Gaelic (and Celtic) have been fortunate at various key points to secure the backing of various Principals in the University which can be seen as early as the time of Principal Story, 1898-1907. Many of the Principals that followed Story have also been helpful and proactive in developing the place of Celtic and Gaelic. In earlier centuries, although Gaelic had no place at the University, at least three, and probably a fourth principal, were Gaels themselves – although there is no official record of their ability to speak Gaelic.

The earliest, and least certain of these four, of these can be tentatively identified as Mr John Cameron (1622-23) although there are question marks over his background. More certainty is possible with Mr Niall Campbell (1728-61), the Rev. Donnchadh MacFarlan (1823-57), and Professor Sir Donald MacAlister, principal of the University between 1907-29 and then chancellor, 1929-34. Each of these men were prominent in their day and all merit entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and, of course, the University of Glasgow Story. None of these accounts or descriptions, however, makes much, if anything, of the Highland or Gaelic dimension. This approach is understandable as those individuals considered here did little, themselves, to publicise their Gaelic background. These individuals have excellent conventional biographies elsewhere but this section will concentrate on their Gaelic context.


Mr Iain (John) Cameron, Principal, 1622-23….   …and, a Gael ?

As there is so little evidence for peoples’ Gaelic-speech, it is often difficult to identify people as Gaels. This is the case with the prominent theologian, minister and scholar, Mr John Cameron (1579-1625), who was principal of the University of Glasgow, 1622-23. Cameron spent several years as a theologian in various locales in Europe and as a Professor of divinity at the Protestant University of Saumur in France. Principal John Cameron 1622_HunterianHe was a controversial character who challenged orthodox Protestant doctrines in both France and Scotland. Little is known for certain about his origins and although he is said to have come from Glasgow, mention is made of the Saltmarket, but his family connections are unclear. Cameron was undoubtedly educated at Glasgow (MA 1599) and it may well be that he was a native of Glasgow which seems to be the version which has the most credence in differing accounts of his origin offered by various sources. One of these accounts states that his father was a burgess of Glasgow.[1]

This image ( right) of Mr John Cameron was made many years after his death (1625) by John Scougall (1645-1737), presumably using a lost likeness of Cameron. Scougall’s painting is reproduced here by kind permission of the Hunterian, University of Glasgow (© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2013).

According to Clan Cameron histories, however, John Cameron, the divinity Professor was the son of another John Cameron, the father having been a priest prior to the Reformation, before becoming the first Protestant minister of the Gaelic speaking parish of Dunoon, 1560-1590. Mr John Cameron (elder), this minister of Dunoon was charged with the education of Ailean mac Dhòmhnaill Duibh, or Allan Cameron of Lochiel (c.1560-1647), who became chief of that clan. If this is correct, it may be that one of the Principals of Glasgow University received his education in the company of his clan chief, in a Gaelic setting (at Dunoon). It can not be said for sure that John Cameron, Principal, 1622-23, was a Gael from Dunoon – but it has to be raised as a possibility and seems as least as credible as the accounts of his background offered elsewhere.[2]


Mr Niall Campbell, Principal of the university, 1728-1761

Niall Campbell (1678-1761) was a native of Glenaray (or possibly Claonairigh nearby), Argyll: a son to Major Iain Campbell and Sìne Campbell from Pennymore.[3] This area was Gaelic speaking at this time.[4] The Synod of Argyll were keen to train able and godly youths who would study divinity and, it was hoped, return as ministers to an area struggling with a shortage of Gaelic speaking clergy. Niall Campbell attended the University of Glasgow between 1693 and 1697 appearing in the records as ‘Nigellus’ Campbell in 1697.[5] Niall was licenced to teach by the Synod in 1702. His first charge was the huge parish of of Kilmallie in Lochaber, a Highland and Gaelic speaking parish (which included Fort William). He went from there to be minister in Rosneath, Dumbartonshire, in 1709. This parish required a Gaelic speaking minister at the time and there were still, as late as 1720, still 26 families in the area who understood no English. Indeed, when Mr Niall Campbell left for Renfrew in 1715, his former parishioners were left without Gaelic provision.[6] Niall Campbell remained in Renfrew until he was appointed as Principal of the University of Glasgow, 1728.GUA 26635_28 - 1st signature Princl N Cmpbll Faclty mins 1728

Detail of the Faculty minute book, the University of Glasgow, 1728, showing the Principal’s signature.This image reproduced by permission of Glasgow University Archive Services, ©University of Glasgow Archive Services, GB0248, GUAS, GUA, 26635/28.

