Lorne Campbell of Canna was a Scottish patriot of unique stamp, a
scholar of exceptional quality, and a generous friend to many both at
home and beyond the shores of Scotland. His roots lay in the old
heartland of the Scottish Kingdom, in Argyll, where his pedigree of the
Campbells of Craignish and Clann Thearlaich bear witness to the
single-mindedness and fierce independence of spirit which was Campbell's
The eldest son of Col
Duncan Campbell of Inverneill on Loch Fyne and his American wife, Ethel
Waterbury, of New Jersey, he was educated at Cargilfield School,
Edinburgh, and Rugby. He went on to St John's College, Oxford, to read
Rural Economy under Professor Sir James Scott Watson and Celtic under
Professor John Fraser of Jesus College, graduating in 1929 and receiving
his MA in 1933.
An interest in Gaelic from boyhood was fostered by Fraser, the
gamekeeper's son from Glenurquhart who became Campbell's mentor.
Campbell began work while at Oxford on a Gaelic anthology which became
his first publication, Highland Songs of the Forty-Five, in 1933. He
always averred that Fraser had taught him the principles and discipline
of editing which subsequently served him in such good stead and
naturally made him impatient of carelessness and low standards in such
fields of scholarship.
The editorial apparatus of this work put up an important scholarly
marker and presented a thesis which Campbell followed through his long
career. When Highland Songs of the Forty-Five was deservedly republished
by the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society in 1984, beside making amendments
and additions he was able to restate with conviction after half a
. . . the Rising of 1745 was the natural reaction of the Jacobite clans
and their sympathisers in the Highlands against what had been since the
coming of William of Orange in 1690 a calculated official genocidal
campaign against the religion of many and the language of all
After Oxford, Campbell's career took a fresh and momentous turn. Invited
to Barra to study crofting conditions and colloquial Gaelic, his arrival
in the Outer Hebrides on 4 August 1933 marked the beginning of a long
and extraordinary life's work of recovery and transmission of the Gaelic
song, literary and linguistic record. Sharing in the coterie which
Compton Mackenzie had established at Northbay in Barra, Campbell himself
stayed with the exceptional John Macpherson, county councillor and
postmaster, known to all as the "Coddy".
With him, and other Barra notables such as Neil Sinclair, the Sgoilear
Ruadh, and Annie and Calum Johnston, he began to explore this unusual
world of the Hebrides, then still, as in his own words, "like the old
Highlands of the early 19th century". Here Campbell became the pioneer
of the modern collection and preservation of Gaelic song and story. He
worked outside the conventional institutional framework of the
universities, which arguably has given his work a freshness of approach
in the study of Gaelic literature and history.
With Compton Mackenzie, John Lorne Campbell took an interest in the
political and economic life of the Outer Hebrides and together they
founded the Sea League, which took its title from the 19th-century Land
League and its philosophy and dynamic from the fishery policies of
Norway, Iceland and the Faeroes. They called for the closure of the
Minch to trawlers in order to safeguard the livelihoods of Hebrideans
deriving from traditional drift-net and long-line fishery.
Campbell's own robust comment on the episode delivered in 1975 sums up
some of his own convictions on Scottish political life:
Personally I have never been more thoroughly convinced of the justice of
any cause than I was of the Sea League. The situation was a revelation
of the attitude of the Westminster government and the Scottish Office
towards the Hebrides. The islands were despised because they were poor,
and they were poor because their economic interest in the greatest
source of wealth accessible to them, the sea, had been sacrificed to
those of the English trawling monopolies.
When later he published Macpherson's Tales of Barra, told by the Coddy
in 1960, he rationalised his approach to modern Celtic studies as
"getting inside the tradition" and the need of the student (like
himself) to learn, not the stilted language of the litterateurs and the
grammarians, but a dialect of Gaelic, since "the dialects of the Outer
Hebrides are more vigorous than the modern literary language, and
contain many words and expressions that are not in the printed
dictionaries". Over a period of about 30 years of perseverance and
intense dedication, he amassed a sound recording archive of some 1,500
Gaelic songs and 350 folktales. Approximately one-tenth of the
recordings have been published, for example the 135 waulking songs in
three volumes of Hebridean Folksongs edited as a collaborative effort
with Francis Collinson from 1966 until 1981.
