The Collections

The Collections

The audio material available on this website comes from three major collections, namely: The School of Scottish Studies (University of Edinburgh); The National Trust for Scotland’s Canna Collection; and BBC Radio nan Gàidheal.

The School of Scottish Studies Archives is located at 29 George Square, Edinburgh
The School of Scottish Studies Archives is located at 29 George Square, Edinburgh

School of Scottish Studies

The majority of the recordings on this website are from the School of Scottish Studies Sound Archives at the University of Edinburgh. The School of Scottish Studies was set up in 1951 to collect, archive, research and publish material about the cultural life, folklore and traditional arts of Scotland. Oral content includes songs, stories, verses, customs, beliefs, biographical information, place names, local history and instrumental music. The recordings were made all over Scotland and its diaspora and, as a result, contain a diverse range of dialect and accents in Gaelic, Scots and English.

The early collectors, who included Hamish Henderson and Calum Iain Maclean, visited farming, fishing, and crofting communities and obtained information about their working and domestic lives, beliefs and customs. Urban life is also documented, with recollections of working in mills, schooling, street songs, and social activities. The oral tradition was rich among Scottish Travellers and this community was widely recorded by the School, singing songs, telling stories, and also talking about their way of life.

Instrumental music from the School includes an extensive range of recordings of individual pipers and their repertoires, different styles of fiddle music, ceilidh and dance band music; and accordion playing.

Not all material from the School is available on the website as cataloguing and permissions work is ongoing.

Curated Examples

National Trust for Scotland’s Canna Collection

John Lorne Campbell was the pioneer of the modern collection of Gaelic stories and songs. He and his wife, Margaret Fay Shaw, purchased the island of Canna in 1938 and together they amassed a collection of audio recordings, photographs, papers and publications which celebrate Gaelic culture and traditions.

There are around 2,000 items in the Canna Collection Sound Archive, with the earliest ones dating back to 1937. The collection consists of songs, tales and oral history from Gaelic speakers in Scotland and Nova Scotia, Canada. The Scottish recordings were primarily made in Barra, South Uist, Argyll and Canna.

The couple gifted Canna to National Trust for Scotland in 1981 and continued to live on the island until their deaths, leaving an internationally important legacy of Gaelic language and culture.

Curated Examples

BBC Radio nan Gàidheal

National Mod recordings and recordings from some of BBC Radio nan Gàidheal’s output make up the majority of the BBC ALBA content on the website, with the earliest Mod recordings going back to 1946.

Recordings from Radio nan Gàidheal programmes include a large number from ‘Prògram Choinnich’, a magazine-style programme in which Kenneth MacIver interviews guests on a diverse range of topical themes, many of which will become social history items for future generation

There are also recordings from the programme ‘Dealan-dè’ which features interviews with people on both topical and historical subjects. ‘Dèanamaid Adhradh’ is a series of church services of different denominations recorded in various parts of Scotland and broadcast on Radio nan Gàidheal.

Curated Examples

Margaret MacLeod Nicolson from Point in Lewis sings the waulking song ‘Is e Mo Ghràdh na Gamhna Geala’ at the National Mod in Stirling in 1960.

Bowmore Gaelic Choir sings ‘A Ghràidh an Tig Thu?’ at the National Mod in Edinburgh in 1960.

Kenneth MacIver interviews Dolina Wallace and Norman MacLean about Hallowe’en customs in days gone by, in an item from ‘Prògram Choinnich’ on Hallowe’en in 1994.

Lachlan MacDonald is interviewed by Katie Anne MacKenzie about his young days in St Kilda, in an episode of ‘Dealan-dè’ from 1985.

This ‘Dèanamaid Adhradh’ service was recorded in Barra in 1997 and is led by Father Calum MacNeil.