Campbell remained as Principal until his death in 1761. He was twice the moderator of the Church of Scotland, 1732 & 1737, and was the royal chaplain (in Scotland) for the Hanoverian monarchs.[7] The following letter from Mr Niall Campbell, then still minister at Renfrew, 1724, four years before he took up his post at Glasgow, shows his interest in the plight of Gaels in the city and the lack of spiritual provision available for them.

ICA Bundle 592_Rev Neil Campbell Renfrew 1724

Image of a letter written by Mr Neil Campbell, 1724, addressed to the Synod of Argyll. Argyll Papers, bundle 592. Reproduced by kind permission of His Grace the Duke of Argyll, Inveraray Castle)

‘Mr Neil Campbell, minister at Renfrews letter anent the Highlanders in Glasgow, presented & read 10th August 1724. [addressed by Campbell] ‘To the Right Reverend the moderator of the Synod of Argyll, to be communicated, Inveraray.

Anent the Highlanders who have only the Irish language at Glasgow.

Right Reverend,

The Synod of Glasgow and Air received the letter which your reverend Synod at the last meeting sent them desiring they might enjoin Mr John McLaurin, min[iste]r at Glasgow to take such as have only the Irish Language in that place under his inspection and preach the Gospel to them. In answer to this the Synod appointed me to signify to you that tho’ when he was transported the commission ordered him to do what your letter required, and which they are informed, he carefully obeys, yet further, as testify their great regard to your reverend synod they recommend to the Presbytery of Glasgow (Mr McLaurin being absent) to notice that he continue the exercise of his zealous care about that people. That the Lord may alwayes direct and assist you in all the parts of your great work and bring your meeting to a comfortable conclusion is the duty full and very sinceer desire of

Renfrew, 6 August 1724. Righ Reverend,your most affectionat brother and most humble servant, Neil Campbell,

Campbell’s letter shows that a significant number of these Gaels in the Gaelic community (most of them presumably from Argyll and its environs) in Glasgow could not speak Gaelic. Campbell was a cousin of the Gaelic minister in Glasgow, John MacLaurin (MA Glasgow, 1712) who had been born at Glendaruel and was raised at Kilfinnan, Argyll. MacLaurin and Principal Campbell’s fortunes were both closely bound to the patronage and influence of Eoin Campbell, 2d Duke of Argyll and his younger brother Gilleasbuig, 3rd Duke of Argyll. Although all the surviving evidence for Principal Campbell is in English and although he spent the greater part of his career in the non-Gaelic environment of Glasgow, there can be no doubt that he was a Gael.[8]


Mr Donnchadh MacFarlan, Principal, 1823-1858.

Donnchadh MacFarlan graduated, MA, from Glasgow in 1788. He was the son of Donnchadh ‘Rongais’ (or ‘rungs’) MacFarlan, the Gaelic minister of Drymen in Stirlingshire. (He acquired this nickname, apparently, by driving off a party of cattle rustlers sometime around 1743 armed with nothing more than rungs or stout sticks). Donnnchadh Rongais MacFarlan, a native of Arrochar, died in 1791 and he was succeeded in this charge by his son, Donnnchadh the younger. It was this Mr Donnchadh MacFarlan, the future principal, who composed the account of the parish of Drymen for the Old Statistical Account (1791-99), and this is what he had to say about the linguistic composition of the parishioners of Drymen at that time:

A considerable number speak the Gaelic language and there are 3 or 4 who do not understand English’ [9]

MacFarlan was minister of Drymen parish until his appointment as Principal of the University of Glasgow in 1823. It is probable that MacFarlan preached in Gaelic given that a number of individuals in the 1790s could not understand English. His father before him certainly did and Gaelic sermons written (probably by the elder MacFarlan who was also noted for his command of Fenian lore) were deposited along with the Principal’s other papers, in Glasgow University Library.[10]

Hunterian Duncan McFarlan - Principal GU 1823-57_Rev Donnchadh MacFarlan (1771-1857), Principal of the University of Glasgow, 1823-1857. This portrait made by John Graham-Gilbert, 1839, reproduced here by kind permission of the Hunterian Museum and Gallery, University of Glasgow (© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2013).

