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College graduates mark another chapter in the success story of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Last Friday’s (4 October) graduation at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig witnessed the highest number of students ever graduating at a ceremony where the achievements of Gaels, young and old, were celebrated.

A total of 52 students received Higher Education qualifications, which ranged from HE certificates to post-graduate qualifications and doctorates, and all of which are delivered through the medium of Gaelic. Since the College began offering Higher Education in 1983, more than 800 people have now graduated. The other notable achievements from the previous academic year included, the first CPD qualification delivered by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Language Development, the first person to graduate with a BA (honours) degree via distance learning, and the first PhD awarded under the Soillse Gaelic research initiative. At present there are 228 students enrolled at the College on an HE course, and some 900 people had registered for a short course at the college in the outgoing academic year.

The College’s Vice-principal and Director of Studies, John Norman MacLeod, said: “We are very pleased that we have the largest cohort ever and that those graduating are from different parts of Scotland and beyond. Since the first graduation in 1985, we have had over 800 graduates and undoubtedly they have had a huge influence in different spheres, including Gaelic-related careers, research, language initiatives and community development work. Student numbers continue to grow, with increased opportunities now available to undertake distance learning.”  

Among those graduating was Inge Birnie, originally from the Netherlands and who now lives in Moray. Until recently she taught Physics at Speyside High School, but is now beginning her PhD. Inge is the first person to have graduated with a BA (honours) degree from Sabhal Mòr via distance learning and did so with a 1st class degree.

Inge commented: “When I started, without a word of the language, on the Cùrsa Inntrigidh in 2005, little did I know that 8 years later I would be finishing an Honours Degree in Gaelic and Development, taught entirely through the medium of Gaelic and furthermore would be starting a PhD under the auspices of Soillse at the University of Aberdeen in which I am hoping to look at the planning of Gaelic language revitalisation at community level, and especially in towns across the Highlands of Scotland.

“Although it had been my initial intention to just learn a little bit more of the language of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, I was inspired to continue onto the degree programme after Sabhal Mòr Ostaig made it possible to study modules by distance learning and I continued my studies whilst working full-time as the Head of Physics at a secondary school in Moray.”

As part of the graduation, two champions of the Gaelic language, Dr Finlay MacLeod and Duncan MacQuarrie were awarded the honour, Sàr Ghàidheal, for their work for the language.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s Principal, Professor Boyd Robertson, said: “It is singularly appropriate in this year when we mark the 40th anniversary of the College that the two individuals on whom the title of Sàr Ghàidheil is being bestowed have a close association with the foundation and early years of Sabhal Mòr. Dr Finlay MacLeod was one of the original Trustees and Duncan MacQuarrie was Chair of the Trustees from 1978 to 1983, when full-time courses were introduced at the College. Both of them have contributed hugely, and in diverse ways, to Gaelic education and development and it is fitting that the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture should confer this award on them.”

Dr Finlay MacLeod is from Lewis and is a Gaelic writer. He is an educational psychologist with under-graduate and post-graduate qualifications, and he was involved at different levels in education in the Western Isles for many years, part of which was spent as the Deputy Director of Education for the area. He has been involved in several ground-breaking community, educational and Gaelic projects in the Islands which included the Bilingual Project in schools in the Western Isles (a precursor to Gaelic Medium Education), the drama initiative Na Fir-chlis and Cinema Sgìre, the community cinema project. He has published several books in Gaelic for children and adults.

Duncan MacQuarrie is originally from Mull and has been involved in education, and especially Gaelic education, for many years. He was a Gaelic teacher and Assistant Rector at Inverness Royal Academy and Assistant Rector at Charleston Academy in Inverness before becoming HM Inspector of Schools with national responsibility for Gaelic, a post he held for 11 years. He has advised the government and many other organisations on Gaelic education, and he was one of the early trustees of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and was Chair of the College for five years. Duncan has been involved in many developments relating to Gaelic and Gaelic education, and at present he is on the Board of Directors for the Gaelic Books Council, Fèis Rois and Fèisean nan Gàidheal and is an independent consultant on all matters relating to Gaelic education.

Erica Morrison gave the Graduation Lecture. Erica is from Skye, and after graduating from Glasgow University with a degree in Celtic Studies, she attended Sabhal Mòr where she completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Gaelic Broadcasting in 1992. She was an actress in the Gaelic soap, ‘Machair’, and in various short films up until 2001. She previously worked at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as a Gaelic Arts Development Officer and is now the Creative Director of the Gaelic Arts agency, Pròiseact nan Ealain.




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