History

The Society was formed in 1777, and its first meeting was held on 6th July of that year. Its objects were, and remain:-

“The preservation of the language, music, literature, poetry and culture of the Highlands of Scotland, and the recognition of items of special interest relating to the Highlands.”

1782 The Society was concerned, together with the Highland Society of London, in promoting and achieving the repeal of the Disarming Act of 1745. This event was the subject of a famous poem by Duncan Ban MacIntyre (1724-1812), then Bard to the Highland Society of London.

1808 The Society raised £4,000 for establishing the post of Resident Gaelic Preacher in London. The first minister appointed was the Rev. Dr. James Boyd.

1811 The Society appointed the founding of the Edinburgh Gaelic Schools Society.

1816 A large influx of non-Gaelic speakers caused a split in the Society. The majority of members formed the Club of True Highlanders, while the Gaelic-speaking minority carried on the aims of the Society under the name of The Sons of Morven.

1821 The Society library was founded.

In the late 1820s the hotel in Covent Garden where the Society’s records were stored was destroyed by fire. As a result, the Sons of Morven ceased to exist. But thanks to the efforts of William Menzie, Louis MacDougall, Donald Currie and Lt. Col. Alexander MacIntosh, a Gaelic presence was maintained in London.

1830 The Society was reconstituted on 12th October.

1835 Between 1835 and 1875, efforts were made by the Society to found a Chair of Celtic Languages at Aberdeen University. Petitions were presented to the House of Commons in 1835 and again in 1839. In 1869 and 1870 letters were sent to all Highland parishes of all denominations, seeking the ministers’ views on the desirability of establishing a Gaelic Professorship, and inquiring to what extent Gaelic was preached in their parishes. This brought forth 3395 replies. The survey showed that 461 churches held Gaelic services every day. A press campaign followed, with the assistance of Professor John Stuart Blackie. In May 1870, Professor MacGregor of Edinburgh University told the Society that a committee was being set up to look into the possibility of setting up a Chair of Celtic in the University. The University decided to set up the Chair.

1843 The post of Resident Gaelic Preacher came to an end in this year. The residue of the money held for this purpose by the Society, some £3,000, was given to the Royal Caledonian Schools.

1847 A Grand Celtic Ball was held in this year, promoted by the Society, which raised £500 for the relief of the potato famine in the Highlands and Islands.

1848 From this year, for a number of years, the Society took part in the organisation of Scottish fêtes in the grounds of Holland House. These gained considerable popularity, and were regularly attended by the Queen, the Prince Consort and Duke of Wellington.

1871 The Society was asked to advise on the setting up of the newly-founded Gaelic Society of Inverness. A deputation of the Society asked the Lord Advocate to make provision in the Education Act for Scotland for Gaelic to be taught in Highland Schools.

1872 The Society was concerned in the founding of the Gaelic Services Committee at Crown Court Church of Scotland in Covent Garden. The Church hall is still used by the Society for meetings and functions. Gaelic Services are still held in the Church.

During this period, the Government used the Society to provide Gaelic translations of Government Bills relating to the Highlands, and to interpret Gaelic manuscripts relating to land disputes.

1875 On 9th June a special meeting of the Society, presided over by the Marquis of Huntly, was held in pursuance of the campaign to found a Chair of Celtic. It was announced that the Queen had donated £200, the Duke of Hamilton £100, and the Highland Society of London £100. The Marquis of Huntly presented a cheque from the Society for £250 to Professor Blackie. After that meeting, a fund-raising committee was set up the Society, chaired by Dr. Charles Fraser-MacKintosh MP, which raised another £300.

1876 The Society published the first collection of Gaelic songs with an English translation, and also the first such book to have the music orchestrated. The book was the Aireamh de dh’Orain na Gaidhealtachd. The Gaelic songs and their translations were provided by John Cameron MacPhee, and the music was orchestrated by Professor Louis Honig of the Royal Academy of Music. Shortly thereafter, a London Celtic Choir was formed, with Lord MacDuff as its patron. The Choir, 100 strong, was affiliated to the Society.

1877 The Society’s first centenary. On 6th June, a Centenary Dinner was held at St. James’s Hall in Regent Street. The guest of honour was Jesse Grant, son of the former President Ulysses Simpson Grant of the United States.

Also in this year, the Society staged the world’s first all-Gaelic public concert.