Full details of the career of Mr Donnchadh MacFarlan as principal (1823-57), moderator of the Church of Scotland can be seen in a number of accounts, although there is little reference there to his Highland background or ability to speak Gaelic.[11] This is due to the nature of the surviving evidence and probably by the way in which MacFarlan made little of his background. There is strong circumstancial evidence not only that MacFarlan was a Gael but that he took a keen interest in Gaelic matters, particularly in relation to the Church, throughout his career. He kept a keen interest in and retained great influence in church matters in the south western Gaidhealtachd including the supply of Gaelic scriptural materials after his appointment as principal. It was on MacFarlan’s recommendation that the famous Gaelic writer Rev Tormod Macleod, ‘Caraid nan Gaidheal’, was transferred from a congregation at Campbelltown to Campsie in 1824. Letters also survive from MacFarlan in 1824 and 1843 showing his acute awareness of the need for Gaelic provision for the congregations and parishes of Arrochar, Aberfoyle and Kintyre.[12] He also wrote a letter of support for a Daibhidh Stewart who was being offered to the Presbytery of Mull as a potential minister in 1827. MacFarlan recommended Stewart on the grounds that he had been:

‘…known to me for many years and I have no hesitation in recommending him as a pious, modest, intelligent and very worthy young man. He has resided in Glasgow and its neighbourhood for some time past, but is a native of the Highlands of Perthshire and preaches fluently in Gaelic...’[13]

MacFarlan’s intervention was successful and and the Rev Daibhidh Stewart went on to become a minister in parishes of Kinlochspelvie (1828) and then Ardnamurchan & Island Finnan (1844).[14] MacFarlan was also a member of the steering committee for the Glasgow Bible Society (1847) which was responsible (among other things) for the distribution of Gaelic scriptural materials.[15] MacFarlan was also, as his father had been before him, a member of the Glasgow Highland Society from 1827, which was an another venue in which he would have mixed with many Gaels.[16] Principal MacFarlan took a direct interest in the distribution of bursaries for Gaelic speaking students in the 1840s.[17] The members of An Comann Oiseanach mentioned him, 22/11/1834, not only in terms of their respect for him as Principal but also as someone who could help them in their campaign to distribute copies of An Teachdaire Gaidhealach throughout the Gaidhealtachd.[18]


1898-1907 – Professor Robert Raibeart H. Story.

The Principal at the time that Gaelic became established as a subject of study at the University, Professor Robert H. Story (1835-1907) was not a Gaelic speaker. Story was a son of the minister of Rosneath, a district where Gaelic speech had greatly declined but was still spoken by 10% of the population as late as 1891. Story’s father, the Rev Robert Story (1795-1860) wrote an account of the parish for the New Statistical Account in May 1839 which noted the strong historical connections of that district with the Gaelic language.

Principal Story 1900 (Memoir of RH Story_1909) 1The younger Robert, the future principal, will undoubtedly have heard Gaelic being spoken around him in his youth by the older people in the district even though English was by far the most prevalent speech. Robert H. Story became successively minister, theologian and a professor of Church history. He was also Moderator of the Kirk and a chaplain to the royal family. He showed an interest in the Highlands, if not Gaelic, throughout his career.[19]

Story was principal of the University when the Rev Dr Archibald K. MacCallum’s bequest (1893) was finally implemented (1901) and, indeed, it was Story who introduced Dr Magnus Maclean, who delivered the first ever official Celtic lecture at the University in the Humanity Classroom, 24 January 1901. [20]

[Photograph of Professor Robert H. Story taken from theMemoir of Robert Herbert Story, D.D., LL.D by his daughters (Glasgow, 1909). Both Principal Story and his daughters personally contributed to the fund to establish a Celtic lectureship.]

