Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College

View of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College

Transceltic's Emmett McIntyre contacted Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College, to find out more about their work. Mick MacNèill from the college kindly provided us with this fascinating introduction to their unique educational institution, which is dedicated to promoting and preserving Scotland's ancient Celtic tongue, Scottish Gaelic, as a modern, living language.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College, is located on the Isle of Skye off Scotland’s west coast. Founded in 1973, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has become internationally recognised as a National Centre for the Gaelic language and culture.  The College is an academic partner within the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), and provides high quality education and research opportunities through the medium of Scottish Gaelic.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's logo

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO), which translates to “The Big Barn of Ostaig”, is a modern, innovative college and has excellent learning resources on-campus including an exceptional library collection, broadcast and recording facilities, residential student accommodation and a Gaelic-medium childcare facility. SMO is committed to being a centre of excellence for the development and enhancement of the Gaelic language, culture and heritage, by providing quality educational, training and research opportunities through the medium of Scottish Gaelic; and by interacting innovatively with individuals, communities and businesses, to contribute to social, cultural and economic development. The College also plays a leading role in the promotion of the Gaelic arts and culture and hosts a programme of residencies for artists in music, literature and the visual arts.

Undergraduate courses place an emphasis on achieving fluency in Gaelic in year 1 and 2 and students will be encouraged to speak and use Gaelic on a daily basis. Thereafter you can specialise in modules leading to degrees in Gaelic Language & Culture, Gaelic & Development, Gaelic & Media Studies, Gaelic & Education and Gaelic & Traditional Music. A Postgraduate course in Material Culture and Gàidhealtachd history is also available which explores the social and economic character of the Highlands and Islands through a study of the area's material culture, landscape and environment.

SMO also offers the opportunity to undertake study via Distance Learning.  No matter where in the world you live you can learn Gaelic with us.  The distance learning courses offered by SMO are designed to enable students to become fluent in the language and to progress to further study through the medium of Gaelic if desired.  If you have little or no previous knowledge of learning Gaelic we would recommend you begin with our award winning access to Gaelic course, An Cùrsa Inntrigidh.  If you do have some prior knowledge of Gaelic or if you are an experienced learner, you might wish to join the accelerated track of the course or enrol on An Cùrsa Adhartais, the next step towards fluency. Both these courses place an emphasis on speaking and listening skills and are about giving you the confidence to use Gaelic in everyday situations.

View of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College

If you would rather come to the College and experience a week or more of music, language, friendship and good craic, SMO offers a wide range of short courses which run mainly through the Easter and Summer holidays, but also at other times of the year.  As well as the traditional courses in Gaelic language and music, we offer many other types of courses including historical, cultural and crofting courses.  The majority of our courses are based at SMO but in addition to these courses we will also be running courses in other parts of Scotland and even in other countries this year.  We are now at a point where nearly a thousand people a year are taking part in a SMO short course so they are definitely not to be missed!

Over the years SMO has been fundamental in the revitalisation and regeneration of the Gaelic language and culture.  Having graduated over 800 students since its founding, the College has greatly contributed to the number of Gaelic speaking graduates in the workplace in Scotland.  In October 2013 the College had its largest graduating class in its history.  SMO Vice-principal and Director of Studies, John Norman MacLeod, was quoted in press reports describing the 2013 graduating class as follows:

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.

SMO has a Language Policy in place to ensure that everyone uses Gaelic at all times to the best of their ability. We are here in the interest of Gaelic in order to strengthen our language to the level of other strong and vibrant modern languages.  At SMO, you will not only use Gaelic in class, but your whole life at the College will be in Gaelic, from buying stamps and using the library to playing sports and hanging out with friends. Not everyone is fully fluent when they arrive at the College, and some students may already know each other and are used to speaking English to each other and will have to switch to Gaelic.  However, every year students come to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and successfully use Gaelic throughout the day, making new friends in the language and greatly improving their fluency at the same time.

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, congratulated Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on its 40th birthday in 2013. The BBC quoted the First Minister:

What started as no more than a barn and an idea 40 years ago, now stands as an established globally recognized Higher Education Institution charged with protecting, promoting and celebrating Scottish Gaelic.  It may not be our oldest university, but Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has become custodian of Scotland's oldest language.

-Alex Salmond

Supporting the college is the “Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Development Trust” which is a United Kingdom independent registered charitable trust and actively seeks support from the international Celtic community.  The SMO trust will in all circumstances arrange to ensure the most beneficial taxation treatment of financial donations and offers donors from the Unites States a registered 501C3 conduit to ensure the most beneficial treatment of donors.

External links

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's website