Starting in Belfast, where his Professor was Heinrich H. Wagner (1923-1988), he studied Ulster Irish and Scottish Gaelic in his theses for the MA (1962) and PhD (1966) degrees, and between 1961 and 1965 he collected Scottish material for vol. IV (1969) of Wagner's Linguistic Atlas. In Aberdeen his interest soon turned to Gaelic verse of the period 1600-1730 and several volumes have been published (1972, 1979, 1994, 1995 and 1997), including an anthology with English translations by Meg Bateman (1994).
In the late 70s Breandán Ó Doibhlin, Professor of French at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, who visited the Highlands and became a student of the work of Somhairle MacGill-Eain, suggested that a collection of Scottish Gaelic short stories translated into Irish would be of interest in Ireland; this collection, Feoil an Gheimhridh, was published in 1980, reprinted 1996.
About 1980 and after, he co-operated with Cathair Ó Dochartaigh, then in the Department of Celtic in Glasgow, towards a major projected anthology of all the extant examples of the 17th-19th-century Irish verse form known as Trí Rainn agus Amhrán: 103 of them were found (one of them in Scottish Gaelic), some during sabbatical terms spent visiting collections of manuscripts both in Britain and in Ireland. Having finally overcome difficulties with four different publishers, they had a collection of the texts published in Belfast in 1996 - but without any of the academic apparatus. The complete work (in Irish) was published as a CD, and on the internet, by Clann Tuirc in 2005 and (with a Scottish Gaelic version) in 2006.
As an offshoot of interest in Gaelic verse, a series of studies related to Gaelic manuscripts had begun as early as 1976, and around that time he was interviewed by Grampian Police investigating the theft of many of the MacNicol and other Gaelic manuscripts from the National Library. He succeeded in convincing them that his hands were clean, but the manuscripts have not been recovered. Probably his proudest academic moment to date was when he discovered (on 8th May 1985) the identity of the scribe of the first section of the National Library's Gaelic manuscript 72.1.1, dated 1467.
Interest in linguistic questions was rekindled in 1987 when he was invited to give the Ned Maddrell Memorial Lecture in Douglas, Isle of Man, and shortly after that he translated the Irish version of a Welsh original to provide the Scottish Gaelic cartoon language course Gaelic is Fun! (1989, reprint 1991, 1997); a sequel, Gaelic is Fun-tastic !, was published in 2007. Articles on various linguistic topics became more numerous in the 1990s, with some new emphasis on relations between Gaelic and Scots. Since meeting with Roderick D. Cannon and other piping scholars at the Edinburgh Celtic Congress in 1995, he has developed a research interest in the Gaelic terminology and nomenclature of piping. Work continues on the cataloguing of Gaelic verse and songs, in manuscript and in print, and in 2009 an edition of the works of Mairghread nighean Lachlainn (?c.1670-c.1750) was published by the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society.
Full List of Publications
In reverse chronological order.
- 2010. ‘A History of Gaelic to 1800’. The Edinburgh Companion to the Gaelic Language (ed. Moray Watson and Michelle MacLeod), Edinburgh; 1-21.
- 2009. ‘Hugh Cameron Gillies (c.1856-1925): a biographical sketch’. SGS (Scottish Gaelic Studies) XXV 263-301.
- 2009. Mairghread nighean Lachlainn: Song-maker of Mull, Edinburgh.
- 2007. Gaelic is Fun-tastic! Edinburgh.
- 2007. ‘Scríobhaithe agus Saothrú an Léinn i dtuaisceart na hÉireann ó 1300’. Belfast: Léann I 77-91.
- 2007. ‘Robert Campbell, Forsair Choire an t-Sìth’. SGS XXIII 57-84.
- 2006. [with Cathair Ó Dochartaigh] Trí Rainn agus Amhrán, CD, Brig o Turk, with Scottish Gaelic text; also available on the internet at www.clanntuirc.co.uk/TRAA/TRAAbaile.html
- 2005 [with Cathair Ó Dochartaigh] Trí Rainn agus Amhrán. as above (in Irish only).
- 2004. ‘Neither Out Nor In: Scottish Gaelic Women Poets, 1650-1750’. Woman and the Feminine in Medieval and Early Modern Scottish Writing (eds Sarah Dunnigan, C. Marie Harker and Evelyns S. Newlyn), Palgrave; 136-152.
- 2002. with Nancy R McGuire (eds.). Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 2000. Aberdeen.
