Scots bid to revive Gaelic studies

September 24, 2004

Universities are aiming to underpin a Gaelic language renaissance in Scotland, with Aberdeen investing an extra £465,000 this year to boost staff numbers in Celtic studies, while Glasgow staff numbers will be at their greatest for 20 years.

The Scottish Parliament is expected to pass legislation giving Gaelic official recognition, and Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, last week strengthened pupils' right to Gaelic-medium education.

Celtic studies staff and student numbers have dwindled at Aberdeen in recent years. When Donald Meek left a chair at Aberdeen to become professor of Scottish and Gaelic studies at Edinburgh University three years ago, he was not replaced.

But Aberdeen has now recruited an international line-up, maintaining existing strengths and developing other areas, from traditional Celtic studies and modern Gaelic to language planning, minority rights and Gaelic-medium teacher training.

David Dumville, an expert in medieval Celtic history, at Cambridge University, has been appointed to a chair at Aberdeen, while Bernhard Maier, of Bonn University, Germany, and Canadian Robert Dunbar, of Glasgow, become readers.

Clare Downham, of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, and Gaelic language activists Margaret MacIver, Michelle MacLeod and Moray Watson become lecturers.

Bryan MacGregor, head of Aberdeen's College of Arts and Social Sciences, said the Scottish Executive's initiatives, and the need for expertise in language development and teaching, created opportunities and obligations for universities. "(Gaelic) is part of our history, it's part of our culture and landscape through place-names. If it doesn't survive as a living language in Scotland, it will not survive anywhere."

Professor MacGregor also predicted a growing market in Celtic studies taught through the medium of English. At Glasgow, Cathair Ó Dochartaigh, professor of Celtic since 1996, retires this month, to be succeeded in January by Thomas Owen Clancy, the current reader.

Glasgow appointed Roibeard Ó Maololaigh of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies to a personal chair. The Celtic studies department will have four full-time and three part-time staff.

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