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Kisimul Castle, Castlebay, Barra

A Scheduled Monument in Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas, Na h-Eileanan Siar

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Latitude: 56.9521 / 56°57'7"N

Longitude: -7.4874 / 7°29'14"W

OS Eastings: 66522

OS Northings: 797944

OS Grid: NL665979

Mapcode National: GBR 7BXB.TJX

Mapcode Global: WGV56.YJR9

Entry Name: Kisimul Castle, Castlebay, Barra

Scheduled Date: 17 January 2001

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90347

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: castle

Location: Barra

County: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Electoral Ward: Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas

Traditional County: Inverness-shire


The monument is Kisimul Castle, which stands on a rock in Castle Bay, at the south end of Barra. Its form is similar to that of other West Highland castles of the period with a rectangular tower-house set to one side of an irregular enclosure containing other buildings. The original entrance, with presumed portcullis, was on the east but it was moved closer to the tower when the Gokman's (watchman) house was enlarged. Just outside the gate lie the remains of the building that may have housed the crew who rowed the lord's galley, as well as a presumed fish trap, or perhaps a galley berth.

The tower, standing at the south end, is likely to have been the first element of the castle to be built. It rises three storeys high. The original arrangement of the basement and first floor are unclear; it is likely that the first floor was accessed by a forestair with internal access the basement through a trap in the first floor. The external staircase continued in timber and/or stone up to the adjacent curtain wall-walk, from which another timber stair, cantilevered from the face of the tower, gave access to the main door, 5.5m above ground level. Inside, a mural stair led from here up to the second floor and down to the first.

The first and second floors were evidently domestic in purpose, both being well lit and having latrine closets within their walls. Both apparently also had timber galleries at their north ends, that above the second floor being in effect within the garret. From the second floor, another mural stair leads from the right-hand side of the north window up to the wall-head.

The crenellated parapet encloses a latrine in the south-west corner, and shows signs of later heightening. This and other later work, possibly of around 1500, included a box-machicolation projecting directly above the tower's entrance. On the south and east a timber wall-walk was carried on beams which ran through the parapet to support projecting external timber hoarding (or brattices), designed to protect the tower's exposed outer faces in the same way.

The curtain wall that abuts the tower was built later. Its parapet, like that of the tower, was also subsequently heightened and provided with a timber wall-walk (possibly also with projecting hoarding) and with a box-machicolation above the outer gate. The obtuse north angle was occupied by a rounded internal tower, standing apparently no higher than the wall and containing a pit-prison with latrine below a guard room. Against the north-west wall stood the hall.

An additional building (known as 'Marion's addition') was joined to the south-west end of the hall and the hall was provided with an upper storey, probably in the 17th century, when it quite possibly replaced the tower as the principal residence. To the west of Marion's addition is a well and postern gate. Another building, presumed 15th century, lies against the north-east wall and serves as a mortuary chapel.

The other buildings constructed against the inside face of the curtain wall appear to be of a later period, perhaps 16th century. They include, in the south, a kitchen range of two storeys adjoining the tower, now re-roofed; in the west corner, the Tanist' s (or heir's) house, rebuilt in 1956-7 from its foundations; and on the east, beside the entrance gate, the unrestored foundations of the house of the Gokman.  A series of archaeological deposits dating to various phases of activity from the Neolithic to the post-medieval period have been identified beneath the present castle.

The boat-landing is formed of an area quarried of bedrock and cleared of boulders, sheltered by a rough breakwater of bedrock and boulders. The remains of the crew-house lie at the western end of the boat-landing and comprise a fragment of walling aligned northeast to southwest. A scarcement on its east side indicates this was the internal face. A garderobe chute is visible on the western side. A curving bank of boulders to the east of the boat-landing forms a fish trap.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan with maximum dimensions of about 82m NW-SE by 78m transversely, to include the Castle, its external features and an area around in which associated remains may survive, as marked on the accompanying map extract. All clearly identifiable 20th century fabric is specifically excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

This monument is of national importance because it can make a significant addition to our understanding of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval society and the construction, use and development of settlement and high status buildings in the Western Isles. It is a good example of a multi-period settlement with evidence for long-term occupation and use and has high potential for the survival of significant buried archaeological deposits. It the potential to make a significant contribution to our knowledge of settlement, domestic  high status buildings and economy over an extended time period. The loss or damage of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the character and development of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval settlements as well as society and economy during these periods.

It is the only surviving castle of any size in the Western Isles. Its siting on a rock in the middle of Castle Bay is also spectacularly evocative. The castle is also of local, national and international significance as the official seat of the chief of Clan Macneil.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 21390

Branigan, K. and Foster, P. (2000) From Barra to Berneray. Archaeological survey and excavation in the southern isles of the Outer Hebrides. Sheffield Academic Press.

Dunbar, J G. (1978) Kisimul Castle, Isle of Barra', Glasgow Archaeological Journal, vol. 5. pp 25-43.

Garrow, D., Griffiths, S., Anderson-Whymark and Sturt, F. (2017) Stepping stones to the Neolithic? Radiocarbon dating the early Neolithic on islands within the 'western seaways' of Britain. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 83, pp. 99-135.

Holden, T. (2017) Kisimul, Isle of Barra. Part 1: The castle and the MacNeills, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 146, 181-213.

Holden, T (2018) Kisimul, Isle of Barra. Part 2: Archaeology and prehistoric occupation, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 147.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Kisimul Castle
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Related Designations

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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