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Metadata for text 276
No. words in text15490
Title [Gaelic sermons]
Author Campbell, John Gregorson
Editor N/A
Date Of Edition 1861
Date Of Language 19th c.
Publisher NP
Place Published Mull
Volume N/A
Location National and academic libraries
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Various
Register Religion, Prose
Alternative Author Name Iain MacGriogair Caimbeul
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 28.1cm x 22.1cm
Short Title Gaelic Sermons
Reference Details NLS: Cam.2.a.1(6)
Number Of Pages xii, 29
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context This text comprises three sermons written by the Rev. John Gregorson Campbell, who was minister of the Church of Scotland in Tiree and Coll from 1861 to 1891. The outset of the nineteenth century saw a remarkale increase in Gaelic publishing, especially though not exlusively, reglious texts. Sermons were often popular and many were printed and distributed for the edification of those wishing to pursue their interests in religious texts. Campbell, although apparently not universally liked in Tiree, as he was presented by George Douglas, Duke of Argyll, in oppostion to the parishioners, delivered these three sermons which were deemed worthy of putting into print and, as Black points out, his sermons and thus his preaching ‘is marked by good style, freedom and courageous orthodoxy.’ (Black, 2005, p. 624). This despite a report from The Inverness Courier: ‘The Duke of Argyll having presented Mr John Gregorson Campbell to the church and parish of Tyree, the parishioners lodged firm objectives against his instructions, two of which have been sustained and found proven by the Presbytery. The objections found proven are, that his preaching is neither instructive nor impressive, that his prayers are devoid of fervour, that his discourses are cold, dry and unedifying and not calculated to awaken the attention and impress the hearts of his hearers.’ (Meek, 2014, pp. 132-33). This, as Meek points out, was probably down to doctrinal preference rather than personal animosity.
Although born on 4 September 1834 on the mainland Highlands in Kingairloch, Morvern, the Rev. John Gregorson Campbell (1834-1891) will be forever associated with the Isle of Tiree. He was the second son and fourth child of John Campbell (1807-1890), a native of Lismore, who later became the captain of the steamboat Cygnet, and Helen MacGregor (1803-1890). On his mother’s side (hence the middle-name) he was descended from Duncan MacGregor, himself a direct descendant of the first MacGregor to have settled in Roro, Glenlyon, Perthshire.
At a young age, the family moved over Loch Linnhe to take up residence at the Port of Appin. From there the young John would walk to and fro along with his siblings to the Parish School in the Strath of Appin. At only ten years of age he was sent to be educated in Glasgow, passing through the Andersonian University (Anderson’s College or Institute) and then to the High School in preparation for entering College.
In his tribute paid to Campbell, Alfred Nutt remarks that ‘like all who are steadily bilingual from early youth he recognised how powerful an intellectual instrument is the instinctive knowledge of two languages, and was wont to insist upon the aid he had derived from Gaelic in the study of Hebrew and Latin.’ Such an excellent grounding in linguistic studies stood him well, for he later emerged from the University of Glasgow as a divinity graduate in 1858 to enter the ministry. During his university days, Campbell mixed with other Gaelic-speaking students and took on a secretarial role with the Ossianic society, established in order to promote the language and literature of his native Highlands.
As Nutt noted: ‘At this early date his love for the rich stores of oral tradition preserved by his countrymen manifested itself. He sought the acquaintance of good story-tellers, and began to store up in his keenly retentive memory the treasure he has been so largely instrumental in preserving and recording.’ Such a keen interest in the oral traditions of the Gael was to serve him well and continued to be a lifelong passion.
At first Campbell served in Blair Atholl where he assisted the Rev. Alexander Robertson Irvine (1806-1867), himself the son of a Gaelic scholar. There the young minister managed to do a little collecting. But it was not until he became minister of Tiree at Kirkapol on Gott Bay from 1860 and where he remained for the rest of his life, that he took on the role for which he would be best remembered. In his spare time he took it upon himself to collect folktales, historical traditions and belief legends, which he published (often in English paraphrases with significant words of Gaelic noted) in journals as well as in four books.
Despite such an inauspicious start to his ministerial career, and the fact that some of the island’s other denominations would never accept him, Campbell served his parish as best he could. Safe in the knowledge that he was backed not only by the Duke of Argyll but also by the General Assembly, the minister could now enjoy some of his own pursuits and interests. It was not long before Campbell could be found taking down traditions from the old storytellers. He was also something of a trailblazer, for he began collecting before either John Francis Campbell or Alexander Carmichael, both of whom were older.
One storyteller was Donald Cameron from whom Campbell took down a story, later to be published, called ‘Sir Uallabh O’ Corn’, and which he wrote: ‘This tale was written down as it was told by Donald Cameron, Rùdhaig, Tiree, more than twenty-five years ago [in 1863], and to whose happy and retentive gift of memory, it is a pleasure to recur. He had a most extensive stock of old lore, and along with it much readiness and willingness to communicate what he knew.’ Campbell had found a rich seam from which he could collect old lore that so interested him, and, even better, from storytellers who were ready and willing to have their repertoires recorded by someone who was not only knowledgeable but also very enthusiastic. Around this time the minister was described as ‘tall and fair, with deep blue eyes full of life and vivacity.’
With his troubles more or less behind him, the next decade was a happier one for Campbell. One of the highlights was a visit in the summer of 1871 from John Francis Campbell of Islay (1821-1885), the renowned Victorian polymath and editor of the monumental Popular Tales of the West Highlands (1860-62). They had begun corresponding some six months before and, replying to a letter on 16 January, Campbell of Islay wrote: ‘I shall be very glad to assist a namesake and a Highland minister who is engaged in literary work, in which I take a special interest myself. I now repeat my message, and ask you to place my name on the list of subscribers, if you have one. I shall be very glad to read your book.’
