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Barra, Eoligarry, Cille-bharra

Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel(S) (Medieval), Church (Medieval)

Site Name Barra, Eoligarry, Cille-bharra

Classification Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel(S) (Medieval), Church (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Kilbharr Church; St Mary's Chapel; Cille Bharra; Kilbarr

Canmore ID 9767

Site Number NF70NW 3

NGR NF 7051 0738

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

Wing-like promontory bounded by shell sands, site of the MacNeil's 18th-century seat, and an important religious settlement dedicated to St. Barr. Cille Bharra (Kilbarr or St. Barr's), founded 7th century The ruins of three medieval buildings (probably 12 th century and later) within a rubblewalled burial ground, similar to the group at Howmore in South Uist. A fourth chapel (the parish church) stood near the road, but was demolished c.1830. Main chapel (roofless by 1625 and now missing its gable ends), a lime-mortared oblong of coursed boulders, the floor originally about 2 ft lower. Various round-arched openings are strengthened on the inner face by inward sloping jambs arranged almost as crude, pointed arches. Burial chapel to north, probably post-Reformation (16th century), built by the MacNeil chiefs and reroofed in the 1970s. It houses the cast of Clach Chille Bharra, an important late 10th or early 11 th-century cross-slab discovered here in 1865 and now in the National Museum of Scotland. It also houses four late medieval graveslabs, probably of MacNeil chiefs, carved with swords and foliage, one bearing animals and a galley in relief. At least one of these can be attributed to the Iona School, and another to the Oronsay School of carvers. Above the altar is a modern figure of St. Barr, whose image was traditionally kept here and held in great veneration. Local customs associated with this saint testify to an entwining of pagan and Christian beliefs, the melding of superstition and religion that has endured for many centuries in the Isles. To the south, the scant remains of a second burial chapel, with surviving round-headed window.

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


External Reference (25 June 1948)


National Library

"Country Life" - June 25th, 1948, p. 1276 - photograph & article.

Field Visit (24 May 1965)

There are the extant remains of three buildings in the burial ground of Cille-Bharra, which is now enclosed and still in use. No trace of a fourth (B) could be found.

St Barr's Church (A - NF 0551 0738) measures 11.6m by 4.0m, within walls 0.7m thick, and survives to a maximum height of 2.2m. Chapel 'C' (NF 0553 0738) measures 8.0m by 3.0m within walls 0.6m thick, and survives to roof height, 2.6m, in the E and W gables. Chapel 'D' (NF 0552 0737) measures 4.4m by 2.0m internally, within walls 0.6m thick, and survives to a height of 2.3m in the W gable.

All these buildings are bonded with shell and lime mortar. No name is known locally for any of the chapels, nor could the find-spot of the Runic stone be located.

According to MacKenzie (C Mackenzie 1936) there was a ruined priory at Cille Bharra c.1697.

Visited by OS (N K B) 24 May 1965.

Publication Account (1985)

On the eastern slope of Ben Eoligany are the remains of a medieval church dedicated to St Barr (Cille Bharra) and two chapels, a group similar to that at Howmore, South Uist (NF 758364). Only parts of the side walls of the church still stand; the doorway is on the north side and three windows survive, two at the east end providing light for the altar. On the inside the windows have a pointed arch formed by two lintels set diagonally, while on the outside there is a round-headed arch.

One chapel is largely ruinous, and the west gable stands only to a height of about 2m. The other is well preserved and has recently been re-roofed to provide a shelter for several carved slabs which were in the cemetery. This chapel, or perhaps burial-aisle, is probably later in date than the two other buildings; the entrance was in the west gable, but there is a secondary entrance in the south wall, and there are narrow slit windows in the side walls and east gable.

There are several slabs of interest, including the only West Highland graveslabs on Barra: two of these are decorated with a claymore and foliaceous designs; another is badly weathered, but a galley and a deer can still be seen. An unusual stone found in 1865 is now in NMAS; on the front there is an interlace-filled cross with side panels of scrolls and key pattern. The back has a runic inscription, which reads 'after Thorgerth,Steinars daughter, this cross was raised' and dates to the 10th or early 11 th century.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles’, (1985).

External Reference (16 February 2001)

Scheduled as Cille Bharra, church, two chapels and seven grave markers.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 16 February 2001.

Reference (2001)

The medieval parish church was at Cille Bharra in the N peninsula, on the NE slope of Ben Eoligarry and 600m from the E coast. The dedication was to St Barr, traditionally identified with St Finbarr of Cork but described in the Aberdeen Breviary as born in Caithness.(i) The burial-ground, which in 1878 was represented as an unenclosed oval area,(ii) contains a ruined church of late medieval date, and two smaller chapels which were probably burial-aisles of post-medieval origin.(iii) The larger of these, to the NE of the church, was re-roofed about 1980 to house three late medieval graveslabs of the Iona school and an inscribed slab of about 1600.(iv) The burial-ground contains three cross-marked stones, and a cross-slab inscribed in Norse runes, found there in 1865, was acquired by the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in 1880.(v)

(1) Earthfast gravemarker of gneiss, 0.43m in visible height by 0.31m and 0.16m thick. The surface is now whitewashed, with dark paint in the grooves. On one face there is a sunken Latin cross, 0.26m high by 0.15m in span, executed with a deep U-section groove. The base is triangular and the other terminals appear to be barred.

(2) Cruciform stone of diorite, broken at the foot. It measures 0.55m in height by 0.43m in span and 75mm thick. The shaft tapers from 0.27m to 0.22m below the tightly rounded lower armpits. The upper armpits are more semicircular in outline, and the top arm and right side-arm are tapered whereas the left arm is wedge-shaped. At the centre there is incised a Latin cross, 0.15m high and 0.12m across the arms which curve slightly upwards.

