The Gaelic way of living in the world
Recently, I was asked to contribute an article to the festschrift volume in honour of Dr. Ken Nilsen, first holder of the Sister St. Veronica Chair in Gaelic Studies at St. Francis Xavier University, from 1984 until his passing in 2012. While considering the gains in Gaelic during his tenure, it was revealing to see how Celtic Studies graduates have gone on to careers based in Gaelic.
Into my Gaelic class at the Gaelic College one year came a young boy from PEI who was there for the first time with the island’s pipe band. He eventually took Celtic Studies at St. FXU, graduated with 1st Class Honours in History and won a full grant to work on his PH.D. in Celtic at Harvard University. The boy was Michael Linkletter who, in 2001, was the first recipient of the Celtic Department’s second chair, The Ben Alder Chair in Celtic Studies, secured for the university by the late Father Vern Boutilier of Ross Ferry, Cape Breton. He is now the second holder of the Sister St. Veronica Chair and head of St. FX’S Celtic Department.
Natasha Sumner, another Canadian, secured her PH.D. at Harvard after gaining her Celtic Studies degree at X; she now lectures on Celtic subjects at Harvard. And Tiber Falzett from NE Pennsylvania, with ancestors in the Canadian prairies, graduated with 1st-class honours in Celtic Studies at X in 2007 and went on to gain his PH.D. at Edinburgh University; since then, he has been a Research Associate at UPEI with focus on the Gaelic legacy and its renewal in Prince Edward Island. He has just been named to the Scottish Heritage USA Visiting Lectureship in Scottish Gaelic Studies at the University of North Carolina, the first of its kind in America. Just to name one more: Lewis Mackinnon, born in Inverness town, returned to X to do his Master’s in Celtic Studies and went on to be named CEO for the newly formed Nova Scotia Office of Gaelic Affairs in 2006.
It’s not generally known how Nova Scotia Gaelic graduates have come to the aid of Scotland’s schools in their time of need. An outstanding example of this is Sydney-born Kathleen Reddy who, after graduating in Celtic at X, received her qualification to teach at Strathclyde University, Scotland, and went on to teach in Dingwall and Uist. She is now studying for her PH.D. at Glasgow University, after a stint of teaching at her Alma Mater. Among other X graduates teaching Gaelic in Scotland are Deidre Chase of Oregon on the Isle of Mull and Jason Bond of Maine on Islay.
An important ingredient was added to the mix in 2004 when St. FX’S Faculty of Education, with the cooperation of the Office of Gaelic Affairs, introduced a Gaelic teachable to its B.ED. degree—a first in North America; this enables Celtic Studies Graduates to achieve a Gaelic teaching qualification at home. Since then, 13 students have gone through the program. The most recent graduate of the program to find employment requiring Gaelic fluency is David Rankin, now Director of School Operations at the Gaelic College. More recently, thanks to the $100,000 bequest to Gaelic education at STFX from the Neil and Marianne Maclean estate, prospective Gaelic teachers can apply for financial assistance to complete their B.ED. degree. Neil was a frequent visitor to the Celtic Department Gaelic Days instituted by Dr. Nilsen.
This is only a partial account of how STFX Gaelic graduates have successfully found work in their field. Government funds to hire a Gaelic teacher are available. Core Gaelic is taught in 8 schools in Nova Scotia, but only at Rankin Memorial in Victoria Co. Baddeck and Boularderie schools: are you listening?