It was the first and last meeting of two like-minded individuals but it was never going to be a close friendship. Perhaps the minister did not leave a favourable impression upon Campbell, for he later commented that: ‘The Minister gave us a Gaelic Sermon and then, seeing me, said that he saw someone who did not understand Gaelic and took to English. His accent might have suited a Frenchman. I never heard an accent quite like it.’ A parting gift from one Campbell to another was an ‘arming run’ which the minister had collected in Blair Atholl in 1859.
The minister had hoped to publish a book about superstitions rather than tales, but rather the opposite was to happen. The Fians (1891), one of his two contributions he made to the series Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition (see Text 207), edited by Lord Archibald Campbell, was the only book which he was to see published and which was to make a considerable impact on folklore studies at that time. Between 1881 and 1885, J. G. Campbell made several contributions to The Scottish Celtic Review, a high quality if short-lived journal, as well as other learned journals. For many this sealed his reputation as a scholar. Ill-health prevented the minister from leaving the island to present papers to scholarly societies during this period.
At the untimely age of fifty-seven, Campbell passed away on his adopted Isle of Tiree. An obituary notice soon appeared thereafter in The Oban Times which sums up what was best about his character and achievements: ‘He was a genial, kindly man, full of wit and humour; very fond of old Highland stories and folk-lore. In this field of study he was quite an authority, and the many stories and legends which he has collected, if ever given to the world, will form a series of volumes as interesting as those of the late J. F. Campbell of Islay.’
His sister, Mrs Jessy Wallace, through the terms of his will, set out to publish her late brother’s manuscripts. She too, no doubt under her brother’s influence, had made a contribution to folklore by collecting and publishing stories herself. These duly appeared in two volumes entitled Superstitions of the Highlands & Islands of Scotland (1902) and Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland (1902) respectively. In some ways both books, although published posthumously, proved to be a timely corrective to Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica (1900), another great, if controversial, compendium of Gaelic lore. J. G. Campbell passed away on 22 November 1891 on his adopted island of Tiree.
Contents The main text is divided into three chapters representing the three sermons as delivered by Campbell.
Language The sermons in this volume are written in a style which is engaging and easily understood. The sermons contain a number of quotes from the Bible. For example, a ta air a tairgse dhuinn gu saor anns an t-Soisgeul (p. i), Bithidh do speuran a ta os do cheann mar phrais, agus an talamh a ta fodhad mar iarrunn (p. i), ’se sin focal a’ chreidimh a tha sinne a’ searmonachadh, ma dh’aidicheas tu le d’ bheul an Tighearna Iosa, agus ma chreideas tu ann do chridhe gu’n do thog Dia o na marbhaibh e, gu’n saorar thu (p. i), an cridhe gealtach, agus fàilneachadh shùl, agus doilghios inntinn (p. i), Gràs ar Tighearna Iosa Criosd gu robh maille ribh uile (p. ii), “Bunait eile cha n-urrainn duine sam bith a leagadh, ach a’ bhunait a leagadh cheana, eadhon Iosa Criosd,” 1 Cor. iii. 11 (p. ii).
Frequent use of dative plurals, e.g., ionadaibh (p. i), sgiathaibh (p. i), sgriobtuiribh (p. ix).
Also of interest is his frequent use of plural imperatives, e.g., thionndadhmaid (p. i), bhitheamaid (p. i).
Other general vocabulary of interest includes ionadaibh an dorchadais (p. i), o phiantaibh ifrinn (p. i), siol maith (p. i), arson peacadh (p. ii), cha ’n ’eil (p. ii).

The language represents the Gaelic dialect of Morvern and/or Tiree with a hint of Perthshire.
Orthography The spelling conforms generally to the orthography of the mid-nineteenth century. Both the grave and acute accents are used. No accents appear on capital letters. Campbell’s dialect is reflected in his use of maith rather than math, e.g., siol maith (p. i); trid (p. i); ta (p. i); géill instead of céill, e.g., a chuir an géill (p. i); fuidh (p. i); sibh-pe (p. iv) instead of sibh-fhéin (indicating the influence of Perthshire Gaelic).
Edition First edition.
Further Reading Campbell, John Gregorson, The Gaelic Otherworld, ed. by Ronald Black (Edinburgh, 2005: Birlinn), esp. 608-700.
Campbell, John Gregorson, The Fians; or, Stories, Poems and Traditions of Fionn and His Warrior Band (Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition, Argyllshire Series, No. IV) (London, 1891: David Nutt).
Campbell, John Gregorson, Clan Traditions and Popular Tales of the Western Highlands and Islands (Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition, Argyllshire Series, No. V) (London, 1895: David Nutt).
Campbell, John Gregorson, Superstitions of the Highlands & Islands of Scotland (Glasgow, 1900: James MacLehose & Sons).
Campbell, John Gregorson, Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands of Scotland (Glasgow, 1902: James MacLehose & Sons).
Davis, Deborah, ‘Contexts of Ambivalence: The Folklore Activities of Nineteenth-Century Scottish Highland Ministers’, Folklore, vol. 103 (1991), 207-21.
Meek, Donald E., ‘Rev. John Gregorson Campbell and Nineteenth-Century Gaelic Folklore Collecting’, in (ed.), The Secret Island: Towards a History of Tiree (Kershader, Lewis, 2014: The Islands Book Trust), 130-42.
Scott, Hew, Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ: The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation, vol. IV (Edinburgh, 1923: Oliver and Boyd), 121-22.
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