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A Found Celtic Treasure

· Fine Book Collecting,Gaelic Society,Inverness,Canadian Government,Scottish Highlands

Earlier this week, I was looking through a pile of books that had been hidden behind one of the bookcases in the R&GFB book room. I came across a soft cover book entitled “Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Vols. III. and IV., 1873-4 & 1874-5.” I had forgotten about this item, so I had to go check my records. I purchased it at an antiques store in Ellicot City, Maryland, in November, 1997 for $8. I had bought it because it struck me as rare and quirky.

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So, next step was to google this society and sure enough it is still very active, although their website notes several events are cancelled due to the “current national health emergency”. So here is the

“About Us” from their website:

The Gaelic Society of Inverness was established in 1871 for the purpose of “cultivating the language, poetry and music of the Scottish Highlands and generally furthering the interests of the Gaelic-speaking people”. Currently we...

  • Arrange talks on aspects of Highland history and Gaelic culture
  • Publish a volume of Transactions every two years
  • Organise an annual memorial service at Culloden Battlefield
  • Run a Gaelic concert and trips to sites of historical interest
  • Take part, with others, in campaigns relating to our core interests
  • Support projects commemorating eminent individuals and events.

Culloden is the name of a village three miles east of Inverness and 3 miles east of the village is Culloden Moor, site of the Battle of Culloden. The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. On 16 April 1746, the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart was decisively defeated by a British government force under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, on Drummossie Moor near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It was the last pitched battle fought on British soil.

When I opened the book, I was surprised to see a huge, armorial bookplate for S. G. Alexander. I love bookplates, how could I have forgotten this one! It is a beautiful engraved plate that unfortunately has a bit of discoloration. Look at the shield in the bookplate – two stars and what is that other thing? A search on the internet, has a S. G. Alexander on several contemporary lists and one of them noted “architect & surveyor, the Cottage”.

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Looking at the contents of the book, there was a piece called “The Scotch in America”. Hold on, ever since I was a kid, I was told that Scotch was a drink and Scottish was the person. I’ll have to change. This piece, a lecture by a Charles MacKay, who had spent 4 years in America, was most interesting. I quote word for word including a rather egregious error “In every great city of Canada – Toronto, Kingstown, Montreal, New Brunswick, St John’s Nova Scotia, and in almost every town and village, you will find many Scotchmen; in fact, in the large towns they are almost as numerous as in Edinburgh and Inverness. You will see a Highland name staring at you in the face in any or every direction. And it is a Scotchman who is now at the head of the Canadian Government – John MacDonald (applause). *At the date of publication, it is another Scotchman, Mr. MacKenzie.

The book was well read, with lots of pencil lines and markings, and slips of paper marking places of return. Then I found an insert that was no mere slip of paper. It was a fine copy of a prospectus for a proposed magazine to be called The Celtic Magazine. The prospectus was issued by the Inverness Courier, August 19, 1875, also the printer of the book. And written in ink at the bottom was “apply to A MacKenzie, 57 Church Street.” The first issue of the magazine was in 1876 by Alexander MacKenzie. It would appear that it was published until 1888.

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Now this mini Celtic Treasure, a very rare volume and a possible one-of-a-kind prospectus, has moved from “the pile” and into one of our library bookcases, to be with other literary treasures.