The first fifty psalms were finally published in 1659, along with the second edition of the shorter catechism (first published in 1653). 1,200 copies were published under the title An ceud chaogad do Shalmaibh Dhaibhidh, air a dtarring as an Eabhra, a Meadar Dhana Gaoidhlig, le Seanadh Earraghaoidheal. Neoch a dorduigh an Seinm a Neaglaisaibh, agus a Dteaghlichaibh, a Ghnathuigheas an Chanamhain sin is na Criochaibh ceudna. The publication details read Do chuireadh so a gclo a Nglasgo, le Aindra Ainderson, Mbliadhanna ar Dtighearna, 1659. At the time of publication, the Synod had already appointed a number of ministers to undertake the work of translating the remaining one hundred psalms, including Dugald Campbell, John Stewart, and Alexander MacLaine. When Campbell died in 1673, the work was still unfinished, although MacTavish believed that ‘it is probable that he and his son Duncan, who was outed in 1662, had largely completed the translation of the rest of the Psalms’ (p. xii).

The Shorter Catechism
The third edition of the Shorter Catechism, plus the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed, was appended to this volume. The first edition of the Shorter Catechism had been published in 1653, but there is no extant copy of this text. The second edition of the Shorter Catechism and the associated short texts appeared in 1659, bound up with the edition of the first fifty psalms referred to above. A copy of the 1659 Shorter Catechism and the associated short texts was printed in Adtimchiol an Chreidimh, i.e. Thomson (1962); see pp. 231-50.

As has been established by Thomson and other linguistic historians, the early versions of the Psalms and the Shorter Catechism provide important insights into the development of Scottish Gaelic as a written and spoken language. Editors should be prepared, in this exceptional context, to cite from either the 1659 or the 1694 edition – or indeed from both. Of the many subsequent versions and editions of the Psalms and the Shorter Catechism, the following are the most significant in terms of linguistic history; they too may usefully be consulted and have their readings quoted on occasion.

Editions of the Psalms: (1) Kirk’s edition, 1684
In 1673, Robert Kirk, the Episcopalian minister of Balquhidder, applied to the Synod for permission to publish his own version of the Psalms. While this was granted, a panel of ministers was appointed to report on, and subsequently revise, the translation. Kirk’s edition of the Psalms was eventually published in 1684, under the title Psalma Dhaibhidh a nMeadrachd. Do reir na Pniomh-chanamain. The publication details read: Ar a ngur a ngclo a nDún-Edin le M. Sémus Kniblo, Iosua van Solingen agus Seón Colmar.

(2) The Synod of Argyll’s edition, 1694
Work on a new edition of the Psalms was re-commenced, under the aegis of the Synod of Argyll, in 1690. A copy of the existing translation was divided among the following scholars to be revised for the press: Neil Clark (minister of Strachur and Strathlachlan), Dugald Campbell (minister of Kilmartin), Duncan Campbell, John Maclaurin (minister of Kilmodan), and Robert Duncanson. The 1659 text of the first fifty psalms was revised but not substantially altered. The Synod obtained an Act of Council through the Commissioners of the General Assembly for the publication of the psalms, and they were finally published in 1694, under the title Sailm Dhaibhidh A Meadar Dhàna Gaoidheilg, Do rèir na Heabra: Agus na translàsioin is fearr a Mbéarla agus a Nlaidin, do thionnsgnadh le Seanadh Earraghaoidheal san bhliadhna 1659, agus a nois air an ntabhairt gu crích, do chum gu dèanta an seinm a Neaglaisaibh agus a dteaghlachaibh a ghnáthuigheas an chánamhain sin. The publisher’s name and the place of publication are given as follows: Do chuireadh so a ngclò a Ndùn-Edin le Oighreachaibh Aindra Ainderson a Mbliadhna ar Dtighearna 1694.

The 1694 edition was reprinted a number of times in the first half of the eighteenth century, with only minor orthographical changes. Thereafter, four significantly revised versions of the Psalms appeared in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: MacFarlane’s in 1753, Smith’s in 1787, Ross’s in 1807, and the General Assembly’s in 1826. The 1694 edition of the Psalms was re-issued in 1934 in Lochgilphead, with an historical introduction by Duncan C. MacTavish. The 1934 edition introduced some deliberate changes in the use of accents and removed some of the printer’s errors in the 1694 edition (see pp. xvii-xviii for details). MacTavish explains that one of his main objectives was to counteract the ‘exaggerated impression … of the extent of the alterations effected by the successive revisers’ (p. v), and to show that ‘the main credit for the versions of the Gaelic metrical Psalms at present in use … is due, not to the revisers, but to the seventeenth century Presbyterian ministers who were responsible for the original translation’ (p. vi).

