BOTH as a Gaelic medium teacher and development officer in west Highland schools as well as an organiser and tutor in the Fèisean movement and, most recently, with the award-winning Ceòlas initiative on her native South Uist, Catriona MacIntyre has been a tireless champion of Gaelic language and culture.
With Gaelic as her first – “and preferred” – language, Catriona has taught it as a second language to children and adults all her adult life – in the classroom, at local Fèisean gatherings and festivals, and online.
Born and brought up in a Gaelic-speaking household in Iochdar, South Uist, Catriona went to Lochaber High School in Fort William then trained as a primary school teacher in Glasgow Her first teaching post was in Lochboisdale, back in South Uist, then in 1971 she married and moved to Fort William, where she taught in Lochyside Primary School for some 20 years, with breaks while her three children were young. While she would work in the Lochaber area for almost 40 years, she says that always considered herself an Uibhisteach at heart.
However, her exile from South Uist would prove highly beneficial to the Gaelic language movement in Lochaber. Following her teaching years at Lochyside Primary, she was seconded to the post of Gaelic development officer for a year to assess interest in Gaelic medium education in Lochaber. She found plenty of demand and, as a result, the first Gaelic medium unit in Lochaber was established in Acharacle Primary School in 1992, with further units introduced in Fort William and Morar not long afterwards.
Catriona became the first Gaelic medium teacher at Acharacle, where she worked for eight years, commuting daily from Fort William. In 2000 she became a Gaelic medium support teacher for the three units in Lochaber as well as support teacher for Gaelic nurseries in the area. Then 2004 saw her appointed as Gaelic Early Years Development Officer for Highland, which meant that, until her retirement in 2008, she travelled throughout the Highland Council area, providing support for Gaelic medium pre-school education.
While working at Acharachle, parallel to her teaching and support work for Highland Council, Catriona became closely involved with the emergent Fèisean movement during the Nineties, as an organiser and as a tutor, initially as a drama tutor with the local Fèis nan Garbh Chrìochan. As her involvement broadened, she became a board member on Fèisean nan Gàidheal, serving two periods as chairperson. “As a Gaelic speaker,” she says, “steeped in the culture from an early age, I have always been supportive of the Fèisean movement and its aims.”
After 43 years spent working in Lochaber, Catriona’s laughably termed “retirement”, saw her move back to her native South Uist, where she still undertakes some Gaelic-medium supply teaching and is a director on the board of the Ceòlas Gaelic arts and heritage organisation, which recently received an international award in the Daily Record Scottish Gaelic Awards for its work in building links with other festivals such as Glasgow’s Celtic Connections and Celtic Colours in Nova Scotia.
Not only does Ceòlas continue to provide Gaelic language courses for adult learners, but it has recently started delivering “Gaelic enrichment” courses for trainee Gaelic-medium teachers, with Catriona involved in planning and delivering the courses. She also works for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college and cultural centre on Skye, both on online and short-course teaching.
“Catriona MacIntyre is a community-spirited individual with a great love of Gaelic language and culture and an even greater desire to ensure it is passed on to younger generations,” says Arthur Cormack, chief executive of Fèisean nan Gàidheal. “She did not one but two stints as chair of Fèisean nan Gàidheal, a role that she carried out with great skill and in which she was much respected by staff, Fèis organisers and funders.
“Having ‘retired’ to her native South Uist, her energy levels have not abated and she is now involved with the highly-successful Ceòlas programme and will be a great asset to them as they seek to develop their work. Tha Catriona fìor airidh air urram agus ghuidhinn buaidh is piseach leatha san àm ri teachd – Catriona is very worthy of recognition and I wish her every success in the future.”