Principal Story seems to have been very friendly with Professor Kuno Meyer who succeeded Maclean as the MacCallum lecturer, 1903-1906. Meyer, based at Liverpool University, visited Glasgow to deliver the Celtic lectures and Story referred to this in one of his letters from February 1904 indicating that Meyer had impressed the importance of the subject to him:

‘Kuno Meyer, whom you saw and heard has been with us this last week from Saturday till Tuesday. He is very good company, and I think that one result of his lectures will be the creation of a permanent Celtic lectureship – which will remove a reproach.’ [ 21]

Meyer concluded his lecture, 22 February 1904, by calling for the establishment of not a lectureship, but a Chair of Celtic at the University. Principal Story was supportive and, according to the newspaper report of the lecture, Story:

‘…as principal of this University, he felt that little or nothing had been done to encourage Celtic Studies and he earnestly hoped that some steps would be taken to remedy the state of matters in response to the earnest appeal to which they had listened…’

The problem faced by the Principal and the University at this time was a lack of funding for the establishment of a lectureship. A full time lectureship would cost around £200 per annum, while the MacCallum bequest would cover only £75 of these costs and additional funds were needed. A public campaign to raise the necessary funds soon managed to bridge this gap. Fourteen subscribers contributed sums toward this, the Principal and his daughters among them. By October 1906 enough had been raised to appoint Dr George Henderson on a five year contract as the first ever full time lecturer of Celtic at the University of Glasgow.[22 ]


1907-1929, Sir Donald MacAlister, Principal of the University. Sir Donald Macalister was an accomplished scholar of mathematics and medicine and a skilled medical administrator.

Sir Donald MacAlisterWhile Celtic had benefitted from the support of Principal Story, this was continued by his successor and Celtic and Gaelic was fully established as a subject of study at the University. Sir Donald had grown up in a Gaelic-speaking household and family worship was conducted in Gaelic during his youth. Although he was born in Perth his parents were Gaelic speakers from Argyll with Skye connections – and they got married at the Gaelic church on Hope Street in Glasgow (GH, 25/01/1908). Sir Donald proclaimed his pride in his Gaelic heritage and was supportive of Gaelic education – not only at University level but also spoke in favour of Gaelic medium education in schools throughout the Highlands. (GH 06/07/ 1908).

Sir Donald MacAlister. This image taken from the book, E.F.B. MacAlister, Sir Donald MacAlister of Tarbert (London, 1935). Accounts can been of Sir Donald’s views on Gaelic in reports from the Glasgow Herald on the ‘press cuttings’ section of this website (25/01/1908 & 06/07/1908).





[1] L. W. B. Brockliss, ‘Cameron, John (1579/80–1625)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 20 Oct 2014]. R. Wodrow, ‘Collections on the life of Mr John Cameron, minister at Bordeaux, professor of divinity at Saumur, principal of the College of Glasgow and professor of divinity at Montauban’, in W.J. Duncan, ed., Collections upon the lives of the reformers and most eminent ministers of the Church of Scotland by the Rev. Robert Wodrow, (2 vols., in 3 parts, Maitland Club, Glasgow, 1834-1848), vol. 2/2., 81–229. FES, iv, 22. FES, vii, 393. A short account of the life and times of Mr John Cameron can also be seen at the University Story site by clicking here:



[2] The Clan Cameron account describes their connection with Cameron, the principal of Glasgow and famous theologian as follows: “[Cameron of] Locheil’s nurse, for the safety of his person, conveyed him privatly to Mull, where he remained during his infancey under the tutelage of Lachlan Maclean of Doward, his uncle, who thereafter made the choice of McGilvraw of Glencanner to be his foster-father. With this gentleman he, according to custome, continued until he was fitt for schoole, and the care of his education was intrusted to Mr John Cameron, minister of Dunune, his kinsman and a person of great probity and learning, by whom he was trained up in the Protestant religion, which then began to get a footing in the Highlands. He [i.e. ‘Mr John Cameron, minister of Dunune’] was father to the great Cameron, who was then the most famous Protestant divine living.” This taken from, J. McKnight, ed., Memoirs of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiell, chief of the Clan Cameron. With an introductory account of the history and antiquities of that familly and neighbouring clans (Maitland Club, Edinburgh, 1842), 37. FES, iv, 22. FES, vii, 393.

[3] Paul Wood, ‘Campbell, Neil (1678–1761)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [, accessed 17 Oct 2013. An account of Campbell’s career can also be seen at the University Story by clicking on the following link:


[4] Gaelic was spoken from end to end of Glen Aray a century later in the 1790s and undoubtedly was in Campbell’s youth. Even as late as the 1890s 80% of the district spoke Gaelic. OSA, 1791-99, v, p. 303-304. K.C. Duwe, Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic) Local Studies (2nd edition, April 2012), 7.

