Tag Archives: Celtic

Ancient Scripts : Ogham – Old Irish inscriptions

On 1st November 2017 Dr Dominique Santos, a visiting scholar at the Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity from the University of Blumenau, Brazil, gave a lecture on Ogham in the series ‘Introducing Ancient Scripts’. He kindly sent us a summary of his lecture. We are pleased to include this in our blog especially since he spent many months in the Taylor Institution Library for his research on Ogham, the script used for Old Irish, mainly inscribed on stones in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Remarkably, the inscriptions were not made on the face but on the edge of the stones.

FARDEL Stone, from Devon, England (THOMAS, 1994, Fig. 16.6).

FARDEL Stone, from Devon, England (THOMAS, 1994, Fig. 16.6).

Some of the Ogham Stones are bilingual Ogham – Latin. In the studies on Latin language and bilingualism in Britannia Romana (Roman Britain), Ogham Stones are not often discussed. Aside from very specific studies, mainly conducted by Celtic scholars, little is said about the contexts of bilingualism (ADAMS, 2004) considering these monuments. There is a propensity in Roman epigraphic studies, including the most recent ones, to disregard bilingual Ogham Stones, even when focused on Late Antiquity.

That is why I have spent a year studying mainly the Ogham Stones. In the Taylorian I had access not only to the most important publications in the field of Ogham but also to the history of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man as well. The Library has a wonderful staff and the team is very knowledgeable about the collection and ready to help scholars research and explore this material.

During my working days at the Institutio Tayloriana, I have been asking myself the following questions: what could Ogham Stones tell us about exchanges and connections across the Irish Sea in Late Antiquity? Will the knowledge of this specific corpus be able to increase our understanding of the interaction among diverse cultures that inhabited, traded and communicated in (post-) Roman Britannia? Besides what has already been produced in other disciplines, how far could a historical approach to the subject contribute to its comprehension? Will these monuments have a broader role in historical books, being appreciated not only as merely illustrative ‘narrative appendices’ or an epigraphic object working as complement to other written sources? These are some of the issues I was concerned about.

‘Ogham Stones’ is the name the researchers of this field use to make reference to some erected stone monuments in Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, England and Scotland. This designation is based on the main alphabet, Ogham, created to carve short written messages on these monuments, which enabled the sound representation of the Irish language in its infancy. Because of this, Ogham Stones are considered national monuments in Ireland and controlled by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, an official government body. In fact, the majority of the stones are in Ireland, mainly in the South, in the counties of Kerry, Cork and Waterford, from where 247 inscriptions are registered. It would be a very hard task to keep them apart from their Irish background and the debate about the idea of Irishness. However, Ogham Stones are not restricted to Ireland; they are fundamental evidence for elucidating many aspects of the history of the places where they are found (MCMANUS, 1991; SANTOS, 2015) and, above all, the exchanges and connections across the Irish Sea in Late Antiquity, the object of this research.

Lewannick Ogham Stone – Cornwall - England

Lewannick Ogham Stone – Cornwall – England

In order to carve the messages using the Ogham alphabet, incisions were made around the edges of a stone, interpreted like a ‘natural line’, from bottom to top and left to right. The meaning was determined by the number, position and direction of the notches in this ‘line’. The marks were grouped in four blocks (aicmí) of five, corresponding to 20 letters. When they stand to the right of this central stemline they are consonants: one incision makes a ‘b’, two a ‘l’, three a ‘v/f/w’, four a ‘s’, and five a ‘n’. Following the same pattern, but to the left side: ‘h/y’, ‘d’, ‘t’, ‘c’, and ‘q’. Five diagonal marks across the stemline make the sequence ‘m’, ‘g’, ‘gw’, ‘st’, and ‘r’. The vowels were made with dots or horizontal lines crossing the stemline of the rock, also following the same logic. Thus, ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘u’, ‘e’ and ‘i’ (THURNEYSEN, 2003). A graphical example can be seen on the figure below.

The Ogham alphabet (CHARLES-EDWARDS, 2000, p. 165).

The Ogham alphabet (CHARLES-EDWARDS, 2000, p. 165).

The inscriptions to be carved were conceived by the ‘Oghamist’, a certain scholar with a deep knowledge of Irish tradition, mainly of the Early Irish Language (MCMANUS, 2006). In order to achieve a better quality, this scholar designed a sample, perhaps modelled on wax or a wooden piece and then a craftsman would have the task of carving the inscription at its final destination, the stone itself. It is possible that the person hired to do the job had little or no knowledge at all of the content of the writing, which could lead to misunderstandings and mistakes (MACALISTER, 1945/1996).

