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Aidan MacDonald Collection: Home

The personal collection of Aidan MacDonald.

About the Collection

The books of Aidan MacDonald were collected over a lifetime, beginning when he was at school, but many of those he prized most were acquired in his later years, during the time of his retirement. The collection is focused deliberately in certain areas: books connected with the history and archaeology of medieval Ireland and Scotland and in particular: the Vita Columbae of Adomnán and the history of the community of Iona; place names and their history, especially those of Scotland; the churches and monastic communities of Scotland during the Middle Ages.

Aidan MacDonald’s library was that of a dedicated scholar but he owned many other books too that reflect his broader interests. Prominent among them are books on the literature and history of Classical Antiquity, subjects he studied at school, where he was proficient in Latin and Greek. He had a particular interest in the history of the late Roman Empire, and this extended into a second area: the history and archaeology of the Middle Ages, especially in Ireland, Scotland and England. Many of his books belonged to this category, including a fine collection of saints’ lives, both Irish and Anglo-Saxon.

His interest in Antiquity and the Middle Ages is evident too in his books of philosophy, which included complete editions of Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus, and in the texts he owned by, and about, the Fathers of the Church, St Thomas Aquinas, and Dante. Among modern writers he collected the works of thinkers interested, like their medieval forebears, in the intersections of philosophy and theology, among them Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. These books connect with others on comparative religion and anthropology. He owned a handsome edition of James Frazer’s Golden Bough, the major writings of Mircea Eliade, studies of the pre-Columbian civilizations of South America (the Incas and the Maya), and works on the native inhabitants of North America, in which he had a special interest.

Aidan MacDonald is remembered as a warm and generous person who had a lively sense of humour. This lighter side is reflected also in his library: in his collection of murder mysteries, for example, many of them set in the Middle Ages, and in his books on birds and animals, for which he had a strong affection (especially cats, both great and small).

The collection prefix before the call number is: MacDonald.

The collection is being catalogued.

Biographical History

The family of Aidan MacDonald (1941-2013) came from Scotland, but he was brought up in Cambridge, where his father was Assistant Registrar in the university. There he took his first degree, before going on to Oxford, where he was awarded the M.Litt. in Celtic Studies. His first job was in Edinburgh, where he worked for a number of years in the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. His research in this period led him to becoming attached as well to the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh University. From there in 1978 he came to UCC, to a lectureship in the Department of Archaeology under the late Professor M.J. Kelly. Because of poor health, he took early retirement in 2000, but he continued to live in Cork, from where he travelled to Scotland several times a year to visit his family home in Cromarty. MacDonald continued to work on churches and monastic communities of Scotland in the Middle Ages, despite difficulties caused by his health, and on his death he left behind two substantial works: a monograph on the history of the Iona community between 800 and 1200, and a database on the Scottish churches compiled from annals, saints’ lives, and the evidence of archaeology. Aidan MacDonald did not just collect books, he took aesthetic pleasure in them, particularly those printed before 1900, and he conserved them, paying to have them repaired, if they needed it, and rebound. He also read them, patiently and systematically.  In June 2013 he died in the Marymount Hospice in Cork.


Aidan MacDonald donated the collection to the library in 2013.

Collection Highlights

More Information

MacDonald donated a small portion of his collection to the Benedictine abbey of Glenstal.

For further information about Aidan MacDonald, and a list of his publications, see the obituary by Simon Taylor in Scottish Place-Name News 35 (Autumn 2013), pp. 110-12.