Photo of Rob Kerr, who won a top award at the 16th Annual Féile FilíochtaA Skye-based writer has won a major prize at an Irish international poetry competition.

Rob Kerr (Rob MacIlleChiar), a former writer-in-residence at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, scooped the top award in the Gaelic verse category of the 16th Annual Féile Filíochta organised by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

The competition attracted over 6000 entrant poems in nine languages, including Irish Gaeilge, English, French, German, Italian, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic.

Rob beat off strong competition to take the first prize of 800 Euros in the Gaelic section, notably from Meg Bateman, who took second place, and former Scottish Writer of the Year Aonghas Macneacail, who finished in the bronze medal slot.

These results confirmed Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's established connections with this award - Bateman is a lecturer at the Gaelic College and Macneacail is also one of its former sgrìobhadairean (writers-in-residence). Indeed, since the Scottish Gaelic category at the Féile Filíochta was first introduced seven years ago; only one winner has not been linked to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

Kerr's winning entry, 'Àiteachadh' ('Dwelling'), is in its author's established style of shorter verse. As well as his own individual work, Rob Kerr has also specialised in translating the poetry of other languages into Gaelic. Most recently a visit to the north-west of the United States introduced him to the poetry of the River Indians of Washington State.

"With the help of phonetic dictionaries I was able to make translations of their work," he says. "As ever, there were clear links between Gaelic and world poetry. In the case of the River Indians, their regard for the salmon - upon which they depend to survive - was strikingly similar to the old Celtic mythology of the wise salmon.

"There are such primal links between people worldwide, which expresses itself in their verse. I have been fascinated by similar connections with Gaelic and old Chinese and Irish poetry."

The 800 Euros, he says happily, "just about paid for travelling to Dun Leary to receive the award! It was a wonderful experience."

Sabhal Mòr's writer-in-residency is funded by the Scottish Arts Council. Gavin Wallace, Head of Literature at the SAC, said: 'The Scottish Arts Council's Writing Fellowship scheme is intended to give writers an opportunity to develop their own work as well as nurture writing in their host communities, and we are delighted at Rob Kerr's ongoing success.'

Rob Calum MacIlleChiar followed in a long and distinguished line of literate Gaelic speakers - both native and taught - to have held the post of sgrìobhadair, or writer-in-residence, at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. His predecessors included the great poet Sorley Maclean, Aonghas Macneacail, Angus Peter Campbell and Rody Gorman.

He was born in Kames, near Tighnabruaich (where "my grandparents were Gaelic-speakers but my parents had lost the language"). He attended school at Strachur and Oban before joining the Forestry Commission. A growing interest in rock-climbing led him on to work for Nevisport in Glasgow, Fort William and Aviemore, before "in my mid-20s I decided to get some education".

Rob did a mathematics course at Langside College in Glasgow, which in turn led him into the computing industry as a programmes analyst. But a disruption in his personal life sent him north again: to Kinlochleven - "close enough to a land I felt at home in" - to work as a climbing instructor... and to a Gaelic language immersion course being run at An Aird in Fort William by Inverness College.

"Then I spotted an advertisement in the West Highland Free Press," he continues, "for a course here at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. I took it up, and that led to a BA course in Gaelic Language and Culture."