Ogham inscriptions have a similar pattern; they usually consist of personal names, ancestry or tribal affiliation. Fionnbarr Moore explains the inscriptions have a specific number of formulae: X MAQI Y, in English ‘X son of Y’; X AVI Y, in which AVI means ‘grandson’; X MAQI MUCOI Y, in this case, MAQI means ‘descendant’ and MUCOI perhaps stands for  some ancestral deity; another common Irish word is ANM, meaning ‘name of’; some stones also have inscriptions with KOI, which means ‘here’, this being the equivalent to the Latin Hic Iacit (Iacet) ‘here lies’; another important word is CELI, like in the formula X CELI Y, which means, ‘X follower of Y’. These phrases can be mixed to generate formulae like: X MAQI Y MUCOI Z; X KOI MAQI MUCOI Y (MOORE, 2010). In several occasions there is no formula at all, but just isolated names (MCMANUS, 2006, p. 98-99).

Despite the nomenclature and the epigraphic tradition, Ogham was not exclusively carved on stones, but also on other objects including bones, a wooden weaver’s sword, and a knife-handle (MCMANUS, 2006). From the 7th century on there are manuscripts written in Ogham. The most important of them is the Auraicept na nÉces, preserved at the fol. 169r- 180v of the Book of Ballymote, which explains how the alphabet works.

First page of the Auraicept na n-Éces from The Book of Ballymote. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS. 23 p 12, F. 170r.

First page of the Auraicept na n-Éces from The Book of Ballymote. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS. 23 p 12, F. 170r.

The tradition according to which the name of the letters of the Ogham alphabet comes from names of trees originated in this document; another fundamental text is the De dúilib feda na forfid, a manuscript that explains the functionality of the Ogham additional characters; In Lebor Ogaim, in its turn, is the most ancient treatise written in Old Irish about Ogham.

A definitive or absolute chronology for Ogham inscriptions cannot be provided. Since dendrochronology, thermoluminescence, carbon-14 and other modern dating methods are not useful to give a precise year of a stone, we can only try to figure out a relative chronology and this is what specialists have done. By using a philological approach and comparing the findings with other written sources and historical facts, finally, it is believed that Ogham Stones were probably carved since the middle 4th or the beginnings of the 5th century. However, it is possible that the alphabet employed to write the first graphical signs of Old Irish language was in use by the 2nd century (HARVEY, 1990, p. 13-14), or even the 1st (CARNEY, 1975, p. 53-65), and continued to be produced until the 9th (MCMANUS, 1991).

A late printed copy of the Book of Leinster manuscript containing the Epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, in which the Irish hero Cúchulainn exchanges messages in Ogham [The Book of Leinster, (Dublin : Royal Irish Academy, 1880) Taylor Institution Library shelfmark C.625.22[O]]

A late printed copy of the Book of Leinster manuscript containing the Epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, in which the Irish hero Cúchulainn exchanges messages in Ogham [The Book of Leinster, (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1880) Taylor Institution Library shelfmark C.625.22[O]].

Over such a vast period, some changes in this Irish epigraphical tradition can be noticed. Perhaps, the most remarkable could be the way the marks were carved. From the 4th until the 6th century they were made over the edge of the stones, interpreted as a ‘natural line’; since the 7th century, the stemline started to be drawn on the surface of the stone.

Ogham and Runic inscriptins on Maughold Stone (c. 800-899), from Kirk Maughold, Isle of Man (KERMODE, 1907, Plate LXIV).

Ogham and Runic inscriptins on Maughold Stone (c. 800-899), from Kirk Maughold, Isle of Man (KERMODE, 1907, Plate LXIV).

Generally, the first group of inscriptions is denominated as ‘orthodox’; the second is called ‘scholastic’.