[5] For Niall Campbell at the University, see, MAUG, iii, 162. Many examples can be seen of the care the Synod of Argyll took in trying to identify, train and prepare promising Gaelic-speaking youths for a career in the ministry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. D. C. Mactavish, ed., Minutes of the Synod of Argyll, 1639-1661 (Edinburgh, 1943-44), i, 117, 136-137, 159; ii, 86-7. NRS, CH1/2/24/1/1 No. 48.  NRS, E 424/8. NRS, CH2/557/14/185.

[6] Gaelic was the language spoken from end to end of Kilmallie district in the eighteenth century. Even as late as 1881 some 80% of the population spoke Gaelic. The church took soundings of the linguistic status of the population of Rosneath, due to their need to supply the parish with a Gaelic minister. They were obliged to provide a Gaelic minister as long as the congregations could not speak English. There were 36 families where no English was spoken in 1657 and this number had falled to 26 by 1722. NRS, CH 1/2/46/262-3. For further details of these parishes see: FES, iii, 187, 363. FES, iv, 134. FES, vii, 396, 441. OSA, 1791-99, viii, 430. K.C. Duwe, Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic) Local Studies. Vol. 19, An Gearasdan & Loch Abar an Ear – Fort William & East Lochaber (2nd edition, 2006), 8, 22. J. Irving, The History of Dumbartonshire: civil, ecclesiastical and territorial, with genealogical notices of the principal families in the county (Dumbarton, 1860), 412.

[7] Paul Wood, ‘Campbell, Neil (1678–1761)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [, accessed 6 July 2014]. GUL, MS Gen 1378/4-5.

[8] GUL, MS Gen 1378/4-5. R. Emerson, Academic patronage in the Scottish englightenment. Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities (Edinburgh, 2014), 90-91, 99, 108-112, 117-228. 125. FES, iv, 31. Richard B. Sher, ‘MacLaurin, John (1693–1754)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 6 July 2014]. Erik Lars Sageng, ‘MacLaurin, Colin (1698–1746)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [, accessed 6 July 2014]. Further information can be seen on the MacLaurin family by clicking here:

[9] Old Statistical Account, 1791-99, vol. viii, p. 549.

[10] FES, iii, 339-340. M. Newton, Bho Chluaidh gu Calasraid (2010), xix, 56, 282. A. Gunderloch, Làmh-sgrìobhainnean Gàidhlig Oilthigh Ghlaschu. A catalogue of the Gaelic Manuscripts of the University of Glasgow (Department of Celtic, University of Glasgow, 2007), 14-15, <>.

[11] FES, vii, 397. Lionel Alexander Ritchie, ‘Macfarlan, Duncan (1771–1857)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009 [, accessed 6 July 2014]. An account of MacFarlan can also be seen on the University of Glasgow Story website:

[12] GUAS, DC 9/95-97. GUL, MS Gen 1717/4/D/1.

[13] GUAS, DC 9/140.

[14] FES, iv, 108, 115.

[15] Glasgow Herald, 5/11/1847, t.d. 1.

[16] Glasgow Highland Society, Rules and Regulations and list of members, 1727-1902 (James MacLehose & sons, Glasgow, 1902).

[17] GUAS, GUA 45. GUAS, GUA 115. GUAS, GUA 1609.

[18] GUL, MS Gen 1363/57-58.

[19] FES, vii, 398-9. 210-216. [F. Story and H. C. H. Story], Memoir of Robert Herbert Story, D.D., LL.D., Principal and Vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow, one of his Majesty’s Chaplains in Scotland by his daughters (Glasgow, 1909), 172-174, 210-216. T. W. Bayne, ‘Story, Robert Herbert (1835–1907)’, rev. A. T. B. McGowan, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 [, accessed 6 July 2014]. A short account of Principal Story can also be seen by clicking on this link to the University of Glasgow Story website: <>

[20] Glasgow Herald, 25/01/1901, t.d. 4.

[21] Letter, Principal Story to Lady F. Balfour, 18th February 1904. Memoir of Robert Herbert Story, 359.

[ 22 ] GUAS, Sen 1/1/20/172-178, 219. GUAS, GUA 56441. GUAS, GUA 72530.  Glasgow Herald, 23/02/1904, t.d. 10. A short account on Sir Donald MacAlister can be seen at the University of Glasgow Story website: <>






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