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Bishop Séon Carsuel Translates the Book of Common Prayer into Gaelic


In 1567 Foirm na n-Urrnuidheadh (The Form of the Prayers), Bishop Séon Carsuel's (John Carswell's) translation into Gaelic of the Book of Common Order or "Knox's Liturgy", was published in Edinburgh at the press of Roibeard (Robert) Lekprevik. This was the first work printed in either Scottish or Gaelic, or any of the Goidelic languages.

"Its language has been characterised as 'exuberant, highly decorated classical common Gaelic', and helped forward the message of Scottish protestantism from the English-speaking south-east of the country into Gaelic-speaking Scotland. It was written in the traditional orthography of Irish Classical Common Gaelic, and Donald Meek has suggested that if it were not for Carsuel's training in this form of literacy and his decision to use it, Scottish Gaelic today may be employing, like the Manx language, a script with orthographic rules more similar to English and French than traditional Irish.

"It was also ground-breaking in its use of prose for non-heroic material, 'the first to use this type of formal Classical [Gaelic] prose'. And Carsuel had indeed complained in his work about earlier Gaelic writings, slamming the

'. . . darkness of sin and ignorance and design of those who teach and write and cultivate Gaelic, that they are more designed, and more accustomed, to compose vain, seductive, lying and worldly tales about the Tuatha De Danann and the sons of Mil and the heroes and Finn MacCoul and his warriors and to cultivate and piece together much else which I will not enumerate or tell here, for the purpose of winning for themselves the vain rewards of the world.'

"In the late 19th century, his skeleton was dug up; the skeleton measured seven feet in length, making Carsuel an extremely tall man by the standard of any era or geographical location (Wikipedia article on Séon Carsuel, accessed 12-11-2009).

Of the first edition of  Foirm na n-Urrnuidheadh, only three copies—all imperfect—are known to exist. One is in Edinburgh University Library.

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