The manuscript is 'hugely significant to the Gaelic-speaking community'Louis Ashworth with permission for Varsity

Cambridge University Library will be asked in the new year to return the Book of Deer, Scotland’s oldest surviving manuscript.

SNP councillor Glen Reid has declared his intention to “begin a dialogue” with the University to permanently return Scotland’s oldest surviving example of Scots Gaelic, as reported in The Guardian.

The Book of Deer dates back to the 10th century, with Gaelic annotations of the Latin-written gospels added two centuries later. The annotations, written in the margins, relate to the monastery of Deer in Aberdeenshire, owing to the name of the book.

Cambridge University Library has had possession of the book since 1715. Though it is not known when exactly the artefact was taken from Scotland, Scottish newspaper The National claims it was stolen from Scotland during the wars of Scottish independence.

Speaking to The Guardian, Reid said the historic text is “hugely significant to the Gaelic-speaking community” as it shows that “Gaelic was the common language” in Aberdeenshire and dispels the “misconception that Gaelic was only spoken in the Highlands and Western Isles”.

“It’s the oldest surviving manuscript from Scotland and yet very little is known about it in the very area where it was written,” Reid continued.

The SNP councillor said the reason that such mystery surrounds the book is because it “sits 500 miles away, locked up and not on display.”

“It returned on loan last year, drawing huge crowds, and we need to build on this,” he said.

Reid has unsuccessfully submitted resolutions to the SNP conference twice before, asking for the Scottish government to seek negotiations to transfer the manuscript back to Scotland.

Reid, confirming his intention to re-submit the resolution at next year’s SNP conference, stated: “I will also raise this with our local MP and neighbouring authority to see if they can exert any influence.”


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Reid referred to the University agreeing to return 116 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria which were taken by British armed forces during the sacking of Benin City in 1987 and ended in the possession of the University.

“The Charity Commission concluded the University was ‘under a moral obligation’ to return the artefacts, and I am hopeful that a similar conclusion could be drawn about the Book of Deer,” said Reid.

Reid claims there is a “cultural reason, an educational reason, an economic reason and, most importantly, a moral reason” for the book to return to Scotland.

Cambridge University Library was approached for comment.