The first Ogham Stone to be registered was found in 1702, in a place called Emlagh East (IMLEACH DHÚN SÉANN), in Co. Kerry, in the Dingle peninsula, Ireland, by the Welsh antiquarian Edward Lhuyd.  Nowadays, about 400 stones are known and recorded in Macalister’s Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum (CIIC). However, little attention has been given to the 33 bilingual corpora of Britannia. They were erected in Britannia Romana (and post-Roman Britain) and carved with Ogham alphabet and Roman capital letters in order to register messages in two languages, Irish and Latin. Some examples, are: Ogham Stone CIIC 368, that reads ‘MAQI MUCOI DUMELEDONAS’, in Ogham, for Irish language, and ‘BARRIVENDI FILIVS VENDVBARI HIC IACIT’, in Roman capitals, for Latin; CIIC 500, from which follows the inscription ‘[E]B[I]CATOS M[A]QI ROC[A]T[O]S’, in Ogham, and ‘ANMECATI FILIVS ROCATI HIC IACIT’, in Roman capitals; there are stones that contain only names in Ogham, but more information is given in Latin from the Roman capitals. These are the cases of CIIC 353, in which can be read ‘TRENACCATLO’, in Ogham, and ‘TRENACATVS IC IACIT FILIVS MAGLAGNI’, in Roman capitals; CIIC 358, that reads ‘VOTECORIGAS’, in Ogham, and ‘MEMORIA VOTEPORIGIS PROTICTORIS’, in Roman capitals; CIIC 380, from which one can read ‘ICORIGAS’, in Ogham, and ‘ICORI FILIVS POTENTINI’, in Roman capitals; and CIIC 422, that reads ‘VENDOGNI’, in Ogham, and [U]ENDOGNI [F]ILI [H]OCIDEGNI, in Roman capitals.

If Britannia Romana made an impact on Hibernia (the Latin name for Ireland), the opposite also happened. John Roche states that forts and cities in the region of what is Wales today, such as Cardiff and Caerwent, were designed to withstand Irish attacks, which saw the region as a potential slave market like the one in which (Saint) Patrick was captured. Many Roman coins were found in Ireland and are evidence for both trade and Irish incursions. This movement helps us to understand the later Irish colonies in Britain, evidence of much more permanent diplomatic relationships (ROCHE, 1993, p. 7-9). Anthony Harvey explains this is not surprising at all as the sea at the time was more a way than an impediment. Thus, the Irish Sea must have formed what he calls ‘an effective block to cultural communication for hundreds of years’ (HARVEY, 1990, p. 14). According to Charles Thomas, Irish presence in Britain may go back to the 3rd century and have lasted until the Viking incursions and is attested by the existence of personal names, nouns and conjunctions in Ogham inscriptions from the region (THOMAS, 1973, p. 5-13).

Thomas Charles-Edwards has pointed out that these inscriptions in Ogham indicate a desire to elevate Old Irish language to the same level and status as Latin (CHARLES-EDWARDS, 2000, p. 176-177).

To investigate Ogham Stones as evidence of historical connections across the Irish Sea was the challenge of my research, developed as part of my Sabbatical Leave at Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity. It would hardly have been possible without having access to the Taylorian Celtic Collection.


Dr. Dominique Santos – Lecturer in Ancient and Medieval History at FURB – University of Blumenau – Santa Catarina – Brazil, was a Visiting Scholar at Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity in 2017.


(Titles available in the Taylor Institution Library)

ADAMS, J.N. Bilingualism and the Latin Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

ATKINSON, Robert. The Book of Leinster: sometime called the Book of Glendalough: a collection of pieces, prose and verse, in the Irish language, compiled in part, about the middle of the twelfth century: now for the first time published from the original manuscript in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1880.

BRUUN, Christer; EDMONDSON, Jonathan. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

CARNEY, James. The Invention of the Ogom Cipher. Ériu, Vol. 26, 1975, p. 53-65.

CHARLES-EDWARDS, T. M.  Early Christian Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

COOLEY, Alisson E. The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

DI MARTINO, Vittorio. Roman Ireland, London: The Collins Press. 2003.

FORSYTH, Katherine Stuart. The Ogham Inscriptions of Scotland: An Edited Corpus. PhD Thesis, Harvard University, 1996. p. L.

FREEMAN, Philip. Ireland and the Classical World. Houston: University of Texas Press. 2001.

GUARINELLO, N. L. . Uma Morfologia da História: as formas da História Antiga. Politéia (Vitória da Conquista), Vitória da Conquista, v. 3, n.1, p. 41-62, 2003.

HARVEY, Anthony. The Ogham Inscriptions and the Roman Alphabet: Two Traditions or One? Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 4, Nº1, 1990. p. 13-14.

HINGLEY, Richard. Hadrian’s Wall: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012.

KERMODE, P.M.C. Manx Crosses. London: Bemrose & Sons Ltd, 1907.

MACALISTER, R.A.S. Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, Vol I. Dublin, Stationery Office, 1945.

MACALISTER, R.A.S. Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, Vol I. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996.

