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Barra, General

General View

Site Name Barra, General

Classification General View

Alternative Name(s) Eilean Barraigh

Canmore ID 268897

Site Number NF60SE 54

NGR NF 685 011

NGR Description Centred NF 685 011

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Western Isles
  • Parish Barra
  • Former Region Western Isles Islands Area
  • Former District Western Isles
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Recording Your Heritage Online


(Barraigh) (after St. Barr, the island's patron saint) Remains of late Iron-Age duns, brochs and chambered cairns attest to the occupation of Barra long before St. Barr (Finbarr of Cork) arrived with the message of Christianity in the early 7th century. From 1030, the MacNeils assumed prominence here; they were granted Barra and its isles in 142 7 by Alexander, Lord of the Isles. They were a fearsome lot, none more so than Ruairidh the Tartar/Turbulent (d. 1622 ), who caused the island to be forfeited by seizing and sinking some English ships during James VI's reign (it was later restored). The last of the real line of MacNeil chiefs to have a connection with Barra was Gen. Roderick MacNeil, who succeeded his father Col. Roderick (Ruairidh the Gentle) in 1822 . Unlike his father, the financially improvident general - 'the most handsome man at Waterloo' - operated in the role of modern landlord. He was 'heavy-handed and irascible' and did not have a paternalistic attitude towards his tenants, whom he displaced and redistributed. But his attempts to encourage more fishing as the kelp industry declined, and to make a success of a chemical works failed, and he declared himself bankrupt in Scotland in 1836 (although by this time he was living in great style in Liverpool and elsewhere, having left the island for good in 1827). Barra was sold in 1840 to the megalomaniac Col. Gordon of Cluny, who thought of selling it on as a penal colony. This idea was not pursued, but the alternative - a programme of clearances assisted by the protestant minister - proved little better. In 1850-51 a third of Barra's population was cleared. Many sought refuge on Mingulay, Hellisay, Berneray and other outlying islands, in preference to being shipped off to Canada. In 1937, the Canadian architect, Robert Lister MacNeil (45th Chief, descended from a cadet branch, who had claimed the chiefship in 1915) bought back about half of Barra. His son, Iain MacNeil, gifted it to the Scottish Executive, which already owned the northern end and Vatersay, in 2004.

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press


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