Campbell was also a pioneer of technical methodology. His recording work
advanced in step with contemporary developments; beginning with an
Ediphone Recorder using wax cylinders, he progressed to a Presto Disc
Recorder, both obtained in New York as state-of-the-art equipment. He
would often recall ruefully the difficulties and suspicion which he met
with in trying to get his equipment (which has achieved so much for our
culture) through the bureaucracy of customs.
Latterly, when magnetic tape recorders became the norm, Campbell used a
Grundig Tape Recorder and a Phillips Portable Recorder. Working alone in
the field, he gained some recognition of the importance of his task with
a two-year grant of pounds 250 from the Leverhulme Foundation in 1949.
The linking of Scotland and Nova Scotia was another facet of Campbell's
innovative approach to Gaelic studies. Having begun productive recording
work in Barra and South Uist in 1936-37, he then visited eastern Canada
and Cape Breton in particular to discover the Gaelic oral tradition
among the descendants of 18th- and 19th-century emigrants very much
alive even after a separation of over 100 years. Single-minded, but
never narrow, he also recorded the history and traditions of the Micmac
Indians, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Maritime Provinces, while he
was in Nova Scotia. The significance of Cape Breton for Gaelic tradition
was, in his own words, as "a Highland community where there are no
lairds" and its richness is reflected in his own recently published
Songs Remembered in Exile (1990).
Wishing to play a more active part in Hebridean affairs, John Lorne
Campbell adopted the persona of laird and farmer when he bought the
islands of Canna and Sanday in 1938, midway in the Minch between the
mountainous seaboard to the east and the Outer Hebrides of the Uists and
Barra to the west. He would observe that, on a very clear day, the hills
of Donegal can be seen from the highest point of the island. The spatial
and temporal circle was complete, uniting the ancient culture province
of medieval Scotland which so few have had the knowledge and imagination
From the mid-1930s, Campbell was a tireless advocate of the need for
public and academic recognition of the importance of the oral culture of
the Scottish Gaidhealtachd. He was one of the main instigators of FIOS,
the Folklore Institute of Scotland (and its President from 1947), whose
main objective was to lobby for official recognition of the importance
and value of the Gaelic oral tradition in Scotland and the urgent need
for support in organising the recording of it by modern methods.
He himself developed the case for systematic collection of Gaelic
folksong on a properly organised basis, preferably by the endowment of a
body in Scotland similar to the Irish Folklore Commission. The efforts
of the Folklore Institute of Scotland together with other interested
parties led to the creation of the School of Scottish Studies at
Edinburgh University in late 1951. In contributing to the founding of
this new archive, he endowed it with copies of more than 300 of his own
wire recordings of traditional song.
Campbell was the author of 16 books and a great many articles, but one
or two of his research topics stand out for their continuing
contribution to Celtic studies. Gaelic stories taken down from dictation
and recorded on the Ediphone in South Uist and Barra between 1933 and
1938 were published privately in Sia Sgialachdan in 1939. This book drew
the attention of the Irish Folklore Commission to the Hebrides and they
sent Calum MacLean to carry out recording work on their behalf, an
initiative which undoubtedly helped to prompt the subsequent
establishment of the School of Scottish Studies.
Campbell traced the literary remains and lost Gaelic folklore collection
of Fr Allan McDonald (1859-1905), parish priest of Daliburgh and Briskay,
and much of this corpus has been published. His reappraisal of the work
of Marjory Kennedy Fraser (1837-1930), author of Songs of the Hebrides
which had "popularised" Gaelic folksong, continues to have ramifications
for the understanding of traditional folksong.
No celebration of Campbell's life could omit his marriage of 60 years to
Margaret Fay Shaw of Glen Shaw, Pennsylvania, whom he met in South Uist
in 1934 where she was collecting traditional Gaelic songs. This rare
partnership brought together her musical talents with his lexical
skills, creating the treasure-house of their lives and work in Canna.
The Isle of Canna was presented by John Lorne Campbell to the National
Trust for Scotland in 1981, together with his library, archives and
sound recordings. This gift of his life's work to Scotland was a gesture
of enormous magnanimity and it is to be hoped that an outcome can be
devised to realise and reflect his vision.
Undoubtedly Canna with its wealth of resources could become a place of
pilgrimage and a centre for advanced scholarly research in Celtic
studies. Here we would be made aware of a reorientation of Scottish
history from east coast, lowland, to west coast, Hebridean; and towards
a baroque grandeur of Highland history where the source is not the
product of a hostile Edinburgh and Westminster bureaucracy but an
unrealised store ranging from the rich oral literature of an ancient
people to distant European archives.