MCMANUS, Damian. A Guide to Ogam. Maynooth, 1991.

MCMANUS, Damian. Written on Stone. Irish Arts Review. Vol. 23, Nº3, 2006, pp. 98-99.

MOORE, Fionnbarr. The Ogham Stones of County Kerry. In: MURRAY, Griffin. Medieval Treasures of County Kerry. Tralee : Kerry County Museum 2010.

Ó CRÓINÍN, Dáibhi. Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200. Londres: Longman, 1995.

REDNAP, Mark. A corpus of early medieval inscribed stones and stone sculpture in Wales. Cardiff : University of Wales Press, 2007-2013.

ROCHE, John. The Influence of Ireland on Roman Britain…:…Cursus Unicus? Archaeology Ireland. Vol. 7, nº 1, 1993, p. 7-9.

SANTOS, Dominique. Patrício: A Construção da Imagem de um Santo/How the Historical Patrick Was Transformed into the St. Patrick of Religious Faith. 1. ed. New York; Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2013.

SANTOS, Dominique. A Cultura Hiberno-Latina na Bretanha romana e pós-romana: evidências a partir das Ogham Stones. In: Anais eletrônicos do XXVIII Simpósio Nacional de História da ANPUH, Florianópolis, 2015.

STEVENSON, Jane. The Beginnings of Literacy in Ireland. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature. Vol. 89C, 1989. p. 127-165.

SWIFT, Catherine. Ogam Stones and the Earliest Irish Christians. Maynooth Monographs Series Minor II. Maynooth: St. Patrick’s College. 1997. p. 90.

THOMAS, Charles. Irish Colonists in South-West Britain. World Archaeology. Vol. 5, nº 1, Colonization, 1973, p. 5-13.

THOMAS, Charles. And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994.

THURNEYSEN, E. R. A Grammar of Old Irish. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 2003.



Breton at the Taylorian

Following on from her popular lecture in the ‘Introducing Endangered Languages’ seminar organised by the Taylor Institution Library in Michaelmas 2015, Dr Holly Kennard gives an overview of the library’s Breton collection from the perspective of a linguistics researcher.


Breton is a Celtic language, part of the Brythonic branch of languages, closely related to Welsh and Cornish. It is spoken by about 200 000 people in western Brittany, in northwest France. It has a long history of folktales and traditional music, much of which has been passed down orally through the generations.

There are no longer any monolingual speakers, and Breton is considered to be an endangered language, with most of its speakers now quite elderly. However, language activists have been campaigning for the future of Breton, and this has seen a resurgence of interest in the language, with the establishment of Breton-medium education, broadcasting, as well as an increase in material published in Breton.

Breton linguistics

I have had an interest in Breton for a number of years, beginning first as an undergraduate studying French and Linguistics, and continuing through to my DPhil, where I focused on Breton morphosyntax in contrasting groups of older and younger speakers. Breton presents an opportunity to study an endangered minority language as well as language revival, which I find fascinating, but I am also interested in aspects of its grammar – for my thesis I examined word order patterns and initial consonant mutation, and I am about to embark upon a project looking at grammatical gender and metrical stress.


The particular strengths of the collection at the Taylor are its breadth – it has a wide range of both books and periodicals – and its combination of classic texts (like early descriptions and dictionaries) and very up-to-date publications. I often use the ‘classic’ linguistics texts such as Kenneth Jackson’s Historical Phonology of Breton and Roparz Hémon’s Historical Morphology and Syntax of Breton.



Although written from a historical standpoint, these seminal works provide detailed and valuable descriptions of Breton, as well as explaining a range of regional variation. The collection houses a number of dictionaries from different periods, and with different foci: early dictionaries such as Grand dictionnaire franҫais-breton, as well as more modern editions such as the Elementary Breton-English & English-Breton dictionary, which is likely to be more accessible to a beginner. There is a large monolingual Breton dictionary, Geriadur brezhoneg gant skouerioù ha troiennoù, and then there are the more specialist works such as Per Denez’s dictionary of the Breton of Douarnenez, a dictionary of Old Breton, and even a dictionary of Breton place-names, Albert Deshayes, Dictionnaire des noms de lieux bretons and family names, Albert Deshayes, Dictionnaire des noms de famille bretons.

