A Short Description of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic College in Skye.


The College was started in 1974, when some derelict farm buildings at Ostaig in the Sleat peninsula of Skye were made available. During most of the first year work was in being on parts of the buildings to bring them up to usable standard, and Dr. Gordon Barr, a lecturer in bio-chemistry at Dundee University came to spend a sabbatical year at the College to initiate some of this work. Thereafter, the volume of activities was gradually enlarged and since the appointment in May 1975 of Fearchar MacLennan as Fear Stiuiridh (Director) progress has been accelerating.

The buildings of the College are in a quadrangular shape with an adjoining house (which has eight small rooms). The quadrangle was semi-ruinous four years ago, but has been partly renovated. There is now a large open-plan office area, a large library area, a common room and four lecture rooms, one of which will have projection facilities. The lecture rooms have been partially renovated to date. In addition there is a large open hall (100′ x 20′) with a stage at one end and changing rooms for actors in the process of being completed.

A Manpower Services Commission Job Creation project has been carrying out a great deal of work at the College: this is likely to continue for several months. In addition an application has been made to the Pilgrim Trust for a grant towards the improvement to the Scottish Education Department for a capital grant.


The biggest single activity so far has been the organisation of Summer Schools. Since 1973 there have been summer schools each year for Gaelic learners, and for 1978 a three-week course and two fortnight courses have been arranged. The courses will be restricted to about 30 students since this is the maximum that can be accommodated in the dining room at present. The main emphasis at these courses is on conversational Gaelic, with a preference for people who have already made a start with the language, for those who are young, and for those who live in a Gaelic-speaking area, but in fact students have come from Canada, USA, Ireland, Wales, England, France, Switzerland, Holland and Norway, with an overall majority from within Scotland itself.

Twice yearly piping schools have been held most successfully with young pipers being in residence for a week in order to receive intensive tuition in the art of bagpipe playing.

The College has also been active in other ways, e.g. in arranging each year a literature festival attended by the leading Gaelic writers and poets from throughout Scotland, poetry competitions for the school-children throughout the Hebrides, special events for Gaelic-speaking children at the schools in Skye, lectures on topical subjects, night classes in the winter for Gaelic learners, publishing (starting with a Book of Gaelic Carols which was issued in 1975) visual aids and texts for Gaelic education and the collection of a significant library of Gaelic books. Equipment for a language laboratory has been installed at the College, initially with four booths, and there has also been an active programme of ceilidhs, dances and other functions to provide a social point for the community.

In May 1974 a Filidh (Writer to the community) was appointed with the help of the Scottish Arts Council. This was a one-year appointment by a young poetess, Catriona Montgomery, who was succeeded in the following year by Dr. Sorley MacLean, the well-known poet. He, in turn, has been succeeded by Angus Nicolson, the poet from Uig in Skye.

The present incumbent has responsibility for initiating liaison with the secondary schools in Scotland and with the local community. To date, the Sgriobhadair (a change of title and emphasis) has been involved in an intensive programme of school visitations, poetry readings, stimulating creative writing and contributions in Gaelic and English to many publications.


The College now has a staff of three people consisting of the Director, the Eilidh and an assistant/secretary.
The Director, Fearchar MacDonald MacLennan, comes from the Isle of Raasay and 
was previously the headmaster at Benbecula School, a large primary school in the Outer Hebrides.

The Urrasairean (Trustees) of the College are:

Dr. Gordon Barr (Lecturer in biochemistry at Dundee University).
Domhnall R. MacDonald (Head of Gaelic Department – Portree High School)
Dr. Sorley MacLean (Poet, previously Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University).

Iain Noble (of Fearann Eilean Iarmain).

Dr. Finlay Macleod (Western Isles Primary Adviser and author).

John Murray (Head of the Schools Bilingual Education Project in the Western Isles).

Duncan MacQuarrie (Inverness Royal Academy) (Chairman).

Morag Macleod (formerly Lecturer in School of Scottish Studies).

Colin Spencer (Education Director An Comunn Gaidhealach)
Dr. Ruairidh MacLeod (Minister Church of Scotland and Chairman Education 
Committee Western Isles Regional Authority).
Allan MacDonald (Headmaster – Staffin School).

Objectives for the Future.

During 1976 the Urrasairean agreed in principle that their objective was to introduce a two year course for full time students at the College. This would be limited to about 30 students initially at least and it was hoped that the first course might begin in September 1979/80. The course, which would be conducted in Gaelic, would be based on Celtic Studies, environmental subjects and more practical subjects related to life in Skye, such as agriculture, geology, forestry and fishing. There might be scope for other subjects using the expertise of research fellowships or visiting lectures.

Alongside this course, the College would also undertake an active programme to provide teacher aids for the schools in the field of publishing tapes, slides and the like. This and the proposed course for students would be new activities which would be grafted on to the pattern of work which has already been evolved at the College. To achieve the programme it will be necessary for the number of teaching staff to be increased to about four, for the building to be extensively renovated in order to provide more classrooms and common rooms and the hostel accommodation to be created for the students. Although the economic climate in Britain is not too favourable at the moment, every effort will be made to reach this stage of development within the next two years.

Applications for membership of the College or enquiries should be addressed to The Director, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, An Teanga, An T-Eilean Sgitheanach (Isle of Skye) IV44 8RQ.

Sabhal Mór Ostaig.