Professor Gillies is a native of the Isle of Skye and spent twenty five years of his career leading Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Scotland’s National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture. He is an Emeritus Professor of the University of the Highlands and Islands and holds an Honorary Chair in Contemporary Highland Studies with the University of Aberdeen, which also awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws in 2000. He was Chief of the Gaelic Society of Inverness in 2000 and was the recipient of a Saltire Award in 2008 and made an Honorary Member in 2009.
Professor Gillies was awarded an OBE in 2003 for services to education and Gaelic. In 2011 he was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of the University) by the Open University for work in areas of special educational concern to the University and exceptional contribution to education and culture. He chaired the Board of West Highland College from inception until stepping down at the end of December 2011. He spent three years as Director of Development with the Clan Donald Lands Trust, a Scottish charity which owns twenty thousand acres of land in south Skye, tasked with looking at development initiatives to make the estate more sustainable and to look for new avenues of funding. During this time he project managed Baile Chlann Domhnaill: A’Chill Bheag, a Master Plan for the creation of a new village at Kilbeg in south Skye, from the ideas stage to the gaining of Planning Permission (without objection) for 93 houses, seven academic buildings, four enterprise units, a conference centre, a hotel and shop together with amenity land and sports facilities.
He currently chairs ATLAS Arts an organisation “without walls” which generated and presents innovative and ambitious contemporary arts projects (www.atlasarts.org.uk), and serves as a trustee of a number of local charities and projects.