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University recognises work of Gaelic and Celtic academic and writer

Monday 21 December 2015
University recognises work of Gaelic and Celtic academic and writer

Professor Meg Bateman

A Skye academic and celebrated poet has been made a Professor by the University of the Highlands and Islands. Meg Bateman was awarded the title in recognition of her contribution to scholarship and research in Celtic and Gaelic studies.

Based at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture and one of the academic partners of the university, Professor Bateman is an authority on Celtic and Scottish literature as well as an internationally published writer and poet. Having studied and taught at Aberdeen University, achieving a doctorate in classical Gaelic religious poetry, Professor Bateman moved to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI in 1998, attracted by the prospect of tertiary education coming to the Highlands.  

The university’s principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Clive Mulholland, said: “The title of professor is the highest level of academic achievement which can be awarded. It is reserved for individuals who are recognised as leaders in their field and have demonstrated excellence in their work. Professor Bateman has made an immense contribution to scholarship and research in Celtic and Gaelic studies. Her outstanding academic record is a great asset to the university and we are delighted to make this award in recognition of her contribution and dedication.”

Speaking about her new title, Professor Bateman said: “It feels consolidating of past efforts and like a vote of confidence for things to come.  Our principal, Boyd Robertson, who nominated me, said that the award was like a Christmas present for Sabhal Mòr; it certainly is for my 90 year old mother! My thanks to the University of the Highlands and Islands for the encouragement; I hope I will live up to your expectations.”

Professor Boyd Robertson, principal of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, added: “In addition to her academic prowess, Professor Bateman has an international reputation as a poet and writer. She is undoubtedly one of the leading poets in Scotland. She adds lustre to the college and university and I am delighted that her sterling service has been recognised with this award.”

Professor Bateman composed a poem, written specially for the celebration of the new University of the Highlands and Islands at an event in Inverness in 2011. ‘Let the Northern Land Shine’ brings to life the mission of the university, and its place in one of the most beautiful and diverse parts of the world.  It was read in Gaelic, Scots and English.



A poem for the inauguration of the University of the Highlands and Islands, 2011



The university looks like a chart of the stars,

thirteen constellations spangling the land

of colleges with their planets in room and hut,

scattered over islands, folded into glens.


Windows shine in the dark of the night

with the ghostly glow of computer screens,

a phosphorescent net with a catch of thought

holds the craggy land in its mesh, 


from Lerwick in the north, Whalsay and Unst,

to Dunoon in the south and Campbeltown beyond,

from Elgin, Buckie and Keith in the east,

to Lewis and Uist, Benbecula and Barra.


Yet without approaching these wave-pounded coasts 

with their cliffs and gloups, their skerries and stacks,

serene voices enter the debate

online in America, Germany, Japan.




It was said St Columba made the northern land shine,

with his understanding of Scripture, of tides and moon,

the illumination of manuscripts and singing of psalms

in monasteries perched in the desert of the ocean 

and thrust beyond Drumalban, in Monymusk and Deer. 


The Picts, carvers of bent rods and zigzags,

of discs and crescents, combs, and mirrors,

must have had schools to share their templates

of symbols and beasts, to teach ogham

and to plan their intricate, whirling designs.


The learning of the Norse in Scotland has gone,

lost in language, overtaken by change,

yet they trained smiths to make jewellery and arms,

tailors, sail-makers, skalds and wrights.

Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson was educated well:  


“There are nine skills known to me:

At tables I play ably,

Rarely do I run out of runes,

Reading, smith-craft, both come ready.

I can skim the ground on skis,

Wield a bow, do well in rowing,

To both arts I can bend my mind –

 Poet's lay and harper's playing."


In the golden peace of the Lordship of the Isles

MacMhuirich poets kept a school in Uist,

Beaton doctors had a school in Mull

where Avicenna, Hippocrates and Galen were read,

and Morrison breves taught the law in Ness.


Experts came over drawn from Ireland:

Ó Brolcháin and Ó Cuinn came to Iona to twine 

winding foliage round the high crosses,

Ó Seanog played on the harp in Kintyre,

Cú Chulainn himself came for martial training.


And who knows if the great stone circles

of Callanish and Orkney were lunar labs,

or how the geometry was worked out

of the carved stone balls at Skara Brae,

or in what groves the druids rehearsed their arts? 




So much has been lost

of the learning of the past,

forgotten through spite and abjection,


but from fractured rocks

fresh flowers will blow,

and puffins fly from the fissures. 


The land heaves a sigh

from the weight of the ice,

the population begins to recover


from the years the youth

would make for the south,

the place robbed of their hopeful spirit.




We look out on hills and woods

while contemplating cause and effect

and the sea stretching silver around the globe,


just as those others, with quill in hand,

would pause and peer from corbelled hut

to delight in the sunlight, the arrival of ships. 


Some died serene, some were murdered,

some grew lonely, lacking books and guidance,

their minds vast in the narrowness of their days. 


Rev. Colin Campbell, minister of Ardchattan,

would write in Latin to Sir Isaac Newton

for a chance to discuss astronomy and maths,


and his struggle killed the mason Hugh Miller 

who tried by himself over in Cromarty

to make Genesis agree with the fossils on the beach.


But now there are libraries, real and virtual,

the goodwill of the Parliament to own our own,

and the internet to open our conversations wide.


Though the tides brush out our ripples in the sand,

the northern land again will shine

with the aurora dancing above our thought.




The title is based on Lassais tír túath, a line from an elegy for St Columba, “Amra Choluimb Chille”, composed by Dallán Forgaill in 597.

Meg Bateman 16:08:11