Book featuring earliest example of written Gaelic is coming home

By August 30, 2020Culture, News

The Book of Deer was originally held in an ancient monastery at Old Deer in Aberdeenshire before being kept for over 300 years at Cambridge University.

The small pocket book of gospels was written in Latin around the 8th Century, and local land transactions written in Gaelic marked on its pages. Experts have compared it to the ornately decorated Book of Kells, another cultural treasure (this time belonging to Ireland).

After years of negotiations and talks, the Book of Deer Project managed to gain a loan of the book from Cambridge University.

Derek Jennings, vice chairman of The Book of Deer Project, said: “These are exciting times for us. The Book of Deer is one of Scotland’s most iconic items which has the oldest examples of Scottish Gaelic written on its pages. We have had discussions with Cambridge University and they have now agreed that it can go on loan. The discussion now is where we can display it given security will be the most important issue.”

The Sir Duncan Rice Library at Aberdeen University may be given the honour to display the book when it arrives in Aberdeen in 2022, although the Old Deer itself, built in the 6th century, is also in the running as the treasure’s new home.

Mr Jennings said: “Absolutely, we would like it to come to Old Deer. It is said the book was taken by Edward I down to England because of the sway that it held over local people. They have always considered the book to be an important item.”

It is believed that the Book of Deer was actually made by the monks at the monastery as the monks had used similar techniques with writing Scots Gaelic in the margins, as it appears in the book.

Dr Michelle MacLeod, senior lecturer in Gaelic at the University of Aberdeen, earlier said: “The Book of Deer is a tiny book but it has left a huge legacy for us, not only in the north-east but for the whole of Scotland. We had to wait another 200-300 years after the Book of Deer to find any more evidence of written Scottish Gaelic.”

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