Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is the only college of its kind in the world offering further and higher education opportunities through the medium of Scottish Gaelic. Celtic Life International caught up with Mick MacNèill who has been involved with the college for the last decade.

What are your own roots?
I have been living in Skye for almost ten years now but I am originally from the small island of Vatersay in the Western Isles, off the west coast of Scotland. Vatersay is the most southerly inhabited island in the Western Isles with a population of around 70 people, many of whom speak Gaelic on a daily basis. Most of my own family still live and work there and I try to visit as often as I can.

How, when and why did you get involved with SMO?
Since Gaelic is my first language, I decided that I would like to be able to use Gaelic in my work and so in 2002 I came to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig to do a one year course to improve my written Gaelic. On completion of the course I decided to further my education in the language and learn more about the world of media. I stayed at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and completed the BA Gaelic and Media Studies degree followed by the Diploma in Gaelic Media. 

What are your responsibilities there today?
By the time I had completed my studies at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig I had started my own family and was settled on Skye. I then took up the position of Web Editor at the College and became more involved with the marketing of the College as the years went by. I now work in the marketing department at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig with many of my responsibilities relating to the College website, as well as the websites of organisations within the college. I’m also involved in marketing the College through newspaper and magazine advertisements, on local radio stations, and in the production of marketing materials.

Is the school’s mandate the same today as it was when established?
The College’s mandate is very much the same today as it was when it was first established, “Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is committed to being a centre of excellence for the development and enhancement of the Gaelic language, culture and heritage. It is committed to providing quality educational, training and research opportunities through the medium of Scottish Gaelic and, by interacting innovatively with individuals, communities and businesses, to contributing to the social, cultural and economic regeneration of the Highlands and Islands and to securing the future of the Gaelic language and culture in Scotland.”

How many students do you welcome every year?
Each year, on average, the college has approximately 70 full time students, 300 on distance learning courses and around 700 students attending the Easter and summer short courses. 

Where are they from?
Our students come from all over the world including Canada, America, Germany, China and France. 

Why do they choose to study there?
People have many reasons for choosing to study at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig: some have been brought up with Gaelic and others have learned it in school; some have a connection to the language through their ancestors; some have made a connection through Gaelic songs or Gaelic place names; while others have an academic interest in the language. Sabhal Mòr Ostaig offers courses which are suitable for people who are beginners in the language right through to those who are fluent speakers.

Why is it important to preserve and protect Gaelic culture?
I feel that it is very important to preserve and protect our Gaelic language and culture. The Gaelic language is intrinsically tied to our culture and if we were to lose it, a considerable part of our culture, heritage and identity would also be lost. Gaelic is part of what defines us and, in a world of increasing globalisation, it’s also what makes us different.

What is on tap for the school, and yourself, in the months and years ahead?
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s aims in the years to come are to continue to enrich and promote the language, strengthen its links and to ensure it meets the needs of the Gaelic community throughout the world.