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Metadata for text 195
No. words in textN/A
Title The Gaelic Notes in the Book of Deer
Author N/A (Edited work)
Editor Jackson, Kenneth
Date Of Edition 1972
Date Of Language 12th c.
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Place Published Cambridge
Volume N/A
Location National, academic, and local libraries (Mitchell Reference).
Geographical Origins N/A
Register Formal, Prose
Alternative Author Name N/A
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 22cm x 14.5cm
Short Title Gaelic Notes in the Book of Deer
Reference Details EUL: .89163:.27112 Boo.Jac.; Cambridge University Library: MS no. I.i.6.32
Number Of Pages xv, 164. The MS is ‘a small octavo of 43 folios, which has been recently repaired and handsomely re-bound’.
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context The Book of Deer is housed in Cambridge University Library. The MS was acquired by Cambridge University in 1715, having been in the possession of John Moore, Bishop of Ely. It is likely that it was previously in the possession of Dr. Gale, High Master of St. Paul’s School. The MS was re-discovered in Cambridge University Library in 1860, by the librarian, Henry Bradshaw. The old monastery of Deer (in Buchan in north-east Aberdeenshire), to which this book and its charters belonged, no longer exists. The MS contains ‘the complete Gospel of St John, portions of the other three Gospels, fragments of a prayer for the visitation of the sick and the charter granted by David I (1124-53) to the clerics of Deer’ (Thomson 1994, p. 60). The main body of the text is written in Latin and is ninth century in origin. In addition, the MS contains a number of Gaelic notes, written by five different hands, in the blank spaces and margins of the Book. The Gaelic notes were added later, probably in the twelfth century.

The Gaelic entries are numbered I to VII by the editor of this text. They are described on the Book of Deer Project website as follows: ‘The first item provides an origin-legend for a monastery at Aberdour and for the older monastery at Deer, said to have been given to Drostan by Columba, who received it from a land-holder called Bede. The following five entries record later grants of land to the monastery, and the sixth concerns the 'quenching' or extinguishing (by the landowner) of dues on certain lands received by it. The final, Latin deed of David I bestows on the monks of Deer a general immunity from “all lay service and improper exaction”, the latter phrase perhaps explaining their main concern at this time’ ( This Latin charter contains a list of Gaelic names.

This volume includes a transcription, transliteration, and translation of the Gaelic notes. Thomson states that ‘the notitiae provide valuable evidence as to the forms of Gaelic used at the time (the literary dialect, but influenced by the vernacular) and also evidence of place and personal names (Gaelic titles such as brithem and fer léginn and titles deriving from an area of Gaelic/-Pictish overlap, e.g. mormaer)’ (1994, p. 60). On the importance of the Gaelic notes, Jackson reminds us that ‘no other documents [are] extant in the Gaelic of Scotland for almost three hundred years after these in the Book of Deer were written’ (p. vii).
Contents This volume begins with a table of Contents (p. v). In the Preface (pp. vii-xii), Jackson gives a brief introduction to the Book of Deer, and lists all previous publications that contained material relating to the Gaelic notes. He defends the production of this volume, noting that ‘The Gaelic notes have been edited, with or without facsimiles, translated, and discussed a number of times, … But no completely satisfactory edition, or translation, exists as yet’ (p. vii). This is followed by a list of Abbreviations (pp. xiii-xv). The Introduction (pp. 1-16) discusses what we know of The Monastery of Deer and also looks at The Manuscript, and the Hands of the Gaelic Notes. This second section describes the contents of the MS, folio by folio, and discusses which of the five hands wrote which pieces.

