The second in the Royal Celtic Society's new lecture series took place on Friday 16th March in the magnificent surroundings of the Dome Room in Edinburgh's New Register House.
Dr Priscilla Scott, a native Gaelic speaker who grew up at Taynuilt in Argyll, is an expert on the 19th century Gaelic movement and has been commissioned to write the history of the Society for its 200th anniversary in 2020 and this lecture was based on her early research into this project, drawing principally on the Society's 200 year old archive, now housed in the National Library in Edinburgh.
Dr Scott entrhalled her audience with her account of the Royal Celtic Society's origins and development. She began by telling us of the inaugural meeting of The Celtic Society, convened by one William Mackenzie, a half-pay lieutenant who claimed to the the grandson of a Culloden veteran. Coincidentally, that meeting took place in Oman's Tavern, now long vanished but situated almost exactly on the site of New Register House, where we had gathered to hear Dr Scott's talk. Among the first members were General David Stewart of Garth and Colonel Alasdair Ranaldson MacDonnell of Glengarry. Very shortly afterwards, they were joined by Sir Walter Scott and many more of Edinburgh's great and good.
The Society's initial objective was to promote the "correct" wearing of Highland dress. It played a pivotal role in George IV's ground breaking visit to Edinburgh in 1822. It organised the Celtic Ball, a charitable event attended by up to 900 people and which quickly attracted the support of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort.
The Society's role evolved according to the needs of the times and after 1872, the emphasis shifted to Gaelic language, and in particular, Gaelic education, following the 1872 Acto of Parliament which was overtly hostile to any linguistic tradition other than English. The Society continued to champion Gaelic education against a backdrop of difficult social conditions in the Highlands of that time, the reality of which meant poverty, starvation and clearance for many ordinary Gaelic speakers.
We are grateful to Dr Scott for her enthusaism for this project, for giving her time to come and speak to a large audience of members of the puclic as well as Society members, and we look forward to hearing more of her research as the project progresses.
This lecture programme, which is open to the public as well as Royal Celtic Society members, will resume in September when we look forward to hearing from leading tartan scholar and handloom weaver, Peter Eslea Macdonald.