John Lorne Campbell, Scottish Gaelic scholar: born Argyll 1 October
1906; FRSE 1989; OBE 1990; married 1935 Margaret Fay Shaw; died near
Fiesole, Italy 25 April 1996.
The archive contains recordings made by John Lorne Campbell.
More than 12,000 hours of
archive recordings in Gaelic and Scots are to be made available online.
The new digital archive, "Tobar an Dualchais" or "Kist o Riches", is to
contain stories, conversations and songs recorded over the past 80
The Ł3m project will bring together material held by the School of
Scottish Studies in Edinburgh, the BBC, and the National Trust for
The Gaelic college, Sabhal Mňr Ostaig, will help co-ordinate the
The project's director, Mairead Macdonald, said: "This is a chance for
people to hear natural every day Gaelic and Scots.
"A lot of these dialects are dying out so it's a chance for us to hear
how people really did speak."
The archive, which is funded by a number of organisations including the
Heritage Lottery Fund and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, is expected to take
three years to complete.
It will feature recent recordings by the BBC and older work by John
Mr Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw devoted six decades to Gaelic
culture, gathering songs and stories.
The deputy chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland, Coinneach
Maclean, said: "It will be a sound window into life which disappeared
some 80 years ago."
Margaret Fay Shaw, who
has died at the age of 101, was one of the most notable collectors of
authentic Scottish Gaelic song and traditions in the 20th century. The
arrival of this young American on the island of South Uist in 1929 was
the start of a deep and highly productive love affair with the language
and traditions of the Gaels.
Shaw was also an outstanding photographer, and both her still pictures
and cinematography contributed to an invaluable archive of island life
in the 1930s. She met the folklorist John Lorne Campbell on South Uist
in 1934; they married a year later and together helped to rescue vast
quantities of oral tradition from oblivion.
She came of Scottish Presbyterian and liberal New England stock. The
family owned a steel foundry in Pittsburgh and her parents were cultured
people. Margaret was the youngest of five sisters and her early years
were idyllic. Her first love was for the piano and she continued to play
throughout her life.
By the age of 11, however, she was orphaned and obliged to develop the
independence of character which was to lead her into a life's work far
removed from her upbringing. At the age of 16, she made her first visit
to Scotland at the invitation of a family friend and spent a year at
school in Helensburgh, outside Glasgow, where she first heard Gaelic
Wanting to hear it in its "pristine" state, in 1924 she crossed the
Atlantic again, this time engaging in an epic bicycle journey, which
started in Oxford and ended at the Isle of Skye, where she remained for
a month. It was during this trip that she began to use photography to
earn a living, selling prints to newspapers, and magazines such as the
But it was not until she arrived on South Uist that she found her
spiritual home. She was invited to the "big house" in Lochboisdale for
dinner, and two sisters who worked there, Mairi and Peigi Macrae, were
brought in to sing for the company. Margaret had never heard singing
like it. For the next six years, she became their lodger and dear
friend. They shared with her all of their immense stock of oral
tradition which she faithfully transcribed, learning Gaelic as the work
Her most important published work was Folksongs And Folklore Of South
Uist, which has never been out of print since it was first published in
full by Routledge and Kegan Paul in 1955. Not only was it a scholarly
presentation of the songs and lore which she had written down during her
sojourn on the island, but also an invaluable description of life in a
small crofting community during the 1930s.
This classic work was undoubtedly the centrepiece of Shaw's career,
though she also wrote several other books, including an autobiography,
From The Alleghenies To The Hebrides.
On the neighbouring island of Barra in the early 1930s, an extraordinary
social set - a kind of Bloomsbury in the Hebrides - had developed around
the presence of Compton Mackenzie. One of his closest collaborators was
John Lorne Campbell, who came from landed Argyllshire stock and had
developed his interest in Gaelic at Oxford.
The two patricians set about producing The Book Of Barra, a collection
of the island's history and traditions, to raise funds for an
organisation called The Sea League, which they had established to
campaign for the exclusion of trawlers from Hebridean waters.
