Edward Dwelly

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Edward Dwelly
Edward Dwelly.png
Born 1864
Twickenham, Middlesex, England
Died 1939
Pen name Eoghann MacDhòmhnaill
Nationality English/Scottish
Citizenship British
Subject Scottish Gaelic
Notable works Faclair Gàidhlig gu Beurla le Dealbhan/The Illustrated Gaelic- English Dictionary

Edward Dwelly (1864–1939) was a Scottish Gaelic lexicographer and genealogist. He is generally believed to have created the authoritative dictionary in Scottish Gaelic, and his work, although arguably never bettered in Scotland has been an immense influence on Irish lexicography. He also practised as a professional genealogist and published transcripts of many original documents, particularly relating to Somerset.


Born in Twickenham, Middlesex in England, he became interested in Scottish Gaelic, after being stationed in Scotland with the army and working with the Ordnance Survey. He began collecting words when he was 17 in the late 19th century. He was also a keen bagpiper.

He released the first part of his dictionary under the name of "Eoghann MacDhòmhnaill" (Ewen MacDonald) because of fears that his work would not be so well accepted if he used an obviously non-Gaelic or non-Scottish name. The first edition was published in 1911.

He did the vast majority of the work for his dictionary, not only collating the words from older dictionaries, but also collecting thousands of new words himself, both from publications, and from many trips he took around Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland. He also illustrated, bound, printed and marketed his dictionary, with some help from his children and wife (herself a native Gaelic speaker). At times, he had to teach himself the various skills required.

In 1912, Dwelly had a book published entitled; Compendium of Notes on the Dwelly Family, it was in essence a 54 page genealogical book tracing the history of the Dwelly family from a John Duelye, 1229 to date, mainly covering Britain but with an American section, with lots of family trees and Parish Register extracts, with supporting notes.

He later gained a state pension for his work.

In later life, alienated by the attitude of some people in Scotland, both Gaels and non-speakers, he returned to England, leaving behind his great legacy, but dying in obscurity there.

In 1991, the late Dr Douglas Clyne sourced several manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland which were published as an "Appendix to Dwelly's dictionary"; over half of the words are from "A-D", but contained additional information which did not get published in Dwelly's lifetime.

His life has been poorly researched, but the best biography to date is by Peter Berresford Ellis.

Edward Dwelly's dictionary[edit]

Dwelly's illustrated Scottish Gaelic dictionary, consisting of well over one thousand pages, was truly a marvellous achievement in its day, particularly in view of the difficult circumstances which he faced in preparing it. Dwelly was nonetheless eager to express his gratitude to those who assisted him. He particularly expressed his thanks to the then late King Edward VII for awarding him a Civil List Pension when only about one half of the dictionary had been published. He had wished dearly to have been able to present a copy of his completed dictionary to the King and expressed sadness at the news of the King's death.[1]

Dwelly also expressed his particular gratitude to his wife for revising proofs and assisting in correspondence as well as advising on many of the translations in addition to many other sacrifices on her part.[2]

Dwelly's preface is of particular interest to the student of Scottish Gaelic, since many of the difficulties which he faced then are also applicable to today's Scottish Gaelic. Scottish Gaelic speakers were generally not taught to read and write in their native language and were therefore unable to provide correct spelling, which created enormous difficulties in preparing the dictionary. Scottish Gaelic speakers were also often reluctant to engage in Scottish Gaelic conversation with students of Scottish Gaelic such as Dwelly, generally preferring to speak to him in English. Edward often had to pose as a native speaker of Scottish Gaelic in order to obtain the opportunity to further his knowledge and understanding of colloquial Scottish Gaelic.[3]

Dwelly's dictionary contains over 70,000 entries and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive dictionary of the Scottish Gaelic language compiled to date. So far, there have been over 12 printed editions (1920, 1930, 1941, 1949, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1977, 1988, 1993 and 2011) of the dictionary by various publishers.[4][5]

Digitisation of Dwelly[edit]

Making Dwelly available digitally, so it could be searched both as a Gaelic-English and an English-Gaelic dictionary was an often heard request from Gaelic speakers, learners and enthusiasts. Due to a change in copyright law and various other complications, it eventually took a German learner of Scottish Gaelic, Michael Bauer, over 10 years to complete the digitisation. It was finally launched online in co-operation with Will Robertson, a software engineer from Perthshire, in January 2009 under the name Dwelly-d (short for Dwelly digiteach "Digital Dwelly").[6][7]

Their work, carried out without any outside support,[6] was subsequently commended in a motion in the Scottish Parliament on 6 January 2009[8] and an Early Day Motion in the Westminster Parliament on 14 January 2009.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dwelly 2001, p. ii
  2. ^ Dwelly 2001, p. iii
  3. ^ Wmffre, Ivan. "Ideology and the learning of Celtic languages", in Mugnaini, Fabio; Ó Héalaí, Pádraig; and Thompson, Tok (eds.), The past in the present: A multidisciplinary approach, pp. 240–41. Italy: ed.it. ISBN 88-89726-01-6.
  4. ^ Dwelly, Edward Faclair Gàidhlig agus Beurla le dealbhan (2011) Akerbeltz ISBN 978-1-907165-02-3
  5. ^ Dwelly, Edward Faclair Gàidhlig gu Beurla le Dealbhan/The Illustrated [Scottish] Gaelic- English Dictionary (1993, 10th edition) Birlinn Limited ISBN 0-901771-92-9
  6. ^ a b "Dwelly air a thionndadh 's ga chur air loidhne". BBC Alba. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  7. ^ "Mu dhèidhinn Dwelly-d/About Dwelly-d". Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  8. ^ "S3M-3232 Alasdair Allan: Dwelly’s Gaelic Dictionary Online". Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  9. ^ "EDM 456 DWELLY'S GAELIC DICTIONARY ONLINE". Retrieved 6 April 2009.


  • Dwelly, Edward (2001) [1911], Faclair Gàidhlig gu Beurla le Dealbhan/The Illustrated Gaelic- English Dictionary (10th ed.), Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited, ISBN 1841581097 

External links[edit]