1878 The Federation of Celtic Societies was founded, as an attempt to show a united front on Gaelic matters. The Society was a founder member. The Federation consisted of:-

The Gaelic Society of Inverness
Aberdeen Highland Association
Glasgow Sutherland Association
Edinburgh University Celtic Society
Hepburn Celtic Society
Glasgow Highland Association
Ardnamurchan, Morven and Sunart Association
The Ossianic Club
The Edinburgh Sutherland Association

The Society was represented at the inaugural meeting of the Federation in Inverness, and Alexander MacKenzie, a member of the Society, was appointed Secretary.

Also in this year, the Society began a campaign to secure the teaching of Gaelic in Highland Schools. A deputation of the Society had an interview with the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, in which they asked that a grant of money be made for this purpose.

1881 The Society, together with the Highland Society of London, the Liddesdale Society, the Scottish Social Society, the Club of True Highlanders, and the London Scottish Volunteers, held a meeting at the Scottish Corporation Hall on 20th January, at which it was agreed that it was desirable to hold an annual Gathering in London, at which Scotsmen could meet in the open air. The Scottish Gathering was formed, which carried on Highland Games annually at Stamford Bridge.

Also in this year Dr. Charles Fraser-MacKintosh MP presented a petition in the House of Commons, on behalf of the Society and the Gaelic Society of Inverness, for the inclusion of Gaelic on the census for Scotland. The petition was successful.

1882 In this year the Highland Land Law Reform Association (HLLRA) was founded. A member of the Society, Donald Murray, became its first secretary. Eleven members of the society served on the executive of that Association. In the same year, the Napier Association was set up for the purpose of looking into the crofters’ grievances. Dr Fraser-MacKintosh MP, Donald Cameron of Lochiel MP and Professor Donald MacKinnon, Members of the Society, were members of the Royal Commission.

1885 Dr. Roderick MacDonald, President of the Society and member of the HLLRA, was this year elected to parliament for Sutherland.

1886 The Crofting Act was passed.

The Society continued its campaign to secure the teaching of Gaelic in Highland schools by sending a deputation to speak to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

1889 The Society’s Education Scheme was begun. Under this scheme, run in schools throughout the Highlands and Islands, exams were held in Gaelic, and prizes of Gaelic text-books were awarded. Also a silver medal was awarded to the most successful pupil in each county. The Scheme was financed by holding an annual concert. These attracted audiences of 2,000 and more.

1890 An Comunn Gaidhealach founded. The Society passed a resolution expressing satisfaction at the intention of An Comunn Gaidhealach to set up the National Mod. The first President of An Comunn was Lord Archibald Campbell, a Member of the Society.

1891 The London Gaelic Choir was founded.

1895 John Mackay, a very successful engineer and railway builder, who in his time was both President and Chief of the Society, was appointed President of An Comunn.

1896 The first woman Member of the Society, Miss MacFarlane Scott, owner of a fashion house and well-known collector of folk tales, was elected.

1897 Dr. Fraser-MacKintosh succeeded John Mackay as President of An Comunn Gaidhealach.

1900 The Society helped to set up a library in Planaske in Lewis. In the same year it raised funds to purchase binoculars for the Scottish Yeomanry Regiments serving in South Africa.

1901 The Society took over the administration of the Gaelic classes which had been in existence in London since they were founded in 1880 by William Gillies (grandfather of Dr. Anne Lorne Gillies and Professor William Gillies). The classes were later transferred to the London Gaelic Choir, which administered them until 1914. In 1920 they were taken over by the L.C.C., and later they were transferred to the City Literary Institute, part of the London Institute of Adult Education in Stukeley Street, where they continue to this day, and where the teachers are still Members of the Society.

By this time the Education Scheme was flourishing. Applications were received from 58 schools, in which 1,500 pupils were receiving Gaelic tuition, in this year. A total of 570 Gaelic prizes and 200 Gaelic textbooks were presented. In addition, the Education Fund made a capitation grant to all school teachers in respect of any pupil who passed and elementary Gaelic examination.

1904 The Society joined with the Highland Society of London in successfully petitioning the War Office for the retention of the Ostrich Bonnet for Highland Regiments, as had been done earlier for the retention of the kilt.

1907 In this year a joint deputation of the Society and An Comunn Gaidhealach met with the Secretary of State on the subject of Gaelic Education. A member of the deputation was Edward Dwelly (otherwise known as Ewen MacDonald). The Society assisted in the work of the Gaelic-English Dictionary by purchasing large numbers of copies which were given as prizes under the Education Scheme. In this year 63 schools took part, and 995 pupils received book prizes.

The Society raised £710 for An Comunn Gaidhealach.