The Texts and Translations (pp. 17-36) contains four sections entitled Diplomatic Texts, Textual Notes, Edited Texts, and Translation. The first of these contains a transcription of the MS presented in Roman script, and including all of the diacritics made by the scribes, with the exception of the accents. Jackson notes that acute accents are used liberally in the text, over long vowels, short vowels, and consonants alike. He claims that their function was not to indicate vowel length, but ‘to indicate that the language is vernacular, not Latin – that is to say, they were used very much as we use italics’ (p. 17). As a consequence, ‘Since the position of the accents in Deer is wholly meaningless, I have followed the example of some editors in omitting them altogether’ (p. 18). Editors should quote only from this section (pp. 19-23). The section on Textual Notes contains brief notes on the text of the MS and occasional notes on how some terms have been handled by other editors. In the section on Edited Texts, the Gaelic notes are transliterated, not into modern Gaelic, but into a more recognisable form of Gaelic in which, for example, words that were contracted in the MS are here expanded. Jackson notes that ‘it has seemed desirable to print here a “diplomatic” edition of the texts, arranged as they stand in the MS (whether marginal or otherwise), with all the contraction marks, etc., reproduced unexpanded, followed by palaeographical notes; and after that an “edited” text (partly for the use of students), a translation, and a full commentary, both general and linguistic. Further linguistic notes will be found in the discussion of the language and spelling, pp. 125ff., and in the Glossarial Index’ (p. 17). A full English translation of the Gaelic notes is given in Translation.

Notes on the Texts (pp. 37-84) contains extensive notes on the text (including names), and some notes on subject matter. Terms discussed are displayed by text and by line. This is followed by a Historical Commentary (pp. 85-124) on the subject-matter of the text, which discusses in turn the Purpose, Date and Genuineness of the Notes (analysing in turn the sections of Gaelic notes as to their content, who wrote them, and when they were written); Social Status in the Book of Deer (discussing the terms mormaer, toísech, and clann); and Land-holding and Land-Granting in the Book of Deer (discussing the agrarian and legal issues documented in the Gaelic notes, and the terminology used in these connections).

Orthography and Language (pp. 125-52) contains sections on The Spelling of the Scribes of Deer and The Language of the Notes. The first section looks at the spelling of the scribes in relation to that of contemporary Middle Irish, being ‘an account of how Deer differs from Irish rather than a complete description of its spelling’ (p. 127). It is to be noted that Jackson’s methodology and findings in this section are questioned by Ó Maolalaigh (2008). The forms of ‘Stressed vowels’, ‘Unstressed vowels’, ‘Diphthongs’, ‘Epenthetic vowels’, and ‘Consonants’ are discussed in turn. Textual quotations in this section are taken from the ‘diplomatic texts’, but with contractions expanded. The Language of the Notes, which uses the edited spellings, discusses the occurrence and depiction of the initial mutations of lenition, nasalisation, and gemination; the declensions of nouns; personal pronouns; conjunctions; verb forms; and syntax.

There are three indices: a Glossarial Index (pp. 153-59), an Index of Personal and Family Names (pp. 160-62), and an Index of Place- and Regional-Names (pp. 163-64).
Language Two examples of the Gaelic of the notes will suffice. Due to an inability to reproduce the characters in the diplomatic texts, these quotations are taken from the ‘edited texts’. The letters in square brackets were added by the editor.

The first section, on the founding of the monastery, begins: Colum Cille 7 Drostán mac Cosgreg a dalta tángator a hÍ mar ro [f]alseg Dia doib gonic' Abbordoboir, 7 Bede cruthnec robo mormær Buchan ar a ginn; 7 ess é ro thidnaig doib in gathraig-sain in saere gu bráith ó mormaer 7 ó thosec (p. 30).

The fifth section, which records a grant of land to the monastery, begins: Donchad mac Mec-Bead mec Hidid do-rat Acchad Madchor do Críst acus do Drostán 7 do Choluim Cille in sore gu brád. Mal-[F]échí[n] 7 Comgell 7 Gille-Críst mac Finguni i nn-a [f]ienasi in testus, 7 Mal-Coluim mac Molíni (p. 32).