Geriadur brezhoneg gant skouerioù ha troiennoù ( An Here, 1995)

Geriadur brezhoneg gant skouerioù ha troiennoù (An Here, 1995)

I find the selection of Breton grammars particularly useful. The classic is Kervella’s Yezhadur bras ar brezhoneg, but as it is written in Breton, it is perhaps less accessible to a general audience. My default choice for a reference grammar is Favereau’s Grammaire du breton contemporain, as well as Press’s book, A grammar of modern Breton, which is written in English.


Atlas 2

Of course, the collection goes far beyond reference works such as the above. From my perspective as a linguistics researcher, the descriptions of dialects are very valuable – often, researchers have published detailed doctoral research into an individual dialect, which is really interesting. Le breton de Léchiagat, by André Sinou is one such example. Of course there are also the Linguistic atlases, which deal specifically with regional variation – compiled over the twentieth century, they also allow a glimpse of language change in progress, and are a valuable reference point for linguistics researchers. This is particularly important for an endangered language like Breton, since documentation of regional forms while they are still being spoken is vital.


The collection also contains Middle and Early Modern Breton texts, as well as dictionaries of Old and Middle Breton, and etymological works, allowing researchers to document longer-term language change, and study how Breton differs from its closest neighbours, Cornish and Welsh.

Léon Fleuriot, A Dictionary of old Breton : historical and comparative = Dictionnaire du vieux Breton (Toronto, 1985), pp. 242-43

Léon Fleuriot, A Dictionary of old Breton : historical and comparative = Dictionnaire du vieux Breton (Toronto, 1985), pp. 242-43

The Catholicon is a particularly famous work – first published in 1464, it was not only the first Breton dictionary, but also the first French dictionary, and gives words in Breton, French and Latin.

Le Catholicon de Jehan Lagadeuc : dictionnaire breton, français et latin (Lorient : E. Corfmat, [1868?]

Le Catholicon de Jehan Lagadeuc : dictionnaire breton, français et latin (Lorient : E. Corfmat, [1868?])

In my own work, I am obviously interested in the above, along with other linguistics works. I also frequently refer to the Breton journals that the library holds; in addition to the Journal of Celtic Linguistics, which is a more general journal, I use La Bretagne linguistique and Klask, which is the Celtic journal produced in Rennes. However, there is also a wide range of Breton-language literature available in the Taylor. LiteratureIn addition to books written entirely in Breton, there are also bilingual (French-Breton) texts, and a range of translations, which are helpful for language learners.

Danevelloù divyezhek, An Here-Al Liamm, 2002

Danevelloù divyezhek, (An Here-Al Liamm, 2002)


Not only is this interesting as a mark of how much publishing in Breton (at one time very rare!) has increased, it also constitutes in itself a valuable corpus. I hope to draw on this as I begin my next project, when I will be looking at the Breton of younger speakers/writers.




Dr Holly Kennard,  Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, University of Oxford

Breton –  Book Display for Endangered Languages Seminar 4th November 2015

All shelfmarks relate to the Taylor Institution Library

Language history and bilingualism

Abalain, Hervé. 1995. Histoire de la langue bretonne (Paris: Editions Jean-Paul Gisserot) C.6501.112

Broudic, Fañch. 1995. La Pratique du Breton de l’Ancien Régime à nos jours (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes) C.9400.91

Gwennig, Youenn et al. 2002. Danevelloù Divyezhek / Nouvelles Bilingues (An Here – Al Liamm) C.6640.63

Linguistic Atlases

Le Dû, Jean. 2001. Nouvel atlas linguistique de la Basse-Bretagne (Brest: CRBC, Université de Bretagne Occidentale) X.OUT.C.27

Le Roux, Pierre. 1924-1963. Atlas linguistique de la Basse-Bretagne (Paris: Champion) L.ATL.A.FR.7

Dictionaries and Grammars

Croix, Alain and Jean-Yves Veillard. 2013. Dictionnaire du patrimoine breton 3rd edition. (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes) DC611B847 DIC 2013

Favereau, Frañses. 1993. Dictionnaire du breton contemporain (Morlaix: Skol Vreizh) REF.M.21.BRE.2 (BT)

Favereau, Francis. 1997. Grammaire du breton contemporain (Morlaix: Skol Vreizh) C.6501.111

Press, J. Ian. 1986. A Grammar of Modern Breton (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter) C.6501.90

Hemon, Roparz. 1975. A historical morphology and syntax of Breton (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) C.6501.41

Humphrey Lloyd Humphreys. 1995. Phonologie et morphosyntaxe du parler breton de Bothoa en Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem (Côtes-d’Armor) (Brest: Ar Skol Vrezoneg) C.6501.105

Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone. 1967. A historical phonology of Breton (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) C.6501.24


Favereau, Frañses and Hervé Le Bihan. 2006. Littératures de Bretagne: mélanges offerts à Yann-Ber Piriou (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes) PB2858.L48 LIT 2006

La Villemarqué, Théodore Hersart, Vicomte de and Kemener, Yann-Fañch. 1999. Barzaz Breiz: Chants populaires de la Bretagne (Paris: Editions du Layeur) C.9400.107

Madeg, Mikael. 2011. Nan heb e dad (Brest: Emgleo Breizh) PB2905.M28 N36 MAD 2011

Gibson, Jacqueline and Gwyn Griffiths. 2006. The turn of the ermine: an anthology of Breton literature (London: Francis Boutle) PB2873 TUR 2006



Celtic connections

In April 2014 I was approached by Shu-Ching Naughton, the widow of Dr James (‘Jim’) Naughton and offered his private library of Gaelic books for the Taylor and Jesus College collections. I remember Jim Naughton from the 1980s when he would sometimes attend the Oxford Celtic Seminar at Jesus. A lovely man who had a keen interest in Scottish Gaelic (and many other things of course!). He was the University Lecturer in Czech and Slovak and Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford. Dr Naughton wrote grammars of the Czech and Slovak languages, and earned a fine reputation for his translations, for example the short stories of Bohumil Hrabal. He was also a good friend to libraries. It is a privilege to be able to house those books which we didn’t have and to pass on any duplicates to Jesus College and scholars and students (at Shu-Ching’s request). ”It is what Jim would have wanted”, she said, a characteristically generous gesture.

The books we received range in subject matter from Scottish Gaelic poetry and songs to grammars and various periodicals and so have enriched the Taylor’s already strong holdings in Scottish Gaelic, filling in gaps and replacing missing items. It is thrilling that not only has the collection been enriched by the subject matter but that part of the character of the donor is also present. Notes scribbled in the margins of the text, memos, and notes to self all bear witness to the scholar’s fascination with the language and appreciation of the poetry.

Another substantial donation has come to Oxford in the shape of the personal library of Robert Leith Thomson 1924-2006, former reader in Celtic at the University of Leeds. This collection ranges across Welsh, Cornish, Irish and Scottish Gaelic and will add a rich seam of material to the library’s holdings. Books which the Taylor already holds have found a home in the excellent Celtic library at  Jesus College.

It is a great privilege to look at a personal library and be able to select from it material which one’s own institution does not have. The breadth and knowledge of the scholar struck me – from Cornish biblical plays to Scottish Gaelic writing for children – and also the value he clearly attached to his books.

All were in good condition, well cared for, with his name in meticulous handwriting neatly inscribed on  the front page along with date of purchase.

R.L. Thomson's signature as inscribed in one of his books and the date of purchase. Note the charming use of the Welsh 'Cyntefin', meaning the beginning of summer.

R.L. Thomson’s signature as inscribed in one of his books and the date of purchase. Note the charming use of the Welsh ‘Cyntefin’, meaning the beginning of summer.

A large number were purchased in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and it is interesting to track the development of the scholar’s interests and to see what helped shape and form his own output. It was great fun to see workings in his own hand in marginal notes, testimony to the fact that this was very much a working library.

Scholarly notes and marginalia on a  fifteenth-century Welsh poem by Guto'r Glyn from D.J. Bowen (gol.), Barddoniaeth yr uchelwyr : detholiad (Caerdydd : Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1957).

Scholarly notes and marginalia on a fifteenth-century Welsh poem by Guto’r Glyn from D.J. Bowen (gol.), Barddoniaeth yr uchelwyr : detholiad (Caerdydd : Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1957).

Inserted into some books were newspaper reviews and other cuttings, obituaries of other Celtic scholars thus adding a human dimension to the collection and emphasizing his interest in the community to which he belonged.

There was even a postcard from the dry-cleaners (dated 1966) informing him his coat was ready for collection! So this was very much a living, breathing collection which nurtured the interests of the owner and gives a snapshot of Celtic scholarship at a particular time. It is especially fitting that some of these books should have their final resting place in Oxford libraries, as it was his time spent  as a young scholar at The Queen’s College, Oxford, reading for the Diploma in Comparative Philology and Germanic languages, which confirmed his ‘calling’ to Celtic.

Both collections are significant and will add texture to the rich weave of the Taylor’s holdings.

Janet Foot, Celtic Librarian, Taylor Institution Library