1913 The first London Mod took place.

1914 At the outbreak of the War the Education Scheme came to an end, as did the Grand Concerts. Concerts and ceilidhs were staged at the camps of the Highland and Canadian troops. A prisoner of war fund was raised for the provision of food parcels which, with Gaelic books purchased from A.C. MacLaren, were sent to prisoners of war.

A Federation of London Scottish Societies was formed at the beginning of the war, of which the Society was a member. This Federation arranged entertainment, food, and lodgings for Scottish troops on leave in London.

1919 The King presented to the Society a volume relating to Queen Victoria’s journeys in Scotland.

After the war, the remainder of the prisoner of war fund was transferred to the Stornoway Disaster Fund, for the survivors and the kin of those who were lost in the sinking of the Iolaire. The ship struck the Beast of Holm, just outside Stornoway, in the night of 1 January 1919 and sank with the loss of some 200 servicemen returning to Lewis and Harris after the war.

1920 The Society assisted with the restarting of the London Gaelic Choir.

1923 The Society founded the Highland Club, for young Gaels in London who wanted to attend weekly ceilidhs and dances. (The Club still exists, but no longer has any connection with the Society).1927 The Society raised £1180 for the funds of An Comunn Gaidhealach.

1928 James C. M. Campbell, a member of the Society and of the Choir, won the Gold Medal at the National Mod in Inverness. Also, he and his wife Meg won the duet competition.

1932 Comunn na h-Oigridh was founded following a suggestion by a member of society that a Gaelic League of Youth be founded.

Some Members of the Society, dissatisfied with the small amount of Gaelic to be heard at functions of the Highland Club, formed Ceilidh nan Gaidheal. That organisation continued until the 1950s.

Also in this year the Society was affiliated to the Gaelic Texts Society.

1934 A Gaelic volume, Litrichean Mhòir was sent to the Highland Gaelic Association of Sydney, Australia.

1935 Ceilidh nan Gaidheal raised £700 for Comunn na h-Oigridh.

1937 Ceilidh nan Gaidheal became affiliated to the Society.

1945 The Society became affiliated to An Comunn Gaidhealach.

1950 The first London Mod since the war took place.

1953 The Chairman of the London Mod Council was Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, then Home Secretary. The Mod this year was also attended by HE Mr H. Boland, the Irish Ambassador, and his wife.

1954 Following a suggestion from the Society to the Secretary of States for Scotland, a Gaelic-speaking member was elected to the Crofters’ Commission.

1960 The President of the Society formed the London Scottish Junior Singers. This Choir performed at the London Mods and made broadcasts for the BBC.

1964 The Society became affiliated to the Festival of Scotland, a body which raised funds for Scottish charities. It organised an annual Highland Gathering, at which the Society played an active part. ‘The Clachan’, which the Society staged and which was run by John Nicholson and Jimmy Paterson, became a prominent feature of the Games for a number of years. Jimmy Paterson later became President of the Highland Gathering.

The Society urged the BBC to provide a broadcast in Gaelic on the national network. This was repeated in 1970 with some success. The BBC did transmit a Gaelic programme once a month at 9.30 on a Saturday morning. This programme only lasted a short time.

1966 The Society’s Eventide Homes Fund was started, with the holding of a Hebridean Evening at which £900 was raised. The first administrator of the fund was Mrs Mary Stewart.

1967 The Eventide Homes in Rothesay were provided with garden seats.

1968 The Society’s Council held meetings with MPs, following which a resolution was sent to the Secretary of State for Scotland calling for legal recognition and more financial aid for Gaelic; for Highland Development to pay more regard to sociological, human, and cultural problems; and for Gaelic representation on bodies such as the Highlands and Islands Development Board.

1969 The Eventide Homes Fund provided the Gesto Hospital, Edinbane, with a garden shelter.

1970 The Society outlined to local authorities in the Gaelic speaking areas its ideals regarding the use of Gaelic for public signs and notices. Ten authorities adopted the ideas as their policy.

1972 The Society gave Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College, twenty-five Gaelic books on permanent loan.

The Rt. Hon. Donald Stewart MP, was the first Member of Parliament ever to take the Oath of Allegiance in Gaelic.

Alexandra Thompson was the first person born outside Scotland to win the Gold Medal at the National Mod. She was also a Member of the Society, and of the London Gaelic Choir, and formerly of the London Scottish Junior Singers.

1973 On the demolition of the Royal Scottish Corporation Hall in Fetter Lane, the Society’s library was rehoused on a twenty-year loan in the library of University College London.

