Latha math dhuibh, a chàrdan.

A very good New Year to you all and thank you for reading thus far. It’s now time to begin sharing the diary entries themselves, which range from the absolutely mundane to the completely fascinating.

Reading the previous blog, you may have seen that there was some confusion over the exact start date of David’s diaries. Although the date he himself gives is most likely the correct one, that being 1876, I have decided to begin sharing this year due to the positing of 1874 as correct by David’s brother and my g-grandfather, John MacLeod, as the material deserves to see the light of day.

As I said in the previous blog, we can be looking out for any historical happenings that might help us place the chronology of the diaries with a little more certainty!

[NB – any Gaelic speaker reading the blog will notice the odd spelling of Edinburgh above, this being due to fact that Caithness speakers tended to break the long vowel /u:/ into a dipthonged /ua/. I have not worked out yet what the exact rules are for its occurence, whether it appears in all instances of /u:/ or only after or before certain consonants, but am keen to mark dialect usage so that it can be appreciated]

FULL TEXT WITH COMMENTARY (in brackets and italics)


“Never give a friend a reason to regret that he is your friend” (David includes many such interjections in his diaries, all of which appear to be gleaned from English-language sources, rather than from his native culture)



In the shop until 1 o’clock.  Went to 11 Glen Street and had dinner there with Colin Sutherland.  Went with Benjamin and Alexander to the Edinburgh New Theatre.  Slept with David Sutherland in 11 Glen St.

(The shop is J.B. Low’s in Edinburgh, but I can so far find no information on it or its location. I assume that Cailean Sùrlan [Colin Sutherland] is a cousin, but have not managed to work out how he is connected. The Benjamin mentioned is most likely to be Beindeaman Sùrlan [Sutherland] who married David’s sister Rose. I am also unclear as to who the Alasdair [Alexander] and Dàibhidh Sùrlan [David Sutherland] are – most likely other cousins. Glen Street still exists in Edinburgh 150 years later and the tenement buildings appear to be old enough to be contemporary to the diary era [1876], Here is a link to Google street view, ÀM)


Had breakfast in Glen Street.  Had a walk with Benjamin and Alex to Minto Street.  The three of us went to the Free Assembly Hall at night then had a walk on Princes Street.

(Minto Street is also very much still in existence. The photograph on the right shows Princes Street in the 1870s – the era during which David and càrdan [Caithness Gaelic for “friends, relations”] would have been strolling of an evening. It was apparently a fairly mild start to January and therefore quite conducive to a wander.)


Asked away tonight at 6 o’clock.  Went and saw some friends.


In the shop until 6 then asked away to Miss Kiddie’s Tea Party.

(“Miss Kiddie’s Tea Party” sounds nothing if not surreal!)

“Put thy foot on the neck of envy and hatred and all that’s past, forget and forgive.” (I can only imagine that there was a particular reason for David to write this where he did, that some enmity had reared its head and caused him to attempt the exercising of restraint in the matter, ÀM)


Miss Kiddie went for her holidays to St Andrew’s.  Mrs Cairns is housekeeper.  In the shop all the day.

(I wonder whether the ladies mentioned were those with whom David boarded. He does not seem to have included a home address in the diary for this first spell in the capital. An interesting idiomatic note is the use of the phrase “all the day” instead of “all day”. I believe this to be the trailing leg of David’s first language in his writing as the Gaelic would be a word for word equivalent, fad an latha, perfectly common usage to this day, ÀM)


Called on A. Sutherland Macdonald.  Called on James Sinclair, St David’s [unclear]. Called at 11 Glen Street.  Benjamin and I went to see Sinclair Macleod.  Left Benjamin with her and went to see Catherine Sutherland, George Square.

(I wonder whether this first name mentioned is Àdhamh Domhnallach [Adam MacDonald], a cousin of David’s and a g-g-grand-uncle of mine. I assume if so that he was also resident in Edinburgh at this time. It appears many Caithness folk came to the capital in a similar manner to the many Argyleshire people who made Glasgow their home. West Highlanders came to the urban west and East Highlanders to the east. I do not know who Seumas Singlear [James Sinclair] nor Catrain Shùrlan [Catherine Sutherland] were. Singlear NicLeòid [Sinclair MacLeod] was a cousin of David’s, their fathers being brothers. She became a Mrs Black, ÀM)


Spent my dinner hour in the Botanical Garden.