(3) Cruciform stone of diorite, 0.66m by 0.29m across the arms and 85mm in maximum thickness. It is a cruder version of no.2, with a shaft which tapers from 0.3m to 0.15m, a straight-sided top arm 0.13m wide, and short wedge-shaped side-arms. The lines of the tightly rounded armpits are continued as shallow grooves on the surface, in one case for 70mm. On one face (a) there is an incised central cross, 0.17m high and 0.19m across the arms, which are set at mid-height. The corresponding cross on face (b) measures 0.16m by 0.15m.

(4) (NMS X.IB 102). Cross-slab of dark grey local garnet metapelite, broken obliquely at the head and flaked at the foot of face (a). It measures 1.36m in height and increases in width from 0.25m at the foot to a maximum of 0.39m below the head; the thickness varies from 45mm to 80mm. Face (a) is filled by a cross in low relief, incomplete at head and foot but over 0.85m in height and 0.38m across the arms. It is defined by a bead-moulding which encloses sunken circular armpits about 30mm in diameter, and the shaft tapers slightly downwards whereas the arms are straight-sided. The cross is filled with flat interlace, comprising a four-strand plait in the shaft and less regular interlace in the cross-head and arms. The sides of the shaft are flanked by continuous square key-pattern, linked to the uncarved area at the foot of the shaft, and then by simple S-scrolls below the cross-head. There are fragmentary remains of similar scrolls flanking the top arm.

Face (b) is filled with an inscription in Old Norse runes, incised in three lines which read down from the top of the slab. The letters in the first line are about 0.16m high, while those in the second line, which is enclosed by two irregular incised lines, vary from 65mm to 100mm. Only a few characters remain at the beginning of the third line, which is heavily worn. Although the surface on which the runes are cut appears to have been lightly dressed, many of them are damaged and the readings by Stephens and Olsen involve many doubtful assumptions. A reading has been made by Professor R I Page.(vi)

]*ir thur(:)kirthu:s(t)i*ar



This probably contains the female name Thorgerth and, less certainly, the male name Steinar, with a commemorative formula referring to the erection of the cross.

Although comparisons have been made with Manx cross-slabs,(vii) the form of the ring-less cross is closer to those on slabs at Govan, and the S-scrolls flanking it may be matched in Argyll, at Soroby and Kilbride. The inscription filling one face of the slab can be compared with Scandinavian examples rather than Manx ones.(viii) A date in the second half of the tenth century is probable.


(i) A Macquarrie 1984, 7-8, 29-30. A wooden figure of St Barr was preserved at Cille Bharra in the 17th century (M Martin 1934, 158).

(ii) OS 6-inch map, Inverness-shire (Hebrides), sheet 63 (1878/81).

(iii) RCAHMS 1928, No. 436; Macquarrie, op.cit., 23, 28, 33. T S Muir (1885) describes the demolition of a fourth building.

(iv) RCAHMS 1928, No. 436 (a-d) and figs.146-8. These slabs are of 14th-15th century date.

(v) G Stephens 1881, 33-4. The slab was identified by Alexander Carmichael, who recorded a tradition that it was brought from Iona (G Stephens 1884, 3 (1884), 315).

(vi) The Commissioners are indebted to Professors Page and M Barnes for access to material from their forthcoming Corpus of runic inscriptions (item no. SC8).

(vii) Liestol 1984, 228-9.

(viii) S B F Jansson 1987, pp.30, 33, 124.

G Stephens 1881, 33-6; J Anderson 1881, 227-9; NMAS 1892, 266; Allen and Anderson 1903, 3, 114-15; RCAHMS 1928, No.436 and figs.174, 177; Olsen, M, in H Shetelig, 6, 123-5, 174-7; J Close-Brooks and R B K Stevenson 1982, 43; Liestol 1984, 228-9; A Macquarrie 1984, 11-12, 17: H McGregor and J Cooper 1984, unpaginated; B E Crawford 1987, 175, 177.

I Fisher 2001, 106-8.

Standing Building Recording (2002)

NF 705 073 Desk-based assessment and building recording survey of St Barr's church and the South Chapel were undertaken in April 2002 in advance of a proposed conservation programme. Topographic survey of the graveyard was also undertaken. The site of a possible chancel screen was identified in St Barr's church; a previously unrecorded aumbry was identified in the S wall of South Chapel. The current condition of the buildings was recorded.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: Benjamin Tindall Architects.

C Lowe 2002

Desk Based Assessment

NF70NW 3 7051 0738.

(NF 7051 0738) Cille-Bharra (NR)

OS 6" map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., (1904)

Cille-bharra: the remains of a church and two chapels, with walls up to 8ft high, in an unenclosed burial ground, are recorded by the RCAHMS (A, C and D), but MacCulloch (1824), refers to four buildings within an enclosure bearing traces of an external ditch. The building at A has been identified as St Barr's Church: a St Mary's Church is also noted but not identified. (RCAHMS 1928) Muir, who visited the site in 1886, thought the fourth chapel (B) (not mentioned by the RCAHMS) had been the parish church until about 1835. Martin, c.1700, refers to "St Barr's Church", with 'a little chappel by it ...'

A Runic stone found in the churchyard is now in the NMAS (IB 102) dated after AD 900.

Information from OS.

J MacCulloch 1824; T S Muir 1885; J R Allen and J Anderson 1903; RCAHMS 1928; A O Curle, M Olsen and H Shetelig 1954.


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