'Our poetry never lacks clearness if read in Gaelic': Demystifying Gaelic and Anglo-Highland women's writing in the Celtic Revival

Kate Louise Mathis, Eleanor Thomson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


At the turn of the twentieth century, the awkward juxtaposition of Gaelic literary culture and the Celtic Revival in Scotland encompassed the popular marketisation of the Scottish Gàidhealtachd, its oral tradition, and its language by non-speakers of Gaelic, many of whom referred uncritically to native Gaels (‘Celts’) in the problematic terminology crystallised by James Macpherson’s Ossianic poetry in the 1760s. Complexly, many anglophone Revivalists were linked closely to native-speaking Gaels’ contemporary networks that focused on language revitalisation and increasing recognition for Gaelic literature distinct from Macpherson’s legacy, while its impact – adjacent to the older Ossianic tradition that Macpherson had reshaped – continued to infuse Gaelic authors’ work and the language of their defence of Gàidhealtachd communities’ advancing decline. Both sides’ perspective is represented in periodicals such as The Celtic Magazine (1876–1888), The Celtic Review (1904–1916),and An Deo-Ghrèine (1905–1923), whose contributors, including many women, provide valuable insight to the social, cultural, economic, and political status of Gaels and Gaelic in fin-de-siècle Scotland and, simultaneously, to their often discordant interpretation by anglophone Revivalists. This article will contrast and contextualise the work o fseveral women whose writing both embodies and interrogates this dichotomy, chiefly Catrìona NicGhille-Bhàin Ghrannd (Katherine Whyte Grant, 1845–1928), author and advocate for Gaelic education, and anglophone poet Alice MacDonell (1854–1938), typical of ‘Anglo-Highland’ Revivalists of impeccable Gaelic heritage who no longer spoke the language. Initially, it will engage with the multivalent terminology applied to these writers and their work, and the complications of their recovery against Macpherson’s plangent influence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-41
Number of pages41
JournalScottish Literary Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2022


  • Celtic Revival
  • Gaelic
  • women's writing
  • periodicals
  • Ossian
  • James Macpherson
  • Anne Grant of Laggan
  • Gaelic literature
  • Gaelic women's writing
  • fin-de-siècle Scotland
  • Catrìona NicGhille-Bhàin Ghrannd
  • Alice MacDonell
  • Anglo-Highland Revivalists


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