Antiquarian bookseller specialising in Gaelic literature.

Born: January 19, 1939;

Died: June 28 2019

Donald MacCormick the distinguished antiquarian bookseller, who has died aged 80, was a recognised authority on the literature, traditions and folklore of Gaeldom and as its pre-eminent bookseller and collector. He found recognition outside the world of Gaelic literature in 2001when he presented his collection of books to the Gaelic Medium College, Sabhal Mor Ostaig. MacCormick had collected the books for over thirty-five years and started the collection when he found, by chance, a copy of MacDonald's Gaelic Dictionary, published in 1741, in a drawer of a sideboard that he had bought at auction.

The MacCormick Collection, as it became known, is acknowledged as one of the finest collections of early printed Gaelic materials in existence. It contains subjects as wide-ranging as poetry, religion, travellers’ accounts, destitution, crofting, emigration and St Kilda.

The overall collection has an excessive rarity and authorities have stressed that many of the of the items were previously unrecorded. The Collection contains volumes which are not even to be found in the National Library of Scotland. It is thanks to MacCormick’s wide literary knowledge and his expertise that the Collection has been so finely preserved and curated.

Donald MacCormick was born in Falkirk, the elder son of parents from North Uist. When he was two, the family moved to Edinburgh, where his father got a job in McEwan's brewery as a labourer while his mother worked in the brewery laboratory cleaning glass bottles and containers. His Hebredean connections never left him and his love of the Gaelic remained – it was always spoken in the home. His paternal grandparents lived in the capital but did not speak English and MacCormick remembered always speaking Gaelic as a child.

MacCormick attended Dalry Primary and Tynecastle High School fostering a life-long support of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club.

On leaving school he trained as a motor mechanic but in 1960 he did his national service in Berlin. It proved an usual few years. It was the era of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War was at its most intense. MacCormick was based in Spandau Barracks – where the Nazi officers had been imprisoned after the Nuremburg trials. Indeed, Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s number two who had flown to Scotland on a mysterious mission in 1941 was still resident. “We used to see him walking round the yard every day'' MacCormick recalled.

After his two years he returned to Edinburgh and became a mechanic with the Post Office while furthering his interest in Gaelic literature. In 1968 he bought at an Edinburgh auction a piece of furniture which had in a drawer with an item of Gaelic history: a copy of MacDonald's Gaelic Dictionary published in 1741, the first in Gaelic dictionary of Scotland. The furniture cost him £1/10/- (£1.50p) but he only walked away with the book.

When the Skye based Gaelic Medium College, Sabhal Mor Ostaig (the National Centre of Gaelic Language and Culture), announced they had acquired the MacCormaig Collection (as it was described) it was named, “one of the finest collections of Antiquarian Gaelic and Highland related books in existence.” The priceless collection of over 1800 volumes was in excellent condition and covers a wide range of subjects relating to the 17th, 18thand 19th centuries. The items of special importance to antiquarians and historians included numerous first editions which would be much sought after by antiquarians - including Queen Victoria's copy of "Carmina Gadelica", Andrew Carnegie's copy of "Sar-Obair nam Bard Gealach" and Martin Martin's "Description of the Western Islands of Scotland", 1703.

The Collection was researched and curated by MacCormick with scrupulous care and insight. His deep knowledge and love of Gaelic history greatly assisted in his fine assembly of The Collection. At the presentation Dr Farquhar MacIntosh, chairman of the College of the Board, expressed gratitude that the book had come to the college said, “We also have the opportunity to add to it through the expertise and knowledge of Domhnall MacCormaig is a tremendous bonus for us all. It affirms the great progress that is being made towards the creation of an international centre of excellence for the study of the Gaelic language and culture."

Gilleasbuig Ferguson, also an antiquarian book seller, knew MacCormick for many years. He told The Herald, “He was an incredibly charming man and loved chatting to people. People interested in people are themselves interesting: that was Donald. His many clients had total confidence in his literary judgement – he had a deep sensitivity of the Gaelic language historically and linguistically. I was lucky to have Donald as a mentor and friend for so many years.”

He married Katy, a nurse also from North Uist, and is survived by her and their two daughters Màiri and Kirsty.