On course to cater for increasing interest in Gaelic language and Celtic culture

Celtic Studies students at Newbattle Abbey College are immersed for a week in a Gaelic-speaking culture at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye.
Celtic Studies students at Newbattle Abbey College are immersed for a week in a Gaelic-speaking culture at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye.
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WITH a growing interest in Gaelic language and culture outside areas where it was traditionally strong, more young Scots are emerging from school bilingual.

This isn’t just happening in the Highlands and Islands, but increasingly elsewhere – with some consequent staffing challenges as Gaelic medium schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow seek both teachers and support staff who are fluent in the language.

Newbattle Abbey College has a rich cultural heritage, which has included the promotion of Celtic culture and Gaelic language. The college is also trying hard to plug the lowland skills gap by offering a gateway to those with an interest in the Gaelic language and broader Celtic culture.

Our Celtic Studies Access to Higher Education course provides a pathway to Gaelic and our Celtic cultural heritage. Students on the course learn about contemporary Gaelic language and the culture of the Celts, as well as the history of the Celts in Scotland, politics in the Celtic nations, literature, storytelling in the Celtic tradition and the heritage industry in Scotland. Quite a rich tapestry, I’m sure you will agree.

The course is part of the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) for adults and has no entry requirements. Newbattle also offers a National Certificate in Celtic Studies for anyone aged over 16, targeted specifically at school-leavers and older students.

Both courses run for a full academic year, from September to June, with the option of living on-campus in Newbattle’s stunning historic building in wooded grounds near Dalkeith in Midlothian.

For those who find Gaelic language a little daunting, we offer additional lunchtime language classes to help students – and also immerse them for two weeks in a Gaelic-speaking culture as part of the course.

These two weeks – a week in Sabhal Mor Ostaig in Skye and a week at Lews Castle College in Stornoway – have proved a very popular, and successful, immersive experience for our students. One of them sent a lovely e-mail, saying: “All well here in Stornoway. We saw a minke whale from the ferry as well as porpoises and dolphins!

“It’s a lovely way to finish the course. I think we’ve all been really fortunate to have been on such a fantastic and interesting course. It’s been a really positive experience with excellent tutors and interesting and supportive fellow students. I have made real progress with Gaelic which I will definitely continue and have learned so much I didn’t know about Scottish history and Gaelic culture.”

As well as the mandatory history, politics and culture elements of the course, there is an opportunity to dig much deeper with optional units on archaeology, family history and genealogy, contemporary Gaelic music and song, Scottish dance, songwriting and creative writing.

This is a rich academic and vocational course which aligns well with Scotland’s recent political awakening and growing cultural awareness. There is lots of hard work involved and the potential to move into further study, opening up the prospect not only of work in Gaelic Medium Education, but also in the heritage sector – an area with a big focus in 2017, Scotland’s themed Year of Archaeology, History and Heritage.

Our Celtic Studies students have progressed to undergraduate courses in Celtic Studies, archaeology, Scottish History and the Primary Teaching with Gaelic Course at the University of Edinburgh. Celtic Studies is also a useful qualification for people progressing to employment in the media or in the heritage and creative industries.

But don’t take my word for it that this is a great course which can change your life. I’ll leave the last word to another student:

“I have just completed a Celtic Studies course at Newbattle. Having a degree many years ago but being out of employment due to family commitments and health reasons, it’s often very difficult to find courses to do. The course has been an amazing opportunity for me. It has helped to raise my confidence. It reignited my passion for learning so much that I applied and have an offer to study Primary Teaching with Gaelic at Moray House.

“It has been a lifelong ambition to learn Gaelic as my father was from the Outer Hebrides and I still have family living and working there. It was a wonderful way to pay respects to his memory, to finally learn the language. I will always cherish my time at Newbattle. It came along at a time when I was desperately in need of something to help build my confidence and it gave me a new sense of direction.”
Marian Docherty is deputy principal at Newbattle Abbey College www.newbattleabbeycollege.ac.uk