Crosskirk Broch was a fortification near the present day hamlet of Crosskirk. After thorough archaeological exploration it was destroyed in 1972 since the site had become unsafe due to sea erosion. The site was unusual in having a broch, a large circular fortification, built within an older promontory fortification with a ring wall and blockhouse.
Crosskirk was occupied at the end of the Bronze Age. From the early Iron Age that followed there is carinated pottery that appears to be locally made but is similar to pottery of the same period in southern and eastern England. A few samples are black-burnished. Uncorrected radiocarbon dates for this pottery are in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. There seems to be a discontinuity in the middle Iron Age when the buildings were reconstructed and new types of pottery and artifacts were introduced, although variants of some of the older styles continued. This may be interpreted as being due to the infux of some influential new population.
Further use of local pottery continued into the period of Roman occupation of the south of Scotland in 80-180 AD. There were also remains of Roman pottery and glassware that may have been Roman in origin. A body was buried in a sitting position in the middle of an approximately circular building around the time that the site was abandoned. No grave goods were found.
There are traces of two long cist burials in the debris of the broch from some time around 600 AD. There used to be a stone with a runic inscription at Crosskirk, now lost, dating from the period of the Norse raiders in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. St Mary's Chapel (Crosskirk), built around the 13th century and now ruined, is about 27 m south of the site. Some of the land south of the broch was levelled when St Mary's was built. In recent times, some of the stones from the broch mound were removed, perhaps for building field dykes.
The promontory fort predated the broch, which was built inside the older structure. The earlier structure was an outwork that began at the edge of the promontory in the east, a 4.6 m thick wall or rampart of rock with an earth core. A gateway that widened towards the outside provided access through the wall. To the west of the gateway the rampart included a structure like a cell, and then there was a recess in the inner face of the wall. The outwork continued west, ending in a fence made of flagstones that reached to the cliff edge at Chapel Geo.
Based on radiocarbon dates, the broch was built around 200 BC, and was still in use in the second century AD. The broch would have given an impression of great strength, rising above the existing defensive wall. It included a guard cell, an intramural chamber and a stair entrance at ground level. Although the wall of the broch was relatively thick, it was poorly built, with a core of earth, rubble and boulders. This may be interpreted as being an early, experimental broch design. The roundhouse was not built strongly enough to support a tower more than 4.5 metres, half the height of later towers.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.