1976 The thirty-ninth and last London Mod was held.

1977 The bicentenary year of the Society. A special Gaelic service was held in the Crown Court Church of Scotland, broadcast by the BBC. The Preacher was the Rev. Roderick Smith. Allan Beaton, Honorary Piper to the Society, composed a tune for the bicentenary, entitled The Gaelic Society of London.

In this year the first Open Day was held.

1978 The BBC broadcast a history of the Society.

The Society donated £100 to the Raasay Hall appeal. The Society raised £200 for the Eriskay Community Co-operative, and £921 for the Highlands and Islands Eventide Homes Fund.

1979 Following a meeting with MPs, representatives of kindred societies, and the President of An Comunn Gaidhealach, following the failure of the Gaelic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which had been presented by the Society’s Chief, Donald Stewart MP, an eight-point plan was put forward, and a liaison group of the Society and MPs was established.

1980 The Society presented a quaich to the Clarsach Society on its 50th anniversary, to be presented annually to the member of the Clarsach Society who had made the best contribution to Gaelic. The first winner was Elizabeth Bennett from New Zealand.

1982 The Society sponsored recordings by the late James Campbell, former President of the Society and Mod Gold Medallist. The work was undertaken by the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh, and an LP record was made. The recording is now available on CD.

The Society’s Gaelic conversation competition for schools was launched by Joyce Seymour-Chalk. The first winner was Neil MacIsaac from South Uist.

1986 A special Open Day was held at St. Ermin’s Hotel to mark the 100th anniversary of the Crofting Act of 1886. The speakers were James Shaw Grant, Dr. James Hunter and Cliff Castle (Hon. Secretary of the Society). The London Gaelic Choir sang a number of songs by Màiri Mhòr nan Oran. The event was broadcast.

The poetry prizes at the National Mod in Edinburgh in this year were won by a Member of the Society.

1990 The Society urged the National Census Office to include a general question, covering all ethnic languages pertaining to the British Isles, to be included in the National Census. The request has been followed up a number of times by various people, and has consistently been ignored.

1991 Following a meeting in 1989 of Society delegates and MPs, together with the President of CnaG, a further meeting was held at the House of Commons with MPs and representatives of CnaG, to discuss Gaelic broadcasting and the future of Gaelic generally.

This year was the centenary year of the London Gaelic Choir, and a joint affiliation between the Choir and the Society was made in commemoration thereof.

1992 The Society provided a memorial seat on the Isle of Raasay in memory of the late John Nicholson, formerly Vice-President, President and Chief of the Society, and Administrator of the Eventide Homes Fund.

1993 The Society donated £500 to the Donald Stewart Memorial Trust.

1994 Under its new President, Calum Graham, the Society began a new annual function, the Literary Evening. The first speaker was Professor Derick Thomson.

A committee was formed under the chairmanship of Angus Nicol to consider the legal recognition of the Gaelic language. The Committee considered a draft enabling Bill (which had been adopted by the Conference in 1985, A dh’ionnsuidh poileasaidh nàiseanta airson Ghàidhlig). A copy of the draft was sent to CnaG. Later in the year the Committee met with Alan Campbell of CnaG to discuss the draft and the question in general.

1995 The Society donated £250 towards the raising of a cairn in memory of the South Uist Bards, Donald MacIntyre and Donald John MacDonald.

A concert was held in memory of the late Donald Smith, for many years President of the Society and then Chief, and formerly Convenor of the London Mod. The sum of £1241 was raised, and formed the Donald Smith Memorial Fund. This was to finance a new piping competition for a march to be played by pipers of 16 years or under, who also gave their views (either in Gaelic or English) as to the importance of Gaelic.

1996 A deputation visited the House of Commons to discuss with MPs the need for a language question to be included in the Census in 2001 and thereafter. An early day notion was raised by Calum MacDonald, and some 70 MPs were approached for their support. (The 2001 census form makes it clear that the question is still being ignored by the National Census Office).

The Donald Smith Memorial Competition took place for the first time. The first year’s winner was Innes Smith, Bridge of Allan (whose parents are both from Lewis). He received a copy of Kilberry Book of Ceòl Mòr, and the cost of a week’s piping course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Also this year, the Society held the first ever Gaelic Concert at Dover House, in aid of the Education Trust.

1998 The guest speaker at the Literary Evening was Iain Crichton Smith.

The Chief of the Society, Bill Innes, won the Literary Prize at the Royal National Mod in Fort William for his book Chì Mi.

1999 The London Ga