(My friend Mark Newman, a fluent learner of the Glencoe dialect of Gaelic works at the Botanical Garden, which is still open to the public to this day, ÀM)


In the shop all day.  The master absent half the day.

(I assume that “master” was the contemporary term for the “boss”! ÀM)


In the shop all day.  Posted a letter to David Tait and one to Margaret Mackay, my cousin.

(This is likely the David Tait with whom our David worked in Wick. I am not sure who Maighread NicAoidh [Margaret MacKay] is, although she is certainly a relation, ÀM)


Posted the Weekly Scotsman to Father and Uncle George.

(David’s father is Cainneach MacLeòid and his uncle George is Seóras Shùlan [Sutherland])


Called at 11 Glen Street.  Went to the Free St Columba Church.  Had tea with Mrs Mackay, Prospect Place.  Had a walk with Miss Young and my cousin Sinclair Macleod.

(The church is still there and accessible. I am unaware of who Mrs MacKay might be, although there were Youngs who married into my Sutherlands in a slightly earlier portion of the 19th century. This may be a relation of theirs, ÀM)


Spent my dinner hour in the Botanical Garden.  Receiving the Northern Ensign every week and posting it to David Sutherland, teacher, Islay.

(It’s possible that Dàibhidh Sùrlan [David Sutherland] is Benjamin’s father, although this is a mere guess. If any Islay folk have thoughts on whether there are records of David’s time in the island, I would be thrilled to hear from you, ÀM)


Invited by the servants of 46 Inverleith Row to their tea party.  Posted the weekly Scotsman to Father and Uncle George.

(Another tea party! Inverleith Row appears to have been in a very affluent area of Edinburgh’s north and I am almost certain that the very house David visited is still in existence. It is quite possible that the servants there were fellow Gaels, ÀM)


Benjamin and Alexander came down to my lodgings.  We had a walk round Granton, Newhaven and Leith.  They had dinner with me, then we went to see Sinclair, my cousin at 23 Minto Street.

(David still provides no address for his lodgings! 23 Minto Street appears to be exactly as it was. Many’s the time I have driven past the address on my way in or out of Edinburgh, ÀM)


John Macdonald [and] Donald Sutherland, my uncles from Caithness, and Mrs Henderson, my cousin, called on me today.

(Eathan Domhnallach [John MacDonald] was of exclusively Sutherland extraction, his father’s people seemingly cleared from Srath Nabhair [Strathnaver] and his mother’s from Srath Ilidh [Strath of Kildonan] in the second decade of the 19th century. He married a sister of my g-g-grandmother Janet Sutherland. I imagine Donald to have been a relation on her side, Janet’s uncle being a Domhall Sùrlan too, although I am not altogether sure of how he fits in. I am likewise unsure of who Mrs Henderson might be, ÀM)


David Macdonald, my cousin, called on me today.  Robert unwell today.

(Dàibhidh Domhnallach [David MacDonald] was John MacDonald’s son and first cousin of our David. I wonder if Robert was a fellow lodger or colleague, ÀM)


Went up to see Uncle Donald.  He went to Glasgow.  Went to Free St Columba’s with John, then we both went to the station to meet Donald on his return from Glasgow.

(I assume this to be the aforementioned Donald Sutherland and that John is John MacDonald. Waverley Station appears to have been extended in 1873 to cope with increased traffic. We can imagine a busy place by 1876! ÀM)


Donald and John called to say goodbye.

(Donald and John appear to have been south visiting and to have stayed the week, arriving on the previous Tuesday [perhaps even the Monday] and leaving on a Monday)

In the next blog, we look at David’s entries for February 1876.

Gach beannachd air an àm,

Àdhamh MacLeòid [ÀM]


  1. My gosh l found the diaries at last, enjoyed the read. Just back from Caithness last week. I had a chat with folk that knew my family which very rarely happens now.

    • Glad you are enjoying the blog, Edna. Do subscribe and check back in May for the next installment.
      Gach beannachd, Àdhamh

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