St. Martin’s Chapel stands above an old mountain pass that may have even existed in the La Tène period (5th–1st centuries B.C.). If that was the case, the chapel represents a link between Celtic and early Christian culture in this region. Archaeological excavations in 1958 showed that, on the site of the present chapel, there was a religious building as early as the time around 800 A.D. perhaps a heathen spring shrine. The same investigations uncovered a basin that, if this was in fact a religious building, could have been a font.
From the exposed foundations, the appearance of this first building was able to be reconstructed. It consisted of a sacred space, 4.20 by 4.20 metres in area, and an attached baptismal room with two windows. According to the report of the 1958 restoration, this layout is similar to that of St. Wendelin’s Chapel (600 A.D.) in Cazis in the Swiss canton of Graubünden.
In historical documents, the elevation of a forest chapel to the status of a church by the abbey of St. Margaret is recorded in 915, but it is not clear if that refers to this earliest building. It could also refer to a chapel, recorded in a papal bull of 1178 by Pope Alexander III, that was erected on a high mountain by the municipality of Furtwangen.
In the Middle Ages a new chapel was built using the old foundations and possibly parts of the outer walls. This probably dates to the Late Gothic period. After the chapel had been partially destroyed during the Thirty Years' War, a new roof and a new ceiling were built. The centre part of this has survived and bears the date 1672.
In the chapel there are other dates, some of which, thanks to the restoration work (Haas 1997) have been able to be correctly attributed: the retable dates to the year 1705, and the date of 1905 above the door lintel indicates the restoration measures of that time. The date of 1460 that was painted on the retable until the 1995-97 restoration was classified as incorrect.
Since the beginning of the 19th century, the chapel has been owned by the Kolmen farm. However, in 1848 it was converted into a utility building: extensions and alterations were made so that it had a stable, hayloft, shed, toilet and celler. Even the tower was replaced by a chimney.
The appearance of the present chapel dates back to an account that, in 1900, the Kolmenhof farmer made a vow that he would honour God and reinstate the former chapel as a place of worship if God would free him and his family from economic hardship. He appears to have been heard because, in 1905-06, the chapel was largely returned to its original state, a turret being replaced in its original position. In 1906 the chapel was rededicated.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.