Learn a bit about the castle and the island (isle) it defends at this
website for the Isle of Barra:http://www.isleofbarra.com/history-barra.html
KISIMUL CASTLE (Seat of the clan MacNeil of Barra)
The most visible of all Barra's heritage is this restored medieval tower
house castle with curtain wall. Dictated by the shape of the low rock island
on which it sits, the pentagonal castle is the first thing holidaymakers see
when they come to Barra by ferry from Oban. The castle would have been
difficult to capture being entirely surrounded by the sea, yet having a
fresh water spring. You come to the castle by boat in a journey of 200 yards
from Castlebay main street. As you approach the castle, look for a large
ring of rocks to the east of the landing place: this was a catchment basin
to trap fish when the tide when out, again vital if the castle was besieged.
Beside it is a sloping beach being the berth of the swift Kisimul's Galley,
an adapted form of the Vikings' boat design. Like most castles, Kisimul is
cold and draughty but you will enjoy clambering about. Not to be missed, in
the Great Hall, is the collection of English bayonetted muskets and pikes
used at the Battle of Culloden. What date do you see on the muskets? Look
out for the spartan toilets, flushed twice daily by the tide! Much of what
you see is the restoration work carried out by the clan chief Robert Lister
MacNeil between 1956 and 1970.
Or try the castles website (pictures too):http://www.castles.org/Chatelaine/KISIMUL.HTM
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
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 Scotland on a
1000-year lease with an annual token rent of Â£1 and a bottle of whisky. This
will ensure that conservation work will continue to maintain the castle for
generations to come.
Currently as far as I know it is only open three afternoons a week (probably
only in summertime) when a small boat takes tourists across on Monday,
Wednesday and Saturday from 2pm to 5pm. Approximately 3 pounds for adults
and only 25 pence for children including entry to the castle.
Phone 01871 810 449.