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.

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Founded: 15th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in United Kingdom

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4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Ole Jall (15 months ago)
Magic isle in wonder bay
Dean Stoker (2 years ago)
Wait on the jetty for the regular boat to the castle ( every half hour on our visit) The guide was very helpful & the guys on the boat could park on a dime. The inside of the castle is currently going through some improvements . There are modern wooden structures within, but there are some parts of the old castle still accessible . Free entry & boat ride for Historic Scotland members.
Mike Belshaw (2 years ago)
An Interesting castle in an unusual location. It suffers a bit due to well meaning but Ill thought through renovation many years ago. Well worth a visit.
Stevie B (2 years ago)
Its more a photogenic trip than historic one just now, Its a shame as quite a bit of the castle is closed for repairs. But its only a fiver and that includes the short boat ride to and from it. But it is worth it for the pictures you will get.
Adam Richardson (2 years ago)
Fun little castle, with a nice boat ride to get there and back. Slightly bored & grumpy staff when we were there though. No interpretation signs so you have to buy a £1 leaflet to find anything out.
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