Chair of Celtic Studies

History of the Chair


The first Celtic Studies courses were taught at the University of Ottawa in 1972, but it was the emergence of a multiculturalism policy supported by Federal, Provincial and municipal governments, with a matching funds programme, that made possible the establishment of a Chair of Celtic Studies in Ottawa, as well as a chair of Gaelic studies at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and a chair of Irish studies at St Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Community support

A major part of the Chair’s funding came from the local Celtic communities during a funding campaign in the 1980s, and the new Chair of Celtic Studies was launched on 1 January 1986 as part of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.
The Chair was established to further teaching and research in Irish and Scots Gaelic, Welsh and Breton, as well as to develop interest in the rich traditions of Canada’s Celtic communities.


The first holder of the Chair of Celtic Studies was Dr Gordon W MacLennan, a specialist in Irish and Scottish Gaelic linguistics and folklore, who died in 1992.
One of the first activities associated with the Chair was the organization of the First North American Congress of Celtic Studies, held in Ottawa from 26 to 30 March 1986 (presentations published in 1988).
The Chair’s endowment went through some financial straits occasioned by falling interest rates and rising costs during the 1990s.
Dr Paul W. Birt, a specialist in Welsh and early Celtic literature, was named holder of the Chair in 1996.
The Chair of Celtic Studies organized the North American Association of Celtic Language Teachers Conference in 1997 and began a series of Celtic Chair Lectures presented by guest speakers.

The situation today

While offering a wide array of courses in Celtic Studies, the Chair has been involved in a crucial funding campaign. The Chair of Celtic Studies needs additional funding if it is to ensure the creation of permanent, full-time teaching positions.
Other funding objectives include a lecture fund and a fund for visiting professors.

Research activities

Research has been an important activity of the Celtic Chair since it was established in 1986. Both the Goidelic and the Brythonic branches of the Celtic family have been studied in research projects and publications over the years.

The first holder of the Chair of Celtic Studies, Dr Gordon W MacLennan (1931-1992), was a prominent scholar in Irish and Scottish Gaelic language and folklore.

Among his publications were Gàidhlig Uidhist a Deas, a description of the Gaelic spoken in South Uist, and Seanchas Annie Bhán: The Lore of Annie Bhán, the text and analysis of a prominent storyteller from the Rosses in County Donegal, Ireland. He was the editor of the Proceedings of the First North American Congress of Celtic Studies held at the University of Ottawa in 1986.

The second and present holder of the chair since 1996 is Dr Paul William Birt, a graduate of the University of Wales. Although a teacher of the language and literature of Wales, Brittany and Ireland, his research area is comparative literatures of lesser-used languages of Western Europe. That led to his most recent book, Cerddi Alltudiaeth, published by the University of Wales Press in 1997.

Since 1998, Professor Birt has been researching the writings of the first generation of Welsh settlers in Patagonia, Argentina, from 1875 to 1900. The aim of the research is to make primary texts by Patagonian Welsh writers of the period more available and to reassess the identity shift and cultural survival reflected in their writings. The first of these texts, Gwaith a Bywyd John Daniel Evans, appeared in 2002.

Research funding campaign

Go raibh míle maith agaibh! : Diolch yn fawr iawn! : Mòran taing agaibh!
Trugarez deoc'h! : Muer ras dheugh-why!

Why the Celtic Studies Program is important

In the Celtic world, Ottawa and the National Capital Region of Canada are remarkable in that almost all the traditional Celtic peoples are well represented. It is fitting that the University of Ottawa has a Chair of Celtic Studies that gives Canadians an opportunity to learn the languages and cultures of peoples who have had a formative role in the settling and development of the Ottawa Valley. The diversity of Celtic Canada has a spiritual home in the Ottawa area.

The Chair of Celtic Studies is funded by an endowment managed by the University. All courses, activities and salaries are paid from the interest earned on this fund.

How you can help

The Celtic Chair Funding Committee invites you to contact us for more information about donating to this very important academic cause. You can also send contributions to the mailing address below. Cheques should be made out to "University of Ottawa, Celtic Chair Fund".

Mailing address for contributions

Professor Paul W. Birt
Chair of Celtic Studies
Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
70 Laurier Avenue East, Room 131
Ottawa, Ontario Canada
K1N 6N5

Information:  Professor Paul W. Birt  -

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Last updated: 2009.09.15