Hearing great reports of an American woman's photography on South Uist,
Campbell crossed over by ferry to seek her involvement in illustrating
The Book Of Barra. He walked into the Lochboisdale Hotel one rainy
evening in 1934 and found Shaw sitting at the piano; a suitably romantic
initiation to a relationship which was to last for more than half a
century. They married the following year and made their home on Barra
until, in 1938, Campbell bought the island of Canna, where they lived
for the rest of their scholarly lives. The island was given to the
National Trust for Scotland in 1981, and John Lorne Campbell died in
There was nothing dry or academic, however, about Shaw. She travelled
regularly to America until her late 90s. The fearsome ferry journey
between Mallaig and Canna was regularly undertaken with equanimity, and
she fortified herself to the end with the finest Kentucky bourbon. Her
love of the Hebrides was, above all, for the values and lifestyle of the
crofting people, and, particularly in South Uist in that 1930s heyday,
it was deeply reciprocated. It is there that she will be laid to rest.
Margaret Fay Shaw, photographer and folklorist, born November 9 1903;
died December 11 2004
John Lorne Campbell
and FIOS (Folklore Institute of Scotland)
Although Calum Maclean had very little to do with FIOS (Folklore
Institute of Scotland), his colleague and close friend, John Lorne
Campbell (1906–1996), certainly did. In a letter printed in The Scotsman
newspaper, Campbell set out a vision of how oral traditions were in
urgent need of being recorded. Up until around that time, the
institutional neglect of preserving the fast-dying Gaelic oral
traditions was a concern not only for Campbell but also for other
like-minded individuals. Campbell had the necessary drive and energy to
do something about this and he, along with a few others, founded the
Folklore Institute of Scotland (FIOS)in 1947, largely based upon the
Irish Folklore Commission (founded a dozen years earlier), which shared
similar objectives. The rather ill-starred FIOS only lasted five years
as it soon became obsolete with the foundation of the School of Scottish
Studies at the University of Edinburgh in 1951. In his letter, Campbell
gives a brief overview of the recent efforts made in Scotland to record
and preserve oral traditions and makes recommendations for the best ways
in which such efforts may be done in the years ahead:
Gaelic Folk-Songs: Work of the Collectors
by J. L. Campbell, President of the Folklore Institute of Scotland
Now that the Edinburgh Festival is an established annual event, it is to
be hoped that Scottish people will be roused to take a fresh interest in
their own heritage of folk-music, for in spite of the fact that some
Scottish eighteenth and nineteenth century collections of folk-songs
were in advance of work done in other countries at that time, the start
has hardly been maintained.
The controversy that raged in the correspondence columns of The Scotsman
a year ago on the question of the treatment of Gaelic folk-songs by the
late Mrs Kennedy Fraser show at any rate, that interest in the subject
is alive. It would be as well if this interest could be directed into
the practical channels of recording, transcribing, and publishing the
surviving songs before it is too late; there are a great many more of
these in existence than is generally realised, but they are usually well
known only to people over 50 or 60 years of age.
The Gaelic Idiom
It is very unfortunate that the work of a single well known folk-song
collector and arranger─or perhaps rather the uncritical admirers of her
work─has had the effect of laying a dead hand on research in this field.
Writers such as Sir Robert Raft and George Pryde in Scotland in the
Modern World series, and G. M. Thomson in A Short History of Scotland,
have suggested that, but for Mrs. Kennedy Fraser, nothing would have
survived, and that her arrangements are improvements on the originals.
The latter assertion can be dealt with briefly. I doubt whether any of
the critics who had made it have ever heard the originals, or were
familiar with the idiom of the originals. Gaelic music is not a barbaric
idiom that has to be polished for refined ears; such a notion is absurd;
but it has had to be bowdlerised and sentimentalised for ears that have
been unfamiliar with modal folk-songs sung in the natural scale (which
are really hardly susceptible of harmonisation) and for listeners who
had subjective notions of the Celtic Twilight.
We may indeed be grateful to Mrs Kennedy Fraser for braving the
hardships of travelling to the Islands in the old days and arousing
public interest in our folk-songs; but the arrangements she published
have no scientific value and the notion that she has exhausted the
subject has done great harm.
Some statistical information on the latter point is of interest.
Examining the four volumes of Songs of the Hebrides one finds therein
214 arranged songs and 121 unaltered airs given in the prefaces as
specimens of Hebridean music. The latter have far more interest for
serious students of folk-music than any other part of the books, but
unfortunately many of them are printed without any words at all, and
none give more than the opening verse. However, they are objective, at
Wealth of Material
Comparing the work of other objective collectors of whom there have not
been many, one finds Miss Frances Tolmie 105 folk-songs from Skye,
complete with words and translations, Journal of the Folksong Society,
1911. Some of these airs were utilised by Mrs Kennedy Fraser.
Miss Lucy Broadwood, 72 songs, mostly from Arisaig district, word
deficient; same Journal.