- 2001. MacLean Manuscripts in Nova Scotia. Aberdeen.
- 2001. with Donald MacAulay. Scottish Gaelic Vernacular Verse to 1730: A Checklist (revised edn.). Aberdeen.
- 2000. "Moving in Gaelic music circles: the root lu- in music terminology". SGS XIX (1999) 172-194.
- 1998. "Caismeachd Ailean nan Sop: towards a definitive text". SGS XVIII 89-110.
- 1997. Duanaire Colach 1537-1757. Aberdeen.
- 1997. "The Scots-Gaelic Interface". The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language (ed. Charles Jones). Edinburgh; 551-568.
- 1997. (with C.I. Macafee). "Why Scots is not a Celtic English". The Celtic Englishes (ed. Hildegard L.C. Tristram). Heidelberg; 245-286.
- 1996. (with Cathair Ó Dochartaigh). Trí Rainn agus Amhrán: cnuasach filíochta. Belfast.
- 1996. "Caismeachd Ailean nan Sop: the literatim text". SGS XVII 295-97.
- 1995. Iain Dubh: òrain a rinn Iain Dubh mac Iain mhic Ailein (c.1665-c.1725). Aberdeen.
- 1995. "The Limerick and Gaelic song". TGSI (Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness) LVIII 171-196.
- 1994 (with Meg Bateman). Gàir nan Clàrsach. Edinburgh.
- 1994. "Gaelic Ichthyonymy: studying the terms used for fish in Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx". Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 46 164-199.
- 1993. "St Machar - some linguistic light?" Innes Review XLIV 1-13.
- 1992. "Two Gaelic fish". Éigse XXVI 105-112.
- 1992. "Two Gaelic word-histories". Journal of Celtic Linguistics I 127-138.
- 1991. "Borrowing between Scots and Gaelic: some lessons to be learned from the SND". Scottish Language 10 9-17.
- 1990. "Bàs Iain Luim". SGS XVI 91-94.
- 1990. "Person-shifting in Gaelic verse". Celtica XXI 377-392.
- 1990. "Rhyming vowels before long liquids in Scottish Gaelic". Éigse XXIV 131-146.
- 1989. Gaelic is Fun! Stornoway.
- 1988. "Scotticisms in a manuscript of 1467". SGS XV 122-139.
- 1988. "Robert Kirk's Lament for his Wife". ibid.: 140-144.
- 1986. "Kirk's Egerton Glossary". SGS XIV.2 123-127
- 1985. "Colin Campbell, Minister of Ardchattan". TGSI LIII 464-490.
- 1985. "Cumha do Niall Og". Notes & Queries of the Society for West Highland and Island Historical Research XXVI 2-13.
- 1983. "Gaelic Manuscripts in the Colin Campbell collection". SGS XIV.1 83-99.
- 1981. "Norman MacLeod, Cara na nGael". SGS XIII 159-168.
- 1980. Feoil an Gheimhridh. Dublin.
- 1979. Eachann Bacach and other Maclean poets. Edinburgh.
- 1979. "Roibeard Mac Ádhaimh, Teachdaire Gaelach". Béaloideas 45-47: 78-83.
- 1978. Contributions to a Comparative Study of Ulster Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Belfast (published form of PhD thesis).
- 1978. "Some notes on An Aigeannach". SGS XIII 103-111
- 1977. Amhráin Chúige Uladh. Dublin (new edition of a book of Irish songs first published 1927-1937).
- 1976. "Domhnall Mac Mharcuis". SGS XII 183-193.
- 1976. "Raghnall Dubh and Hector Maclean". ibid.:209-219.
- 1976. "Inis Moccu Chéin." ibid.:267-270.
- 1976. "Scotland in Early Gaelic Literature (600-1200 AD)". TGSI XLVIII 382-394.
- 1972. Bàrdachd Shìlis na Ceapaich. Edinburgh.
- 1972. "Some Irish harpers in Scotland". TGSI XLVII 143-171.
- 1969 (with Heinrich Wagner). Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects, vol. IV. Dublin.
- The oldest songs of the Gael. Irish Scottish Academic Initiative conference, Queen’s University, Belfast, 2002.
- Banfhilí Gaeilge in Albain roimh 1750. Comhdháil: 2000: Litríocht agus Cultúr na Gaeilge. Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh. Deireadh Fómhair 2000.
- Women Poets of Gaelic Scotland 1650-1750. Women, Manuscript and the Four Nations. Nottingham Trent University. February 2000.