AN ancient text which contains the earliest evidence of Scottish Gaelic should be housed in its “symbolic” home of Scotland, Gaelic speakers and experts have said.

The Book of Deer – also believed to be the oldest surviving manuscript from Scotland – is currently only viewable by appointment at Cambridge University, where it has been housed since 1715.

But the book – which is written in Latin but has Gaelic added in the margins – is said to have originated in the village of Deer in Aberdeenshire and used to be housed in the monastery there. It is thought to have been taken at some stage during the Wars of Independence.

After disappearing, it appeared in England in a private collection before being purchased by King George I. It was then gifted to Cambridge University in 1715. 

In 2022, it was on display in Aberdeen Art Gallery for a short period where it proved extremely popular.

Gaelic professor Michelle MacLeod and Gaelic-speaking singer and broadcaster Joy Dunlop have now told The National they believe there could be huge benefits educationally and economically in having the book back in its birthplace permanently.

READ MORE: Cambridge University to be asked to return Book of Deer to Scotland

Asked if the book should be housed in Scotland, MacLeod – based at the University of Aberdeen – said: “I think symbolically yes, it should be held in Scotland.

“It would be nice to see it at least more regularly here. We know there’s a lot of work happening in terms of returning historical artefacts to where they belong.

“If the Book of Deer was ever to be returned to Aberdeen or Aberdeenshire, it would need to be well looked after, but it is an important artefact and symbol of the history of Scotland and of Gaelic.

“While we’re trying to promote Gaelic, I think for people to see it and to know about it is very useful.”

Dunlop, who presents BBC Alba’s flagship Gaelic learning programme SpeakGaelic, added: “I would absolutely love that [for the book to return to Scotland].

“It would be a big draw for people if it was in Aberdeen or Aberdeenshire.

“You see that people go to Dublin to see the Book of Kells and you always want to be able to exhibit your cultural heritage.

“I think you always understand something better if you can experience it first hand. You can read as many articles about things as you like but we all know the physical experience of something is the best way to really understand it.

“I think there would be a huge number of benefits if we can get it back to its birthplace.”

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Aberdeenshire SNP councillor Glen Reid has been leading efforts to try and get it back to its homeland and plans to write to the university in the coming weeks to broach the subject.

Last year, he attempted to get the matter onto the SNP conference agenda but his resolution did not make the final cut, leading him to suggest there needs to be a “greater interest in our history”.

Gaelic-speaking archaeology graduate Mairead Morgan, who was involved with a recent dig that unearthed artefacts believed to from the Deer Monastery, said the book would have a strong impact on people if it was housed in the North East.

She said: “The book is key to understanding the history, religious and social life in the North East and Scotland more generally.

“I was lucky enough to see the book when it was in Aberdeen Art Gallery in 2022, and I felt a connection to it that I hadn't felt previously. Having the book in Aberdeen would encourage visitors to learn more about their history, and the region's Gaelic and religious connections.”

MacLeod said the text is very important to Gaelic speakers in Scotland as it is evidence the language was once spoken all over the country, and shows when Scottish Gaelic took a life of its own, independent from Irish Gaelic.

It also has historic importance, given the Gaelic writings in the margins of the book detail how people were living in Deer at the time.

MacLeod said: “The book is very important to Gaelic speakers in Scotland because it is the first evidence of Scottish Gaelic and I think it’s an important symbol of how Gaelic belongs to the whole of Scotland.

“It hasn’t been the language of the community in Aberdeenshire for quite some time now, but yet there is this relic that has the oldest Gaelic in it.

“I think while we are making steps to preserve Gaelic and promote it across Scotland, this is a useful symbol of just how it does belong to the whole of Scotland."

Dunlop added: “People often assume incorrectly that Gaelic is the just the language of the Highlands and Islands but it was spoken throughout the whole of Scotland and this is proof of that.”