Miss Amy Murray, 26 airs published in the Celtic Review and Fr. Allan’s
Island; 15 airs known to exist in MS., of which a photostat copy is in
possession of the Folklore Institute of Scotland. Miss Murray is known
to have collected at least 150 airs in the Island of Eriskay, the MS. of
which is being searched for (at the instigation of this Institute) in
America at present. Words often lacking.
Miss Margaret Fay Shaw, 12 songs from Uist in the English Folksong
Journal, with translations and notes. Miss Shaw has over 100 other songs
collected in Uist, as yet unpublished.
Mr Calum MacLean, working for the Irish Folklore Commission, has
recorded over 70 in Raasay and Canna and 170 in Benbecula.
The writer and other collaborators working under the aegis of the
Folklore Institute of Scotland have recorded 500 folksongs in Barra,
Eriskay, Morar, Canna, South Uist, and Cape Breton, since 1937.
The Linguistic Survey of Scotland has already recorded a number of
Although there is certainly some overlapping among these collections,
what has been done already proves beyond doubt that the total amount of
material in existence must be very large indeed─certainly something to
compare with the 5000 English folksongs which have been collected, or
with collections made in Ireland by the Irish Folklore Commission, or
with the 7000 folk-songs collected in Hungary by Bartók and Kodály─something,
that is to say, far in excess of what is popularly realised.
Most of the early collectors were greatly handicapped by not knowing
Gaelic themselves and by lacking efficient mechanical means of recording
the airs, for writing down from the singers themselves is a most
laborious and slow process. The whole subject has received a fresh
impetus from the perfecting of portable mechanical means of recording on
tape, wire, or discs. Now that these devices exist it is most urgent
that the work of collecting our folk-music should proceed on a
systematic and scientific basis.
An Urgent Need
There are still hundreds, if not thousands, of folk-songs to be
collected in Scotland, particularly in the Hebrides. There is still time
to do what has hardly been attempted, viz., the collection and collation
of versions of the same song as sung by different singers in different
places. There is still time to trace out persons living in Canada and
other Dominions who have emigrated from Scotland, or whose forebears
emigrated from Scotland, bearing part of this tradition with them.
It will, indeed, be a grave reproach to all who are associated with the
study of the humanities in Scotland if no co-ordinated attempt be made
to recover this material before it is too late. In the past this work
has been hampered by political and utilitarian prejudices, but these
should not be allowed to operate to-day. It is certainly no credit to
Scotland that hitherto such work has been left to amateurs and that the
only outlet for the publication of Scottish Gaelic folk songs is still
the Journal of the English Folk-Dance and Folk-Song Society.
It is essential, in other words, that the collection, recording,
transcription, and cataloguing of our folklore should be put on a proper
whole-time basis, as is done in Ireland, Scandinavia, and the United
States. It cannot be left to amateurs, even though Scotland may have
been exceptionally fortunate having has amateur folklore collector of
the stature of J. F. Campbell of Islay, Alexander Carmichael, Frances
Tolmie in the past. For this purpose, the endowment of a body in
Scotland similar to the Irish Folklore Commission would be the best
step; but the universities, the B.B.C. and the Scottish Education
Department ought to co-operate and aid this work to the fullest possible
The need is urgent; the older people who preserved this lore are passing
away─well known Barra folk-singers have died within the last 12 months,
for instance. The expense of the work puts it beyond the means of
amateurs and unendowed bodies. The dignity and intrinsic merit and
significance for the cultural life of Scotland demand that it be
recognised as an important object of research and adequately carried
out. As folk-music is the basis for all national music and how can
Scottish music flourish at the top, if its roots are neglected?
John Lorne Campbell’s plea for further efforts to be made in order to
record material did not fall upon deaf ears. He along with other
advocates such as Angus McIntosh and James Hamilton Delargy, Director of
the Irish Folklore Commission, were instrumental in gaining support in
Scotland and beyond for an institution to be set up in order to
scientifically record Scotland’s intangible cultural heritage. With the
foundation of the School of Scottish Studies, Calum Maclean was
transferred on a three-year loan (which subsequently became permanent)
to be its first fieldwork collector and researcher. Along with his
colleagues, Maclean had his work cut out for him and the recordings made
by him in the School’s first decade formed not an insubstantial part of
an ongoing sound archive consisting of over 12,000 hours of various