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The Chatelaine's Scottish Castles

Kisimul Castle

Isle of Barra

Arriving in Castlebay

Kisimul Castle sits on a rocky islet in the bay just off the coast of Barra. Legend has it that this has been the stronghold of the MacNeils since the 11th century.

With its square keep and curtain wall, Kisimul has a similar design to Dunstaffnage Castle. To withstand sieges, the castle was equipped with two artesian wells to provide water and a fish trap in a catchment basin. A galley used to be berthed alongside on a sloping beach with the crewhouse nearby. At the first sign of trouble, the crew were expected to launch the ship and defend the castle from attack.

The 21st chief had to sell Barra in 1838 and soon the castle was in ruins. Many of the MacNeils went to seek a better life in America. In the late 1930s, the 45th clan chief, American architect Robert Lister Macneil, returned to the island and bought the castle. Before his death in 1970 he succeeded in completing the much-needed restoration work. Water was piped from Castlebay and telephones installed.

His son Ian Roderick, Professor of Law, took over the castle and is still the current Chief of the MacNeils of Barra. In March 2000 it was announced that he had handed the castle into the care of Historic Environment Scotland on a 1000-year lease with an annual token rent of £1 and a bottle of whisky. This will ensure that conservation work will continue to maintain the castle for generations to come.

A small boat from the slipway takes tourists across to the castle during the summer (daily from 1 April to 30 September). Admission charge to the castle includes the boat fare. Tel: 01871 810313 or contact Historic Environment Scotland.

Photo of Kisimul Castle Photo of Kisimul Castle
Photo of Kisimul Castle Photo of Kisimul Castle

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More info can be found on the following sites:
Clan MacNeil Gatherings on Barra.
Clan MacNeil in Canada.

Began as a 19th-century fishing port, the town of Castlebay is now home to a couple of hotels, church, post office, bank, school, supermarket, petrol station, café, community shop, swimming pool, sports hall, heritage centre and tourist information centre. A Caledonian MacBrayne vehicle ferry arrives here from the mainland and from South Uist.

A few miles west of Castlebay is MacLeod's Tower. Located on an islet in Loch Tangasdal this is a medieval tower-house which originally had 3 storeys. Nearby is the so-called St. Columba's Well.

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