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Mary Frances Carmichael

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2012
EventAlexander Carmichael: Collecting, Controversy, and Contexts Alasdair MacGilleMhìcheil: Cruinneachadh, Connspaid, agus Co-theacsaichean - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Jun 201124 Jun 2011


ConferenceAlexander Carmichael: Collecting, Controversy, and Contexts Alasdair MacGilleMhìcheil: Cruinneachadh, Connspaid, agus Co-theacsaichean
Abbreviated titleCarmichael Watson Project Conference
CountryUnited Kingdom
OtherA major interdisciplinary conference focusing on the life, career, and legacy of the great Hebridean folklorist, collector and author Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) to celebrate the completion of the most recent phase of the Carmichael Watson Project at the Centre for Research Collections.

Among the themes considered at the conference were the Carmichael family; Alexander Carmichael's circle; Carmichael as collector of texts and objects; Carmichael and the environment; as well as folklore in the digital age.

The conference showcased the important work being done by younger scholars and independent scholars alike in shedding further light on Carmichael's achievements, on the controversies surrounding his work, and on the people, the history, the environment, and the culture of the nineteenth-century Hebrides.

The conference included the launch of the new Carmichael Watson Project website, giving access for the first time to fully indexed transcriptions of all of Alexander Carmichael's field notebooks, the 'holy grail' for Carmichael researchers for several decades. There was also a small exhibition of objects and images connected with Carmichael to accompany the conference.

Keynote Speakers included Professor William Gillies, Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh and Peter Burnhill Director of EDINA.

To close the conference a concert was held at St Cecilia's Hall featuring performances from acclaimed Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes and local choir Còisir Dhùn Èideann.


As Alexander Carmichael himself would be the first to admit, much of the labour of arranging and creating Carmina Gadelica was undertaken by his wife, Mary Frances Carmichael née MacBean (1837–1928). In this paper I shall give an outline of her relatively humble origins and difficult and rootless upbringing, and how the talented and driven girl christened Mary Urquhart had come to ‘recreate’ herself as Mary Frances by the time she met Alexander Carmichael in the late 1860s. Crucial to this process was the decade she spent in Burntisland as a housekeeper to the episcopalian clergyman, scholar, and printer George Hay Forbes (1821–75). Forbes’ fascination with Scottish saints and pre-Reformation liturgies, and the painstaking care and devotion with which he prepared the scholarly productions of his Pitsligo Press, surely exerted a major influence on Carmina Gadelica. The work of Mary Frances might suggest an alternative origin for Carmichael’s magnum opus, east coast and Episcopalian as well as Hebridean and Catholic. Finally, it was probably through Mary Frances that Carmichael was brought into contact with, on the one hand, the poorest people in the islands, especially women, with whom she was involved through her charity work, and, on the other, George Hay Forbes’ cousin the historian William Forbes Skene, who was to play such an important role in his subsequent career.

ID: 1735846