The Church of St Ambrose from the 13th century is a beautiful single-nave church with Romanesque-Gothic characteristics. It is located near the Upper City Gate where once the Benedictine Monastery of St Ambrose stood, whose original construction was mentioned as early as 941. The church got its present-day look when it was renovated in 1992.
The front side of the Church has characteristics of Romanesque architecture with a single entrance portal. Above the portal there is an opening in the form of a cross and above it a narrow Romanesque window.The single-nave area was vaulted by a semi-cylindrical ceiling of tufa (a variety of limestone), and from the interior side it is reinforced by two belts. The remains in its foundation bear witness that the church had a semi-circular apse. The present-day rectangular apse 5 x 4 metres in size was built later. In the 15th century the Church of St Ambrose was renovated and the church area widened. It obtained its present-day form by being renovated again in 1992. The church is used for celebrating the Mass, and because it is very acoustic, also for occasional concerts.References:
Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.
Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.
The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.