Skip to content

Aspects of Highland Material Culture with Margaret Stewart

START: 09 April 2018
END: 13 April 2018
COST: £280
Above: The Cas-Chrom in use in Skye
Above: Ploughing, Skye
Above: Skye Crofters
Above: Utensils found in a croft house

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig are delighted to welcome back Margaret Stewart to lead the Material Culture  course for their 2018 Short Courses Programme.

This five day course will begin by defining Material Culture, helping students to engage with tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The course will cover aspects of our culture and history, daily life in the home and work on land and sea, hardship and pleasure, beliefs and customs as well as song and story. 

Subjects covered throughout the course may include some of the following:-

  • Traditional Dwellings, arable and grazings, infield and outfield,  seaweed and manuring, tools and methods.
  • The daily and the seasonal round, organising of work, making good and repairing the ravages of weather and winter.
  • Changes from clachan to crofting system, animal husbandry, tools and implements.
  • Shielings and transhumance.
  • Effects of Emigration & Clearances.
  • Fishing (herring in particular), boat-building, tools and terminology.  
  • Inshore fishing and food from the Sea.
  • Fuel – peat cutting and timber, implements, methods and terminology.
  • Traditional food & drink of the Gael.
  • By the Hearth – clothing and furnishing, Waulking and working with wool, spinning and weaving, churning and milling, tools and methods.
  • Songs relating to some of the course material and topics.

Murdo MacDonald and Professor Hugh Cheape will also contribute to this course, Murdo recalling aspects of the course topics from his own experience in Lewis and Hugh drawing on the MSc coursework in Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and a former career in the National Museums of Scotland.

The course will include at least one field trip outwith the college campus and participants are expected to be comfortable walking about 1 mile with ease, so please ensure that you bring a waterproof jacket, a small backpack and comfortable walking shoes or boots.  This course is suitable for fluent Gaealic speakers and those who have little or no Gaelic but who have a desire to learn the language in the context of its relationship to Material Culture and Gàidhealach History. Class tuition will be given in both languages and students will be provided with relevant handouts pertaining to subjects taught.

The College also offer a Post-Graduate course MSc Material Culture and Gàidhealtachd History which looks in more details at some of the topics Margaret and the other tutors will be covering in her week-long course.



Margaret Stewart was born on a croft in the village of Upper Coll on the Isle of Lewis, and raised in a Gaelic speaking family. Like many of her generation, she has had invaluable hands-on experience of a traditional lifestyle which is now fast disappearing and from an early age she was expected to help with all the crofting and fishing activities around the family croft and within the wider community. In 2016 Margaret completed an MSc degree course in Material Culture and Gàidhealach History at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

Margaret is also an award winning Gaelic singer, having won the coveted National Mod Gold Medal in 1990, and was voted Gaelic Singer of the Year in 2008. She is widely respected as a mentor and teacher, with many singers having benefitted from her knowledge of history and song, either as private students or at annual events such as Ceòlas in South Uist, the Willie Clancy Summer School in Ireland and at institutes of learning such as Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Margaret’s knowledge of music and song has been put to good use on the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o’ Riches project where she was one of the core Gaelic Songs specialists.

Margaret was Gaelic Musician in Residence at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in 2012, researching history, Gaelic songs and traditions on such subjects as War & Conflict, Highland Hospitality & Convivialilty, the Jacobite Era and the Scottish Gaelic Diaspora.

For further information on Margaret Stewart you can click here.


Murdo MacDonald, from the village of Siadar a’ Chladaich, on the Isle-of-Lewis will be one of the tutors on the Material Culture course, giving of his extensive knowledge of housing, joinery, village management, crofting and animal husbandry, particularly his experience of draught horses from his youth.

Murdo is also well known as one of Gaeldom’s finest sean-nòs (traditional) singers and is also a highly regarded button box player. He has led workshops in Gaelic songs and traditional music both at home and elsewhere, recently focusing on the songs of the bàrds of his home area.


Hugh Cheape set up a postgraduate programme in material culture for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, University of the Highlands and Islands, in 2005, and moved to Skye in 2007 to teach the new course. Graduating with a degree in Scottish Historical Studies, he worked in the National Museums of Scotland for about 35 years and brought this knowledge and experience into the academic sphere. He has published widely in the subject-fields of agricultural history and ethnology as well as musicology, with a PhD thesis and two books on the bagpipe and piping.

Picture Acknowledgements:

  • Ploughing, Skye reproduced by kind permission of Edinburgh Central Library and Am Baile
  • The Cas-Chrom in use in Skye reproduced by kind permission of Mark Butterworth and Am Baile
  • Skye Crofters reproduced by kind permission of Skye & Lochalsh Archive Service and Am Baile
  • Utensils found in a croft house reproduced by kind permission of the Highland Folk Museum and Am Baile

© Sabhal Mòr Ostaig | Design by CGS | Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is a Scottish registered charity · No. SC002578