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Gaelic music stars join graduation success at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI

Former BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year, Julie Fowlis, and Mod Gold medalist and Trad Award winner, Gillebrìde MacMillan, were among the 45 students awarded degrees and course certificates from College Principal, Professor Boyd Robertson,at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s annual graduation ceremony on Friday. 

Julie and Gillebrìde were among the four graduates from the MA Material Culture and the Environment  course and were joined by Gordon Cameron, who is the Curator of Applecross Heritage Centre and Emily Edwards, who is the Gaelic officer for Scottish Natural Heritage and a previous SMO student.  Gordon was also awarded the Farquhar Macintosh prize for the student who attained academic excellence across all courses. 

The course leader, Professor Hugh Cheape, said,’The MA Material Culture and the Environment course draws on many subjects in order to gain a new perspective on Highland history.  Working through the medium of Gaelic allows the students access to community based knowledge and heritage which is used for research and is then given back to the community through the students’ own work.   I hope the four who graduated this year produce a book from their findings!’

Also celebrating on the day were the first graduates from the BA (Hons) in Gaelic and Traditional Music course, Roya Maclean and Lisa Moyes.  Lisa was awarded the Calum Bàn prize’ for excellence in Gaelic singing and musicianship – in memory of the late Calum Robertson, the College’s long-serving Head of Corporate Services.   The winner of the UHI prize for the SMO Student of the Year was Heather Clyne.

Donalda McComb, Headteacher of Glasgow Gaelic School, delivered the Graduation Lecture.  In her address, she encouraged the graduates to pursue their engagement with the language and spoke of the many benefits of being bilingual.  She outlined the links that exist between Glasgow Gaelic School and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and expressed a desire to further develop the connectivity between the two largest Gaelic-medium educational establishments.

John Norman MacLeod, Director of Studies, commented,’The graduation event afforded the opportunity to celebrate some notable achievements from the past year including the high academic and linguistic abilities of our students, the recognition of the first students gaining honours in Traditional Music and the highly successful HMIe College Review of 2011.  The achievements of staff were also recognised, particularly the advances in scholarly activity and research outputs over the past few years.  Donalda McComb’s lecture was particularly encouraging and the fact that 600 children, aged between 3 and 18, attend Glasgow Gaelic School, is an inspiration to us all.’     

Sàr Ghaidheal Fellowship Awards

In addition to the awards bestowed on the College’s students, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig also recognised the contribution made to the Gaelic language by two leading Gaels by awarding this year’s Honorary Sàr Ghaidheal Fellowships, which  honour the important role played by both in promoting the language, to Jonathan MacDonald, from Kilmuir in the north of the Isle of Skye, and to John Farquhar Munro, from Shiel Bridge in Kintail.   

After attending Kilmuir school, Jonathan left aged 14 with an interest in craft work.  He learned how to weave and work with clay and in 1951 he started a craft workshop in the village he grew up in.  In 1963 he was invited to be a member of the Crofters’ Commission and spent the next 6 years travelling the Highlands and Islands in that capacity.  Although he did much travelling during that period, he was also busy at home and in 1965 he opened a museum in Kilmuir.  In 1970 Jonathan took over the Duntulm Hotel which he ran until 1997.  Between the craft workshop, museum and hotel, Jonathan did a great deal to stimulate tourism in the north of the Isle of Skye for nearly 50 years and he promoted his language and culture in all aspects of his life.

Upon leaving school, John Farquhar Munro spent twelve years at sea travelling the world.  Thereafter, he was a crofter, he ran a travel company and was a councilor, as well as being involved in many enterprises and voluntary organizations, including Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.  He was for a Trustee of the College for ten years.  He stood for the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and was elected as MSP for Ross-shire, the Isle of Skye and Inverness West.  He was admired by his constituents, especially through the Skye bridge toll campaign, which saw success in 2004.  He was much involved in rural affairs and sought to represent his local area on every occasion.  Sheriff Roddy John MacLeod, Chairman of the College’s Board of Directors, described John Farquhar as’one of the last old style Liberals’. 

The inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Medal was awarded to Lachie Dick who has given signal service to education in the Highlands and Islands over a period of years as Principal Teacher of Gaelic at Inverness Royal Academy, then as Gaelic Adviser with the Western Isles Islands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean, and latterly as Depute Director of Education with the islands authority. He has had a long and fruitful association with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig since 1975.  He accepted an invitation to become a Trustee of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in 1982 and served on the Trust for 10 years.  He became an employee of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in 1996 taking on the role of Academic Development Coordinator.  The knowledge and experience Lachie gained during his years at Comhairle nan Eilean were of great benefit to Sabhal Mòr in the development of the College estate and his skills were deployed to the great benefit of the College and UHI on a regular basis over a long period in the development of the University.

SMO celebrates first BA (Hons) Gaelic and Traditional Music Graduates

This year’s graduation saw another historic day for SMO with the graduation of its first students from the BA (Honors) Gaelic and Traditional Music programme.  Roya MacLean (22) from Muir of Ord and Lisa Moyes (22) from Maryburgh successfully completed four years of full time study at the college where they undertook a range of Gaelic language modules and more music-specific modules including one-to-one lessons on their principal instruments, Groupwork, Music Theory, Composing and Arranging, Teaching Music and Recording and Producing.  In addition, Moyes, who is a fiddler, studied for a semester at the University of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia where she researched Cape Breton style fiddling for her honours’ dissertation.  Moyes is now a freelance musician and after a short time travelling will begin her teaching qualification.

MacLean has already made a name for herself as one of Scotland’s leading young accordionists and has released two solo albums.  Since completing her degree she has made music her full-time career,’Now I am self-employed’, she explained,’I teach with the YMI (Youth Music Initiative) a few days a week in primary schools through Fèis Rois and I teach accordion privately.  I also perform regularly with bands, including my own cèilidh band, and I co-present the Gaelic and English chart show on Moray Firth Radio…I love it!’

In light of the great difficulty in finding employment faced by recent graduates from all over the country, MacLean has managed to buck the trend,’I think having an honours degree in Gaelic and Traditional Music has given me more opportunities for work in the Highlands and it has also helped me so much with my music. Since becoming fluent in the language, my musical interpretation has improved vastly. My degree has helped me get work through the Fèis and also my radio job which I am very grateful for…Gaelic was a very hard language to learn, but definitely worth it.’

The BA (Honours) Gaelic and Traditional Music course began in 2007 and remains the only degree programme of its kind that teaches entirely through the medium of Gaelic.  Teaching staff include some of the world’s finest traditional musicians and academics, including Dr Decker Forrest, Allan Henderson, Ingrid Henderson, Dr John Purser and Christine Primrose.  Visiting staff include Allan MacDonald, Fergie MacDonald, Margaret Stewart and Dr Will Lamb.  For further info, go to

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