(3) MacFarlane’s edition, 1753
In 1750, Alexander MacFarlane (who had published a translation of Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted earlier that year) approached the Synod with suggestions for the revision of the orthography used in the previous editions of the Psalms. This was agreed upon, but the final publication was delayed, firstly because MacFarlane wanted to see how his translation of Baxter’s work was viewed, and secondly because he was working on a Gaelic Grammar which he wanted to finish before beginning work on a new edition of the Psalms. His edition was finally published in 1753, under the title Sailm Dhaibhidh ann dan Gaoidhealach, do reir na Heabhra, Agus an eidir-theangachaidh a’s fearr ann Laidin, ann Gaoidheilg, ’s ann Gaillbhearla. \ Do thionnsgnadh le Seanadh Earra-Ghaoidheal s a’ bhliadhna 1659, agus do chriochnaigheadh s an 1694, r’an seinn ann eaglaisibh ’s ann teaghlaichibh Gaoidhealach. Agus, do ghlanadh anois o mhearachdaibh lionmhor clodh-bhualaidh, air iarrtas agus do reir seolaidh an tSeanaidh cheadna. Twenty one editions of MacFarlane’s translation were published between 1753 and 1821. In MacTavish’s estimation, ‘apart from the introduction of a revised and uniform system of orthography MacFarlane made comparatively few alterations in the text of the 1694 edition’ (p. xxi).

(4) Smith’s edition, 1787
A more substantially revised edition of the Psalms, by Dr. John Smith of Campbeltown, was published in 1787, under the title Sailm Dhaibhidh. Maille ri laoidhean o ’n Scrioptur Naomha; chum bhi air an seinn ann an aora’ Dhia. Air an leasachadh, agus air an cur amach do reir seolaidh, iartais, agus ughdarais Seanaidh Earra-ghaeil. Smith’s revisions were more extensive than MacFarlane’s; in particular, ‘all the North country words and Irishisms are thrown out, and the metre is suited to the West country dialect’ (quoted in MacTavish, p. xxi). The changes made by Smith sometimes had a ripple effect, inasmuch as the rephrasing of one line of verse often led to the rephrasing of the next few lines. MacTavish comments: ‘Despite the backing of the Synod of Argyll, which appears to have been given without any detailed examination of the alterations which were proposed, Smith’s version did not recommend itself to a considerable body of the people, who had become accustomed to the language of the older editions, and to whom, as their knowledge of the translation had been largely acquired orally, the revised orthography of MacFarlane’s edition had meant nothing.’

(5) Ross's edition, 1807
In 1807, a fresh revised edition was published by Dr. Thomas Ross, minister of Lochbroom. According to MacTavish, this edition was ‘practically a reissue of MacFarlane’s version in the same orthography as had been used in the recently issued Gaelic translation of the Bible’. This edition was entitled Sailm Dhaibhidh ann an dan Gaidhealach : do reir na Heabhra, agus an Eadar-Theangachaidh as fearr an Laidin, an Gaidhlig, s an Gaill-bheurla: do thionnsgnadh le Seanadh Earra-Ghaidheal sa Bhliadhna 1659, agus do chrìochnaicheadh san 1694, r’an seinn ann an Eaglaisibh ’s ann an Teaghlaichibh Gaidhealach: air an glanadh a nis o mhearachdaibh lìonmhor a Chlòdh-bhualaidh, agus air an atharrachadh, le ro bheag caochladh air na briathraibh, do rèir gnè sgrìobhaidh an t-seann Tiomnaidh agus an Tiomnaidh Nuaidh.

