THE United Nations has paid Scotland’s Gaelic tongue a huge compliment by adding some of the earliest manuscripts in the language to the Unesco Memory of the World Register.

The National Library of Scotland (NLS) announced yesterday that its renowned collection of early Gaelic manuscripts will go on the register – which aims to preserve the world’s most important documents.

The Gaelic collection will join the likes of the Domesday Book, Magna Carta, the Churchill archives and Scotland’s own Declaration of Arbroath on the register.

The NLS has the largest collection of Scottish Gaelic manuscripts in the world, with the earliest, written from the 14th up to the early 18th century, now being recognised for their exceptional historical and linguistic significance.

NLS explained: “The majority of the manuscripts are written in Gaelic script, and are often attractively decorated. The manuscripts cover a wide range of topics. Medical manuscripts and poetry collections form particularly strong groups, but there are also historical texts, heroic tales, saints’ lives, prayers, charms, genealogy, and place-name lore.”

According to the NLS experts, most of the scribes used a high-register literary language that was shared by Gaels in Ireland and Scotland over a period of more than 1000 years, which usually concealed the writers’ own dialect.

The NLS holds a notable exception in one of the most important volumes of the collection – the early 16th-century Book of the Dean of Lismore. This is a substantial Gaelic poetry collection written in Older Scots orthography, providing a unique first impression of the sound of a regional Scottish Gaelic dialect.

The library’s Gaelic manuscripts curator, Dr Ulrike Hogg said: “Only a small number of Gaelic manuscripts with a Scottish connection survive from this early period, and our collection of more than 60 volumes is unparalleled in its scale and coverage.

“The Gaels in Ireland and Scotland shared a rich learning and literary tradition, and our collection provides a fascinating Scottish perspective. Passages in Latin and occasional samples of texts in Scots or English also show how actively Gaelic Scots were engaged with multiple European cultures.

“We are delighted to have these manuscripts listed in the Memory of the World Register – it highlights their outstanding historical and cultural value.”

Unesco initiated the Memory of the World Register in 1992 in order to highlight archival and library items of outstanding historical value, as well as protecting them from what Unesco called “collective amnesia”.

Matthew McMurray, secretary of the British Unesco Memory of the World committee, commented: “The manuscripts offer a snapshot of Gaelic life in Scotland which would otherwise have been lost to history.

“Its scale and coverage make it the pre-eminent collection for study of the Gaelic culture in Scotland and vitally important for understanding the rich and diverse cultural landscape of the British Isles.”