Christina Mackenzie, an administrator at Pròiseact nan Ealan (National Gaelic Arts Agency) in Stornoway, has been named the Gaelic Learner of the Year at The Royal National Mòd 2015.
The award, sponsored by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, recognises a Gaelic learner who has made significant steps to fluency.
Christina, who was born to Gaelic speaking parents in Stornoway during the 70s, did not study Gaelic as a schoolgirl and chose to study jewellery at Cardonald College, Glasgow. She then trained as a goldsmith and designer for 14 years, gaining a Gold Medal industry award for her work.
“Like most of the houses in Lewis my parents and most people around spoke Gaelic but we went to school and it was all English,” she said. “It was typical so I was understanding everything but I wasn’t that interested in learning it.
“I went off and did my studies in art and it was only as I got older I realised that Gaelic was really, really important.
“If we don’t make the effort then it will only decrease even further. It is important to try and learn it and as I was, there are so many people around Stornoway where they will have far more Gaelic than me but are too scared to take it up and progress with it.
It was in 2011, when Christina decided to return to Stornoway, that she enrolled on a Cùrsa Comais course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, spending a year there immersed in the Gaelic language.
“I was working in Glasgow when the opportunity came for me to come home which I wanted to do.
“I then decided I would learn Gaelic so I went to Sabhal Mor Ostaig for a year, total immersion in Gaelic.
“At the time I couldn’t write a sentence in Gaelic so it was overwhelming but absolutely brilliant.
“At the end of every week I was mentally shattered as I had to concentrate so much. But I enjoyed the year there so much that I enrolled into the degree in Stornoway.
“All the talks, all the essays, everything was in Gaelic, even three hour exams. But I got so much out of it with my course and I graduated.”
Christina completed a BA Gaelic Language and Culture course at Lewis Castle College UHI from which she graduated in 2015 and now works as administrator with Pròiseact nan Ealan in order to further enhance her language skills.