Gaelic champion and author recognised with university awards

Malcolm Macdonald and Annie Macsween were presented with the awards at the Lews Castle College UHI graduation ceremony.
Malcolm Macdonald and Annie Macsween were presented with the awards at the Lews Castle College UHI graduation ceremony.

The co-author of a book on the HMY Iolaire disaster and a champion of Gaelic education have been awarded honorary fellowships by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Malcolm Macdonald and Annie Macsween will be presented with the awards at the Lews Castle College UHI graduation ceremony at Martin’s Memorial Church, Stornoway today (Friday).

Honorary Fellowships are given to people who have made a significant contribution to the university or who have gained recognition for their activities in education, industry, public service or cultural and creative work.

Mr Macdonald, who grew up in Stornoway, co-authored The Darkest Dawn with the late Donald John MacLeod.

Published in 2018, the book details the tragedy of the Iolaire, a ship which sank near Stornoway harbour in January 1919 causing the loss of many Royal Navy reservists returning home at the end of the First World War.

The book was a culmination of 20 years of research and royalties are being given to Bethesda Hospice in Stornoway on an annual basis.

More than £8,800 was donated in June. Mr Macdonald, who has chaired the Stornoway Historical Society for over a decade, lost his grandfather in the disaster.

Born and brought up in Ness on the Isle of Lewis, Annie Macsween’s career has focused on enhancing the status of Gaelic and the lives of those who live in the Western Isles.

She began her professional life as a Gaelic teacher at The Nicolson Institute in Stornoway in 1973 and held posts with organisations including the Van Leer Community Education Project and the Western Isles Council before joining Lews Castle College UHI in 1994.

She was part of the team which introduced the university’s first BA degree in Gaelic and she has represented Lews Castle College UHI and the university at many national Gaelic forums.

Mrs Macsween was appointed as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles in 2011, a role which sees her assist the Lord-Lieutenant in his role as The Queen’s representative.

Malcolm and Annie were presented with their honorary fellowships alongside 61 graduating students and award winners.

Professor Crichton Lang, who took up the role of University of the Highlands and Islands Principal and Vice-Chancellor (Interim) on 1 August, presented the university degree and SQA awards in subjects ranging from oral health science to energy engineering.

He said: “I would like to congratulate all of the graduates and award winners.

“It was an honour to be there to recognise the fruits of their hard work and determination. We were also delighted to celebrate the contributions and achievements of Annie Macsween and Malcolm Macdonald.

“Annie has been instrumental in establishing Gaelic at the heart of our university and Malcolm’s painstaking research has helped local and global audiences to learn more about one of our worst maritime disasters.”

Annie said: “On an occasion such as this you remember all those who have helped you over the years. Your family, those who inspired you in your youth, colleagues and the wider community.

“But today I remember with gratitude the team I was involved with in the creation of the Gaelic degrees both here at Lews Castle College and at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and also at Inverness College.

“What was particularly rewarding was seeing school leavers being given the opportunity to study without leaving the islands and especially adult returners, both male and female, who brought so much personal experience to the classes.

“Many of those students are now gainfully employed in education and the media here in the islands and further afield.

“It was also a great blessing to see the co-operation of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and other public bodies in our aspirations.”

Malcolm said: “As I was a textiles student at Lews Castle College over 50 years ago, I am deeply touched to have been awarded the honorary fellowship.”