After my walk along the East Beach and Barra Airport, I drove along the other side of the island towards Castlebay, the main settlement on the Isle of Barra. Castlebay is located on the island’s south coast and overlooks a bay in the Atlantic Ocean dominated by Kisimul Castle, as well as nearby islands such as Vatersay.
The story of Castlebay is deeply entwined with the stories of Clan MacNeil and of Kisimul Castle, the castle in the bay after which Castlebay takes its name. Barra was granted to the Clan MacNeil by Alexander, Lord of the Isles, in 1427. (Scotland Undiscovered.com)
The Clan MacNeil held Barra for the next 400 years until Roderick MacNeil ran out of money in 1838 and sold Barra to Colonel John Gordon of Cluny. Gordon wanted to make room for sheep and forcefully cleared a lot of Barra, which he did to other places in the Hebrides.
Kisimul Castle was also abandoned in 1838 when the island was sold, and the castle’s condition subsequently deteriorated. At the moment there is restoration work going on in the castle and it wasn´t possible to visit it.
In 1937 the American architect Robert MacNeil, who had been recognised as the 45th Clan Chief of the MacNeils, visited Barra soon after the opening of the airstrip on the island. He purchased most of the Barra estate lost in 1838. (Scotland Undiscovered.com)
In 2000 the current Laird leased Kisimul Castle to the Historic Environment for Scotland for 1,000 years for a rent of a bottle of whisky and £1 a year. And in 2003 he started a process that will lead to public ownership of the whole island, at no cost.
After Gordon had died in 1856 Castlebay became a spot of a fishing industry. 400 small fishing boats were based here, together with the associated gutting, curing and preserving facilities.
By 1894 there were three steamers a week linking Castlebay with Oban, and the Castlebay Hotel had been opened. The Church of Scotland that was built overlooking the harbour on this predominantly Catholic island in 1892 did not thrive: the building remains today, but is disused. The Catholic Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, built in 1889, has fared better. (Scotland Undiscovered.com)
In 1949 the first “Whisky Galore” movie was filmed in Barra, even though the events were based in Eriskay. This movie put Barra on the map and the hotel began to thrive.
And here is my lovely home for the week in Barra. A lovely and very cosy cottage north of Barra, overlooking the sea.