The first historical mention of Gavnø is in King Valdemar's census book from 1231 where a 'house on Gavnø' is mentioned. The house was apparently a castle built to defend Denmark's western coasts. In the 15th century, Queen Margaret I opened St Agnes' Priory there, catering for nuns from aristocratic families. The chapel can still be seen in the castle's southern wing although it has since been extended.
In 1737, Count Otto Thott acquired Gavnø. He renovated and substantially extended the castle, creating today's three-winged, yellow-facaded building in the Rococo style where he was able to house his large collections of paintings, manuscripts and books. At his death, his library collection contained over 120,000 volumes, exceeding that of the Danish National Library. The park surrounding the castle is known for its rare trees, rose garden and, above all, its extensive display of bulbs.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.