(6) The General Assembly edition, 1826
Both Ross’s and Smith’s editions were in use in 1826, when the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (through the agency of the S.S.P.C.K.) issued yet another edition, entitled Sailm Dhaibhidh, maille ri laoidhibh, air an tarruing o na Scrioptuiribh Naomha: chum bhi air an seinn an aorabh dhe \ air an leasachadh, agus air an cur a mach le h-ughdarras Ard-sheanaidh Eaglais na h-Alba. In MacTavish’s words (p. xxiii), this edition was intended to ‘unite the merits’ of Smith’s and Ross’s editions. But although the General Assembly wished this edition to supersede all previous editions, and ordered that it be used in all of their churches, ‘The publication of the General Assembly’s version has not been successful, and the position now, after the lapse of more than a century, is that, instead of superseding the two versions in use in 1826, it has merely taken its place as a third competing version’ (MacTavish, p. xxiv).
ContentsWhereas the 1659 edition contained only the first fifty psalms, the 1694 edition contains all 150 psalms. It also contains the Shorter Catechism and the three short texts – the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed – which had likewise accompanied the Psalms in 1659.

(Of the later editions, Kirk’s edition (1684) also included Caintic Shimeoin, Caintic le Sacharias, Caintic Mhuire and An Ghloir-bhriathar; MacFarlane’s edition (1753) also included 45 hymns, under the following heading: Laoidhe Eidir-theangaicht’ agus Eidir-Mhinicht’ o Chuimh-reannaibh Eagsamhail do ’n Scrioptur Naomhtha.)
LanguageThe language and spelling of the 1659 and 1694 editions vary only slightly, as a comparison of the opening lines of Psalm I shows.

Beannaigh an duine sin nach gluais
A ngcomhairl’ dhaoine daoi,
An ’slighe fhiar na mbpeacach bao
Na sheasamh fos nach bí,
A ngcathair fanoid luchd an spors’
Nach togair suidh gu brath.
Achd gabhail toil do naomhreachd De,
Ga smuaintiug~adh oidhch, is la.

Beannuight an duine sin nach gluais
A ngcomhairle na ndaoi,
An slighe fhiar na mbpeacach bao
Na sheasamh fos nach bí,
A ngathair fanoid luchd an spórs’
Nach togair suigh’ gu bráth.
Acht gabhail toil do naomhreachd Dé,
Ga smuaintiug~nadh oidhch’, is lá.

By comparison with the solidly Classical Gaelic forms and spellings of Calvin’s Catechism (1631: Text 190), the 1659 and 1694 texts show considerable attrition of the Classical language and unmistakeable hints of Scottish Gaelic traits, though the degree of grammatical and orthographic regularity attained during the course of the translation of the Old Testament and New Testament into Gaelic had not yet been achieved.For example, the preverbal particle do is used with independent verbs in the past tense, e.g. do bhuaileadh (1694, p. 141), sometimes even where Classical Gaelic would not have had do, e.g. do thug for Classical tug (1659, p. 75). The initial mutation of eclipsis is sometimes represented as in Classical Gaelic, e.g. na ndaoine (1659, p. 75), but the eclipsis of voiceless stops exhibits a hybrid form in which a combination of ‘Classical’ and ‘Scottish’ types of eclipsis appears to be indicated, e.g. na mbpeacach (1659, p. 7). The word order is sometimes convoluted due to the fact that the translations had to be fitted into the metrical framework of the English versions of the Psalms, and perhaps also because the English versions themselves often resorted to abnormal word order for metrical reasons.

In R. L. Thomson’s estimation, the Shorter Catechism was ‘the first printed text to exhibit unmistakably Scottish Gaelic characteristics’ (Thomson 1994, p. 37). In the Introduction to his edition of Calvin’s Catechism, Adtimchiol an Chreidimh (1962), Thomson describes the language of that Catechism, which was first published in Gaelic around 1630, as ‘early modern Irish with a few lapses into Scottish usage’. By contrast, in the language of the 1659 Shorter Catechism ‘divergences from Irish usage are so frequent as to assume the character of normality’ (1962, p. xxxv). He notes ‘a striking difference’ (ibid.) between the language employed in the translation of Calvin’s Catechism and that employed in the translation of the Shorter Catechism, which was first published less than thirty years later. See ‘The Language of the Shorter Catechism’ in Thomson, 1962, pp. xxxv-xxxvii.