Dating the Language

Jackson speculates that the language of the Gaelic notes was that of ‘the upper classes of northern Scotland of that period’, which he claims was ‘virtually indistinguishable form contemporary Irish’ (p. vii). Likewise, the spelling used in the notes is said to be essentially that of late Middle Irish (or ‘Middle Common Gaelic’), i.e. the Gaelic of around the mid-tenth century to the late twelfth century, ‘and is certainly neither earlier nor later’ (p. 151). On p. 151, Jackson summarises the various categories of evidence for these dates, and concludes that ‘the evidence quoted positively suggests the earlier part of the twelfth century as the most likely date on linguistic grounds’ (p. 152).

Scottish Gaelic Elements in the Language

In his chapter on Orthography and Language, Jackson discusses the ways in which the Gaelic of the Book of Deer differs from that of late Middle Irish, and briefly considers the possibility that these may represent Scottish Gaelic influence. He argues as follows: ‘The chief ways in which the Gaelic of Deer differs from the normal late Middle Irish are as follows: First, the numerous incorrect, and occasionally fantastic, spellings. But these are due to the carelessness and ignorance of the scribes of this remote monastery, and not to a genuine linguistic differentiation already occurring as between Scotland and Ireland. … Secondly, there are a few cases where phonetic and morphological developments peculiar to Scottish Gaelic have been at least mooted above; these being nt and lt becoming nd and ld (19); final γ' yielding χ' (22); the appearance of the peculiarly Sc. G. type of nasalisation (28), and the use of nominative for genitive found in some modern Sc. G. dialects (31). But all these, on examination, prove to be more or less highly improbable, and on balance one must say that the conclusion of the question whether the notes in the Book of Deer are in any sense what we mean by Scottish Gaelic – other than that they are Gaelic and Scottish – is negative. … if any traces exist at all they are few and slight’ (pp. 149-150).

In conclusion, Jackson states that the Gaelic of the notes is ‘in all essentials … identical with the Irish of Ireland of the first half and middle of the twelfth century, and … no clear linguistic differences between any of the individual entries can be demonstrated, apart of course from those dictated by the fact that I is telling a connected story, and the rest are short details about numerous separate benefactions’ (p. 149).

With regard to the inconsistencies in spelling and unusual spellings, Jackson suggests that ‘Scottish scribes were also trained in the usual way, of how to write the Common Gaelic language, … but they were imperfectly trained, their spelling was not very “good”, in the sense that they did not know the traditional spelling very well, and tended therefore to strange hesitations, pronunciation-spellings, or mere mistakes’ (p. 126).

Reviewers of Jackson’s work, and subsequent writers in general, have agreed that Jackson was overly dismissive of an undeniable Scottish element in the Gaelic in the Book of Deer, which justifies its claim to contain the earliest significant testimony to Scottish Gaelic.
Edition First edition. It is likely that this volume will be used as the primary source for the Gaelic notes, although the MS itself has yet to be examined. It has yet to be decided whether a ‘diplomatic’ rendering of the text, or an ‘edited’ rendering of the text, will be used for excerpting. At least some of the folios have been scanned for the Book of Deer Project, and these may be available for editors to use. Stuart’s Book of Deer, published by the Spalding Club in 1869 contains facsimiles of all folios which contain Gaelic notes.
Other Sources
Further Reading Forsyth, Katherine, ed., Studies on the Book of Deer (Dublin, c2008: Four Courts Press).
Ó Maolalaigh, Roibeard, ‘The property records: diplomatic edition including accents’, in Studies on the Book of Deer, ed. by Katherine Forsyth (Dublin, c2008: Four Courts Press), 119-130.
Ó Maolalaigh, Roibeard, ‘On the possible functions of the accents in the Gaelic notes in the Book of Deer’, in Studies on the Book of Deer, ed. by Katherine Forsyth (Dublin, c2008: Four Courts Press), 145-178.
Ó Maolalaigh, Roibeard, ‘The Scotticisation of Gaelic: a reassessment of the language and orthography of the Gaelic notes in the Book of Deer’, in Studies on the Book of Deer, ed. by Katherine Forsyth (Dublin, c2008: Four Courts Press), 179-249.
Stuart, John, The Book of Deer (Edinburgh, 1869: Spalding Club).
Thomson, Derick S., ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm).
Book of Deer Project:
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