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

Stanley Johnson (20 months ago)
Take a boat trip out in the bay of Castlebay Town in barra. Great views
Slater Houge (2 years ago)
Very impressive. The interior has been modernized somewhat but there is still a lot of ancient history here. My only complaint is that the cost of the ticket doesn't include a tour book; I wouldn't mind this but for the fact that there is no signage whatsoever.
Ian (2 years ago)
Such a treasure of a place. The guides are very helpful. The history of the castle is interesting even up until very recent times. Well worth a visit.
Simeon Tolar (2 years ago)
Pretty small but wonderfully restored. There are no official tours but you can find your way around quite easily and most things are pretty self explanitory. The ferrymen will even give you a 360 spin around the castle on your way back to the mainland.
John Wexler (2 years ago)
Kisimul Castle is a bit odd, since quite a bit of it (and you can't be sure how much) is a twentieth century build. Some is restored, but some is, like Carcasonne, anachronistic fantasy. Still, it looks great, and it has some points of real interest. The visit includes the boat trips to and from the castle, with a circuit all round it for photo opportunities.
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