The Introduction to the 1659 edition of the Psalms, headed ‘Do chum an Leghthora’, includes important statements on linguistic matters. First, the Gaelic translation had to be so worded as to enable it to be sung to non-Gaelic tunes: Gu bfedar na Sailmsa a chur ann sa ghne Meadrachd sin ata comhuighach, ano-sach don teangaidh Ghaoidhlig, chum gu biodh iad freagrach do na fonnaibh gallta (p. 4). Second, the Gaelic wording had to be as true as possible to the original Hebrew: Tuig fos gu budh dleas duinn leanmhuinn ris an cheud-chanamhain (iodhon an Eabhra) comhdhludh is a bfeidar linn, is uime sin do roghnaidh sinn na focail sin amhain is fearr no cheile thigeadh ris an adhbhar, agus is foigse don cheud-chanamhain sin (ibid.). Third, there was a constraint on line-endings: Tabhair fa near mar a ngceudna gu bfedar focal aon siolaidh a chur ann an deireadh na linn, an gcoitcheannas, chum gur blaiste rithadh an rann sin do dheanamh, iodhon na focailsa ta, la, etc. (ibid.). In addition, fitting Gaelic words to the metre required some syllables to be elided. Where syllables are elided at the beginning or at the end of a word, an apostrophe is used to mark this, e.g. ’Sle is preferred to Is le on occasion, and Comhairl’ to Comhairle. Where syllables have to be omitted in the middle of a word, the symbol ~ is used, e.g. Samhlug~hadh, which is to be pronounced as though it were Samhluadh. In some cases, however, words are shortened without any marks of contraction, e.g. toir for tabhair. As a consequence, ar uairaibh ni bfuil comhartha sambìth ar an fhocal is coir a dhearradh, is ni mo ata cuid ar fhagail a muigh, achd fedfuidh tu sin aithniughadh ar fuaim na liné, ma bheir tu fa near gu bfuil ochd siolaidh ann san cheud lin, agus sé san dara lin (p. 5). The 1694 edition repeats these precepts and practices.

Of the other texts of the Psalms mentioned above, it is worth comparing Kirk’s 1684 edition and MacFarlane’s 1753 edition with the Synod of Argyll texts. Kirk’s translations differed considerably from these, in both wording and spelling. Kirk’s treatment of Psalm I, verse 1, is as follows:

Beannuight’ an dujne sin nach gluais
A ngcomhairle na ndaoj,
Nach seas a nsligh’ luchd uilc, ’san áit’
Luchd fochaid fós nach suigh.
Achd a nlagh Dé da bfuil a thlachd,
Ga smuaineadh oidhch is ló.
Bíth sé mur chraoibh ar suighiughach
re taobh na naibhne mór.

Kirk provides the following insight into his linguistic and orthographic aims: ‘The Language being Vehicl of the more substantial part, I endeavour’d here what was native and proper, but clean and plain for all capacities, shunning as much as I could, tedious, tumultuous and disjoynted phrases. And tho I have also stript some words of their superfluous and ambulatory letters, reserving the possessive, as the several Irish Grammers come to my hands do allow; yet no humane work can pretend to be so absolute as to be beyond all Correction’ (Introduction, pp. 3-4).

The orthography of the Psalms was significantly modernised in MacFarlane’s 1753 edition. The text of the actual translation, however, follows closely the phraseology of that of the 1659 and 1694 editions.

MacFarlane’s treatment of Psalm I, verse 1, is as follows:

’S Beannuight’ an duine sin nach gluais
ann comhairle nan daoi,
Ann slighe fhiar nam peacach baoth
’n a sheasamh fòs nach bì,
Ann cathair fanoid luchd an spòrs’
nach togair suidh’ gu bràth.
Ach gabhail toil do naoimh-reachd De,
’g a smuaintiugh’ oidhch’, is la.
EditionAs indicated above, there are instances in the Psalms where editors should be prepared to go beyond the usual rule of quoting only from the oldest text available. While the default sources are the 1659 edition (Psalms 1-50) and the 1694 edition (Psalms 51-150), the wording and especially the forms found in Kirk’s edition and MacFarlane’s edition may well merit consideration for inclusion.

Editors should also note that two further versions of the Psalms are contained in Leabhar na h’Urnuigh Choitchionn (1794, Text 152) and An Seann Tiomnaidh (Book III, 1801, Text 160).
Other Sources
Further ReadingThomson, Derick S., ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm).
Thomson, R. L., Adtimchiol an Chreidimh (Edinburgh, 1962: Scottish Gaelic Texts Society).
Thomson, R. L., ‘The Language of the Shorter Catechism (1659)’, SGS, 12 (1971), 34-51.
Thomson, R. L., ‘The Language of the Caogad (1659)’, SGS, 12 (1976), 143-82.
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